viernes, 8 de junio de 2012

Chinese Soft Power: A Latin-American (Peruvian) perspective

"All countries can gain from finding attraction in one anothers’ cultures. But for China to succeed, it will need to unleash the talents of its civil society. Unfortunately, that does not seem about to happen soon."[1]
(Joseph Nye, Why China is Weak in Soft Power, NYT, January 17 2012)

Many experts consider China has a difficulty to expand its soft power. In the United States and Europe, as well as in other Asian countries, China is perceived with fear and mistrust. Chinese soft power seems to be in trouble. Nevertheless, China projects a positive image in Latin-America. Whether a Bolivarian country such as Venezuela, Bolivia or Ecuador that sympathizes with Chinese political system and its emergence as a global power against the “imperialist” power of the United States; most liberal countries such as Peru or Chile, who have benefitted from Free Trade Agreements; or even Brazil and Mexico that want to join –especially the former – China as a regional power; there is a common trend: everyone admires China’s rise.[2]

In my personal perspective, it might be more interesting to see how Chinese soft power has worked positively instead of focusing in other regions or countries – eg Europe or Japan - where I believe the Chinese soft power is being contested for another reason: fear of their hard power. In this, I will try to focus on my personal perspective on China’s image and recent activities to promote its standing in Peru, where Confucius Institutes are gaining a greater audience, Chinese-Peruvian food is a must, and many businessmen are trying to learn some basic Chinese to communicate with their main buyers and trade partners.

Chinese “coolies” arrived to Peru and other parts of South America by the middle of the 19th century to replace slaves and work mainly in the coastal fields. Many died in the way to Peru and those who arrived did not have an easy time. Over the years Peruvian-Chinese gained a reputation for being hard workers, excellent clerks and cooks. It is said that there is a Chinese store in every corner, as well as a “chifa”[3] (Chinese-Peruvian restaurants were always common, even though now it is a more sophisticated version that we can find in Lima). Nevertheless, despite this historical presence of “chinese,”[4] China as a country did not have an especially powerful presence or image in the Peruvian public opinion. It is clear that recent Chinese economic growth has helped to support its image, but it is also necessary to emphasize that China is investing a lot of resources in projecting itself as the new global power.

In Evan Ellis´s case study on Chinese Soft Power in Latin America there are several examples on how China is investing resources on building up a reputation as a power, but projecting itself as a partner that is closer despite the distance of a Pacific ocean between China and Peru. In recent years China has been promoting several cultural activities and is trying to present itself as a peaceful culture, paralleling China’s imperial time with Inca’s culture, as can be seen in many promotional publicity, including the Chinese Embassy’s webpage.

However, as Ellis says, “one of the most significant barriers between China and Latin America is language,” that is why it is very interesting to see how Confucius Institutes[5] have been opened in recent years not only in Lima but also in some important provinces. Many universities and schools are offering classes of Mandarin as the “business language” and even though English remains the most popular language to learn, Chinese is somehow becoming trendy. We will see if in the years to come this heavy investment on Chinese Soft Power makes the Chinese a more palatable language and China keeps its positive image in the region. Keeping a good reputation sometimes can be harder than building up a new one.     

[2] Even though we will focus on China’s PD in Latin America, we consider extremely interesting the overall evaluation of Chinese Soft Power made by Yiwei Wang, especially regarding the difficulties that China faces in order to build up a positive reputation worldwide.
[3] “Chifa” etymology comes from chi fan: basic words for “to eat a dish”
[4] In Peruvian slang, Chinese is a common way to refer to everyone with Asian features (by instance our former President Alberto Fujimori, from Japanese descent, was called “Chino”) and is mostly used as an affective adjective.

1 comentario:

  1. This is a good "test case" for Chinese PD. As I commented on Lee's post, it makes me wonder if some of China's programs are at cross-purposes with its PD objectives. What do you think the average view of China is in Peru? Do you their PD efforts are working? I guess another way to put this question is: how do you define the "reputation" in Peru?