Nowadays, the influence of states in the international arena is determined not only by their economic and political but also by their cultural potential. The question of alternative sources of resolution of various issues and conflicts is of particular relevance. This article will address the issue of soft power and how China exercises it, what tools it applies in relation to countries, including BRICS members.
American political scientist Joseph Nye originally proposed the concept of "soft power" in the early 1990s. Nye defined "soft power" as a form of political power that is based on "intangible" factors: cultural traits, value systems, voluntary participation, sympathy, etc. Soft power actually refers to cultural power besides economic, military and political forces, and is also an important manifestation of a country's comprehensive national strength.
Chinese leaders have emphasised the importance of soft power in their foreign policy, and since President Hu Jintao became president of the People's Republic of China, the country has actively discussed the concept. Chinese soft power is primarily shaped as "cultural power" and involves an increasing knowledge of Chinese culture and values among the masses. The Fifth Plenum of the Nineteenth Central Committee of the Communist Party of China outlined the goal of building a culturally powerful economy by 2035, which is not only a major measure to strengthen the country's cultural "soft power", but also an important step towards realising the great dream of rejuvenating the nation.
"The core and supreme level of the country's comprehensive strength is the cultural soft power, which is linked to the cohesion of the national spirit," highlighted the President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping.
Soft power with Chinese specificity is mainly aimed at providing financial help in the economic and socio-humanitarian spheres; promoting Chinese traditional and modern culture by popularising language, literature, traditional sports, holding various cultural events and expanding educational contacts; establishing close ties with scientific and educational institutions and think tanks; working with the Chinese diaspora; and developing scientific and technical cooperation.
In different countries, the concept of soft power is implemented either through government structures or through various non-governmental organisations, foundations, etc. In China, for example, the key actors involved are those that have stable ties with the state or are directly part of the system of government agencies. Moreover, in the above institutions, there are several hundred in the PRC and abroad that are involved to varying degrees in the country's economic, cultural, sports and educational diplomacy. Consequently, the China is striving with its BRICS partners to strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation and make some progress, including in cultural and humanitarian engagement.
At present, education, including the promotion of the state language, plays an important role in China's soft power strategy. The primary structure in this area is the network of Confucius Institutes, which is handled by the State Office for the Promotion of the Chinese Language Abroad - Hanban. In addition, the Chinese Ministry of Education, the China Scholarship Council and the China Education Exchange Service Centre are working extensively to attract foreign students to study in the PRC. By the end of 2018, there were six Confucius Institutes in South Africa, which is more than any other African country. In Russia, there are nineteen Confucius Institutes and four Confucius classes organised at higher education institutions and schools in Russian towns and cities. In Brazil, there are ten institutes and three Confucius classes, and in India there are four institutes organised at institutions of higher learning and two classes in the cities of Phagwara, Sonipat, Calcutta, Chennai, Coimbatore and Mumbai.
Speaking of education, as of 2019, between 60,000 and 80,000 people in Russia were studying Chinese because there is a tremendous interest in culture, history and business interaction with China. The number of students from India has increased significantly in recent years to 23,198, the vast majority of whom have chosen medicine. Consequently, this not only serves to strengthen the country's soft power strategy but also its economy. Moreover, some experts are discussing the prospect of establishing a common BRICS university, which would undoubtedly strengthen cooperation between Russia and South Africa.
The media is also one of the most important tools of Chinese soft power. The Chinese Central Television (CCTV) and the Chinese government's Xinhua News Agency are primarily active in disseminating information. PRC also has a vast overseas network and foreign media (including newspapers, periodicals, radio, television and the internet). CCTV has been operating since 1958 and now has over 40 television channels. The channel, which broadcasts in English, Korean, Russian, French, Spanish and Arabic, has a global audience of 85 million people. Xinhua News Agency is officially under the Ministry of State Security of the People's Republic of China. It has covered news around the world in Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish, Arabic and Japanese since 1931. In recent years, China has become more active in the African media sphere. For instance, several state-owned Chinese media have opened offices on the continent, especially in Kenya and South Africa. These include the Xinhua News Agency, China Daily, China Central Television and China Radio International.
China also promotes various events related to Chinese traditional culture. The PRC promotes, for example, oriental martial arts, music, language, national cuisine and several other events. Sports are also very important and create a positive image of the country. Understanding dissemination of Chinese culture elements by popularizing traditions of Chinese philosophy schools incorporated in particular in ancient art of Qigong - system of gymnastic and meditative breathing exercises that became popular in Russia in the last two decades - is very relevant today. This system of gymnastic, meditative and breathing exercises has become popular in Russia in the last two decades. There are several schools and directions of qigong, representing an integral system of knowledge and methods allowing to make a breakthrough into the sphere of special abilities, to study oneself, to understand the structure of the world, to realize one's own place and tasks in it. Besides, China is hosting events such as the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, and was involved in organising the BRICS Games.
Among other instruments of Chinese cultural diplomacy are traditional Chinese festivals, "Cross years, months, weeks or days" of national culture with foreign countries, activities of Chinese cultural centers abroad, tours of Chinese theatre troupes, international cooperation between libraries, museums, publishing houses, activities of traditional Chinese academies. Cross-year exchanges before the 2020 pandemic occurred with notable regularity. For example, 2006 - 2007 were the Year of Russia in China and the Year of China in Russia, 2009 was the Year of the Russian Language in China, 2010 was the Year of the Chinese Language in Russia, Years of Media Cooperation between Russia and China were announced, and finally, 2018 - 2019 are dedicated to the Years of Interregional Cooperation.
Since the instrument of soft power with Chinese characteristics is the provision of financial help in the economic and socio-humanitarian spheres, China is taking the next steps in this direction. For example, new formats of interaction with young people are being introduced. These include the BRICS Young Leaders Forum, the BRICS Global University Summit, and the BRICS Young Diplomats Forum. Speaking of humanitarian aid, that China has supported and is still supporting African countries, including South Africa, in the fight against the coronavirus. As of early September 2021, the Chinese government had delivered over 400 tons of urgently needed anti-epidemic materials to 53 African countries and the African Union, and helped 21 African countries sign procurement contracts worth over US$54 million with China. Public institutions and private companies such as Bank of China Limited, Johannesburg branch, Alibaba, the Chinese community in South Africa; telecommunication giant Huawei, Industrial Commercial Bank of China Limited, Africa Representative Office, China Construction Bank Johannesburg branch has not been spared and have also donated to the South African government in the fight against Covid-19.
The last significant source of PRC soft presence that needs to be mentioned is the Chinese diaspora. The situation in the BRICS countries is as follows. Since 2018, Brazil has officially introduced Chinese Immigration Day in order to further promote Chinese culture. There are currently about 300,000 people from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan living in Brazil, of whom approximately 200,000 have settled in the city of Sao Paulo. About 300 to 500 thousand people permanently live in Russia (predominantly in Moscow and the Far East region). In India, the Chinese diaspora here is estimated at around 6,000 people, most of whom live in Kolkata. The Republic of South Africa currently has the largest Chinese diaspora on the African continent, with estimates ranging from 350,000 to 500,000 people.
In summary, the application of soft power to regulate and promote international relations is becoming more important in the current environment. China's "soft power" shows an upward trend, which is an inevitable result of China's economic, political, social and cultural development. At present, the soft influence on the BRICS members occurs through bilateral ties, and the BRICS platform only serves as an additional and significant catalyst in promoting the interests of each nation. Even despite some difficulties caused by the pandemic and the international circumstances, there is still great potential for China's soft power to expand into the BRICS states and develop bilateral cooperation among each country.