South Asia & Far East

From Smart Power to Sharp Power in China

Chinese government used soft power with economic and cultural values for a long time. With this power, China affected other states to coalesce with themselves and they has established many platforms like educational, cultural and language in the other countries. Hard power is consisted from strength economic and military capacity and also a strong foreign policy who preserve national order. While hard power is more aggressive and devastating, soft power is more connective and constructive. But sometimes, elements of soft power are not enough for states. Because of that, a ‘smart’ power consists of mix both of them. Thus, soft power turns smart power when support with the strong diplomatic strategy and supremacy of force. The use of smart power is propagate in the fields like academic engagements, economic diplomacy, and institutional cooperation on security.

China have deeply historical roots. Chinese empires and kingdoms lived for thousands of years, and so China have deep knowledge about concepts of policy and state. Again, the state which has with a new regime, was forming with Mao Zedong who founding of the People’s Republic of China and he has applied to strategic smart power with using diplomatic skills to balancing relations between US and USSR in Cold War period. After Mao, Deng Xiaoping who is leader of PRC from 1978 and 92, said that China need smartness balance inside of hard and soft power. Thus his famous “24-Character Strategy” was engraved into the minds in 1990. This strategy was formed in summary;

“Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.”[1]

This strategy helped the China’s protecting national interest together with increasing its connection whole world. Also in 2007, Hu Jintao who is Former General Secretary of Communist Party of China (CPC), talked about necessity of increase soft power of China on the 17th Party Congress.[2]

For instances, against the American encirclement, China has chosen to improve interaction with its ASEAN neighbor countries. China’s new Asian security concept is the same with ASEAN security principle which are cooperative and comprehensive relations. This new strategy was applied in a free trade agreement at the ASEAN and China Summit in 2001. With all of these, we can understand the China’s stability in smart power for that time.

But, on the way to becoming a superpower, China used soft power, hard power, smart power and now has sharp power. Sharp power is using to affect countries political system with steering its diplomatic policies and this power reshaping from soft power to sharp power to defend and support its authoritarian regime. And it has the effect of limiting free expression and breaking the political environment.

The Cultural Revolution was started in 1966 to protect Chinese communism from capitalist and traditional elements. For 10 years, religious and historical artefacts and books belonging to traditional Chinese culture were destroyed. Thus, China already knew that in order to influence and command a state, a society must control its education, media and cultural institutions.

Today, China has all the aspects to apply sharp power which are world’s second largest economy, second-largest defence forces, authoritarian, communist regime, a massive propaganda, information control machinery and a large diaspora worldwide. They used its sharp power in political power, coercion, culture, language, media and academia etc. Also they are controlling all mechanism of media outlets, people-to-people ex-chance programs and Confucius Institutes.

Before moving on to China’s foreign strategy, let’s consider how it uses sharp power in domestic politics. For example, in 2017, the largest academic journals in the world, such as Cambridge University Press and Springer Nature, were denied access to hundreds of Chinese articles on websites about human rights, Taiwan, and Tibet under the PRC oppression. In addition, publications on media platforms are controlled by Chinese government officials and their deputy. Also Confucius Institutes, which receive state funding to teach language and culture, operate on university campuses. But now the transparency of these institutions is being discussed. Many observers state that there is a work policy that prevents discussing sensitive issues such as Taiwan and Tibet for staff in Confucius Institutes.

China has improved ability to manipulate the political area of countries beyond their borders. China’s power became more repressive inside of state and this behaviour has grown in a way rapid and ambitious around the world. Together with Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s sharp power is increasing importance on shaping the political struggle environment overseas. Originally developed as an infrastructure network, BRI has became a Chinese-based communications system based on Xi-Jinping’s rules. China, which has undertaken a high amount of debt for BRI, is increasingly strengthening its position by combining project finance with geopolitical purposes

Finally, if we give another example about China’s Sharp Power policy, it will be Singapore. Singaporean officials say Beijing’s pressure on Chinese media in Singapore is increasing. They also states that Beijing has increased its influence on universities in Singapore and has expanded people-to-people exchanges.[3] The power used here is considered soft and sharp.

In a conclusion, according to Beijing, the use of sharp power in a power race is thought to be more effective in the economic, cultural and political spheres of hyper-globalization from smart power. With the current trade war, we see that China uses this power to make more control in domestically and internationally.

[1] Deng Xiaoping’s “24-Character Strategy”. Retrieved from

[2] Full text of Hu Jintao’s report at 17th Party Congress. Retrieved from

[3] Kurlantzick, J. (2019, July 29). China’s Soft and Sharp Power Strategies in Southeast Asia Accelerating, But Are They Having an Impact? Retrieved from Council on Foreign Relations:

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