Opinion

The Great Debate

Addressing China’s ‘soft power deficit’

Xi Jinping (L) met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Feb. 14, 2012.  REUTERS/Jason Reed

As Chinese President Xi Jinping prepares for his landmark summit with President Barack Obama in California Friday and Saturday, the critical mission of improving China’s image in the world could well be uppermost in his mind.

The central challenge that Xi faces here is that China’s soft power – its ability to win the hearts and minds of other nations and influence their governments through attraction rather than coercion or payment – has lagged far behind its purposeful hard power built on its growing economic and military might.

This “soft power deficit” could prove a real headache for the new Chinese president, for there is increasing international concern, suspicion and even outright hostility as China’s global role expands. In the United States, for example, public favorability toward China fell by over one-fifth in one year recently – from 51 percent in 2011 to 40 percent in 2012, according to Pew Research Global Attitudes Project.

At a time of continued economic uncertainty in the United States, issues such as China’s alleged currency manipulation, the mammoth size of the U.S. trade deficit with China and the large U.S. financial debt held by China, not to mention alleged Chinese cybersecurity attacks on American businesses and government offices, has taken its toll on U.S. public opinion.

Why the government wants your metadata

A man types on a computer keyboard in this Feb. 28, 2013 illustration file picture. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files  

In the wake of The Guardian’s remarkable revelation Wednesday that the National Security Agency is collecting phone records from millions of Americans, defenders of this dragnet surveillance program are insisting that the intelligence agency isn’t eavesdropping on the calls – it’s just scooping up “metadata.” The implication is that civil liberties complaints about Orwellian surveillance tactics are overblown.

But any suggestion that Americans have nothing to worry about from this dragnet collection of communications metadata is wrong. Even without intercepting the content of communications, the government can use metadata to learn our most intimate secrets – anything from whether we have a drinking problem to whether we’re gay or straight. The suggestion that metadata is “no big deal” – a view that, regrettably, is still reflected in the law – is entirely out of step with the reality of modern communications.

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