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.