Friday, July 6, 2007

"Charm Offensive"

Joshua Kurlantzick is special correspondent for The New Republic and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

He applied the "page 69 test" to his new book, Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power is Transforming the World, and reported the following:
Charm Offensive analyzes how China has used “softer” tools of influence, like aid, investment, and cultural promotion, to win friends around the world in recent years. I spent years on the ground in many countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America looking at China’s specific actions, so page 69 is relatively representative of that reportage. On the page, I write about China’s promotion of Chinese language studies in many nations.

While promoting Chinese studies in other nations, Beijing also has tried to lure more foreign students to China. The Ministry of Education has done so by advertising Chinese universities abroad, creating new scholarship programs for students from the developing world, loosening visa policies for foreign students, and increasing spending to lure elite foreign scholars from the West to teach in China, thereby upgrading China’s university system. Beijing has focused intensely on Chinese-born scholars working in the West, creating national programs named rencai qiang guo (Strengthening the Country Through Human Talent), charging the Finance Ministry to make funds available to entice these Chinese-born scholars, or haigui pai, to return, and pushing select Chinese universities to use 20 percent of their government funding on hiring scholars from abroad.39 Returnees have been welcomed from the very top: Hu Jintao himself announced that the returnees would be “irreplaceable” in China today.

The incentives may be working. In places like Cambodia, a kind of feeder system has been created. Students who do well in China-backed primary schools in Cambodia often can obtain assistance from China to continue studies in the People’s Republic, in either middle school, high school, or university. (China has opened roughly five hundred of its primary and middle schools to foreign students.) The Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the Chinese government has provided scholarships for poor Cambodians to study in China since 2000; in Laos, the Chinese government hands out some 230 scholarships per year for students to attend Chinese universities. One study found that the number of Chinese returning to the mainland from Hong Kong, to take one example, rose from seven thousand in 1999 to thirty-five thousand in 2005, though China is not yet attracting back the top echelon of Chinese scholars. Meanwhile, in 2006 China landed one of its university MBA programs in the top twenty-five on the Financial Times’ ranking of the world’s finest business schools, alongside such luminaries as Wharton and Insead in France.

So page 69 gets at the “what” and the “how” – what China is doing on the ground in many nations. That reporting certainly was exciting. But page 69 does not get at the “why.” The second half of the book examines the impact of all of China’s new soft influence. How has it improved China’s image in many countries? What is China able to accomplish as its image improves around the world? What will China do with this goodwill it is amassing, and what will a more powerful China mean for nations around the globe?
Read more about Charm Offensive at the Yale University Press website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue