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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

China needs “Soft Power” to survive America’s “New Cold War”

Haroon Sharif, a China expert, Ex-chairperson Pakistan’s Board of Investment and Minister of State, has recently returned from teaching in China. He explains, in an exclusive interview with GVS, that to survive America's New Cold War against China, Beijing will have to invest in increasing its leverage across Asia, Africa and Europe and will have to build its soft power through media.

Since the start of 2020, much of global politics has changed. Haroon Sharif, the former Chairperson of Pakistan’s Board Of Investment (BOI) and Minister of State, believes that the Thucydides Trap, the theory that when one great power threatens to displace another, war is almost always the result, is in full motion.

Mr. Sharif – who has interacted extensively with the international financial institutions while being Chairman BOI, Pakistan and previously in his experiences with Securities and Exchange Commission and with World Bank and Dfid – has also recently been teaching courses in China. He argues in this discussion with Global Village Space that the once timid and undeclared Cold War between the two giants is now on the path towards full fledged confrontation. To survive and emerge victorious in this brawl, China needs soft power, something that it is currently deficient in.

Haroon Sharif, in this discussion with GVS, explains that the signs of confrontation were always there. The United States became more aggressive in its policies in wake of companies leaving the USA for China due to the lure of cheap labour; Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House simply increased American reaction towards this global shift.

Xi Jinping, with this Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), had envisioned a multipolar world which wanted to encourage shared prosperity and cooperation between nations of Africa, Asia and Europe. The Covid-19 pandemic and its controversies has brought a dampening effect.

China needs soft power 

When the virus was declared a pandemic by the WHO in March, it was believed that world leaders would embrace a policy of cooperation. However, for popular political consumption and to deflect attention from the immense economic hardship their countries faced, leaders started a blame game. This has led to more inward-looking policies by states, and a significant void has emerged globally, with no strongman vying for a unity.

Read more: Nation branding: shaping narratives through soft power

Trump’s lack of global collaboration has, for the time being, enhanced China’s soft power as its production of medical equipment has majorly helped other countries to control the virus. Trump’s America, on the other hand, severed ties and funding of the World Health Organisation (WHO) at a critical juncture in the fight against the virus.

Western Media can demonise BRI and frustrate Chinese Vision

Haroon, however, also pointed out that while China will get back to economic recovery by 2021, for a truly global role it must increase its political strength and it’s international leveraging across Asia and Europe. He believes that China faces a two-fold risk due to this pandemic and the United State’s virtual declaration of the Cold War. China must leverage itself globally to emerge unscathed and intact.

These risks are the onslaught by the Western media to demonise China and the slowdown of the Belt-Road initiative; both elements are crucial to Chinese ambitions of a global role.


The Chinese financial system will be stress tested for the first time in two decades. Due to the BRI, China had been hitherto passing debt to partner countries; due to the pandemic, many of its partner economies have taken a significant hit, making defaults more likely.

China, according to Haroon, must strategically offer debt relief to partners by enhancing loan durations. Furthermore, China will have to revise its many projects further to escape the Western media juggernaut. Successful manoeuvring out of this crisis will utilise every ounce of the deftness of the Chinese; however, it may be the final litmus test of the Chinese financial system. A victory here will cement China’s supremacy for the future.

Read more: China: Using soft power to conquer the world – Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

China seems particularly weak in its media capacities. Here it must fully engage itself through its allies. Mr. Haroon points out that French President Emmanuel Macron has underscored that the world cannot live in a future without China. Hence, Chinese partners must double down against Western media. Here Pakistan can play an essential role as it is well equipped to counter Western media narrative intellectually.

Template to meet China’s need for soft power

The biggest problem which the West apparently faces – or argues strongly – is the divergence of the morals and values between itself and China. China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang and labour rights violations have been a significant weakness for the country’ image on global platforms.

Though it has immense soft power, it stands much to lose if these issues escalate. Responsibly engaging in these problems can be a windfall for China. Recently, China’s move to remove various animals from its consumable list along with the omission of Pangolins from its traditional medicine list has been praised the world over. These initiatives must be repeated. As the world moves further towards an environmental catastrophe, China can emerge as a leader and standard-bearer in the field.

Read more: China’s aid amid the pandemic: A leap towards becoming a superpower

Mr. Sharif, in his interview, with Editor Global Village Space, pointed out that in his meeting with the Chairman of Huawei, it was revealed to him that the company has reinvigorated its innovation and development efforts. Since its ban in the United States, the company has accelerated efforts in its quest to emerge as the global telecommunication supremo. This ‘winning at their own game’ is a must if China wants to emerge as a superpower in the future.

Watch Mr. Haroon Sharif discuss the ongoing US-China tensions with Najma Minhas making the case for the need for greater Chinese soft power:

Haroon Sharif is ex-Chairman Board of Investment, Pakistan, Minister of State and former Regional Advisor to the World Bank. Earlier he also served with UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). He was recently teaching in Beijing. Najma Minhas is Managing Editor Global Village Space; Interview was conducted online through Zoom and is available on GVS New YouTube Channel.