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  • 作家相片Chaiwat Meesanthan

China's soft power is now on the right track

Editor's Note: Chaiwat Meesanthan, Director of Institute of East Asian Studies, Thammasat University. Obtained a doctoral degree from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Malaya. Research focus is on Southeast Asian studies, with particular emphasis on Southeast Asia (language, social culture, economy, and politics) as well as Muslim society and ethnography in Thailand.


When we talk about soft power, again that I have to say the clear definition of this thing. The Oxford English Dictionary records the phrase "soft power" deriving from economic and cultural influence, rather than coercion from 1985. Joseph Nye popularized the concept of "soft power" in the late 1980s. For Nye, power is the ability to influence the behavior of others to get the outcomes you want. There are several ways to achieve this.

From my idea, these things can be the tools of soft power: digital, culture, enterprise, education, engagement, tourism, and government.

When we talking about Chinese products or Chinese culture in the past twenty years, it has not been very popular among Southeast Asian countries. Consumers in Thailand often make purchasing decisions based on these 3 factors: reasonable price, good quality, and beautiful image. But Chinese products usually failed one of these in the past. That is why Chinese products could not compete with others in last twenty years ago.

However, now Chinese products are going to the right way to be soft power of the country. People in Thailand and Southeast Asia are starting to trust Chinese products more. Chinese education has come a long way and has been accepted at the world standard level. Many Thai students want to go to the world class institutions in China like Beijing University, Tsinghua University, or Fudan University. Chinese culture is gaining popularity in many countries, especially in Southeast Asia. There are more people in Thailand now talking about Chinese series. BYD's Atto 3 was the best-selling EV car in the region, followed by the Neta V made by Hozon New Energy Automobile, which is working on local Thai production. All EV cars in Thailand now are from China. Chinese food is becoming popular in the whole region of Southeast Asia. Every capital and big city has various kinds of Chinese restaurant. And the most famous Chinese menu now is hotpot. There are over 700 hundred Chinese hotpot restaurants around Bangkok and over 2,000 in Thailand. This is proof that China's soft power is working.

In my opinion, what China should do more to develop the country’s image are these: China has to develop how to present Chinese products to people to trust more. There is still lack of good presentation of the Chinese products in the region. China's leading educational institutions should go out and build more local cooperation with foreign countries. This will make China accessible to even the grassroots in Southeast Asia. And education is something that every family pays more attention to.

The most important thing that China should do as soon as possible is “Cancel entry visas for ASEAN member states”. China is a country rich in both natural resources and culture. China will gain more tourist from ASEAN members. And something that outsiders have always misunderstood, this may create more understanding for those outsiders.

Quickly investment in the trendy industries is another thing that China should do during this time. For example, the whole system of electric car: car, charging station, develop longer range of driving, etc.

China's soft power is now on the right track. China just has to develop continuously during this period without any breaks. This is a good moment for China to keep doing this. The transfer of technological knowledge is another tool for China to succeed in using soft power. Because this will make people trust the standards of technology. Moreover, it also shows that Chinese technology has developed to the point of being able to be applied in neighboring countries.

(The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of China-ASEAN Observation. If you have a specific expertise, or would like to share your thought, please send us your writings at

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