Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Soft Power Differential

A recent Huffington Post article talked about the importance of soft power and cultural ties in China's and Brazil's bid for investing in Africa.

Although China has far more economic resources than Brazil, the first seems to be presently losing the battle to the second because of bad reputation and, essentially, a lacking soft power. Brazil, on the other hand, is seen as a friendly trust-worthy nation with strong cultural ties to Africa. And, Brazilian companies don't mistreat their African workers like some Chinese have done so.

It's interesting to think that the measure of soft power may be decisive in how much influence each country will be able to yield over time in Africa. China has many problems in that area not only in Africa, but in the U.S. (remember their campaign in Times Square?), and I would dare say nearly all over the West.

African countries are pushing back against a so-called new imperialism that they see with China's presence in the continent, whereas Brazil is seen as engaging with the population and having an interest in cooperation.

Can soft power really decide the outcome of grand strategies like this, going beyond monetary resources? It's an interesting phenomenon to analyze.


  1. Interesting post, Livia. This series from the Guardian ( ) highlights China’s growing soft power “charm offensive” to attain political and economic influence across Africa. Certainly, China has committed a significant amount of monetary aid to development in Africa, providing scholarships to students, building an opera house, etc. China has certainly received criticism (both international and domestic in Africa), but as you’ve stated, it is really hard to determine if China’s approach, where monetary resources outweigh soft power resources (culture, political values, legitimate foreign policy), will prevail over Brazil’s approach.

  2. Along the same lines, Cuba is also an interesting case when looking at the balance of monetary strength, soft power and international influence. Cuba is neither monetarily powerful nor arguably ‘soft power’ful, yet it wields incredible influence in Africa and other countries around the world due to its medical diplomacy. This Huffington Post article goes into depth about some of Cuba’s medical diplomacy efforts: It’s a really interesting case, where Cuba has built up strength in the medical field and engages heavily in international aid to developing countries by sending medical professionals in a set up similar to the U.S. Peace Corp. So, similar to comparing China and Brazils influence in Africa, I think when you look at Cuba versus the U.S. for instance I think Cuba has garnered more support from their aid efforts.

  3. Hey Everyone! Great discussion so far. This may be going off on a tangent a bit, but this post has me thinking about the soft power differential that another BRICS country may have in the African continent – South Africa. South Africa joined the BRICS grouping in 2011 in recognition of the fact that it is Africa’s largest economy, and is generally regarded as the “golden child” of the continent by the international community. As such, shouldn’t it be able to galvanize soft power through its cultural ties and economic prowess more so than outside countries like Brazil or China?

    I actually explored this question in my Country Profile paper. I discovered this not to be the case, because South Africa is steadily acquiring a not-so-positive international image due to domestic qualms and stagnant growth. In essence, the country is losing (has lost) its legitimacy. A recent article in The Economist last month even went so far as to claim that South Africa’s membership into the BRICS club was simply a matter of not wanting to give the impression that Africa was economically irrelevant. ( In actuality, the article claims, the country is not on the same level, economically or politically, as its BRIC counterparts…ouch!