The U.S. Risks Losing Its Status As An Exemplar Of A Free Country With Laws

China’s soft power is slowly winning hearts and minds. You mostly see it in developing countries, while the West, India and Japan are not big fans.

A recent poll by Singapore’s Yusof Ishak Institute suggests 50.5% of government officials throughout Southeast Asia would choose China as a strategic partner over the United States. It is a small difference but is directionally important to understand.

Asia is increasingly integrated with the Chinese economy. China corporate investment in the region doubled between 2020 and 2021, alone.

Barring big missteps by China, which are possible (like a Taiwan land invasion I doubt will happen), the country will not only replace the U.S. as leading trading partner within a generation but rival us on other soft power issues like consumer preference (ByteDance over Meta), major industry and market share (Huawei over Apple), trust in leadership, and (long way to goculture.

Soft power is not just diplomacy and development loans. Think how Coca-Cola, Ford and Hollywood have been ambassadors for the American way of life since the 1950s.  American culture gives us immeasurable soft power. The U.S. should be careful not to spoil that power by other means.

Culturally, the U.S. is preferred over China, a November 2023 Pew study says.  In that same poll, the U.K. and France are 50/50 on who is the leading economic power. Spain, The Netherlands, Italy, Germany and Australia all say it’s China.

Only 8 countries think the U.S. has above average technology. Seventeen picked China, including Americans!

Shein and Temu, Chinese e-commerce retailers, are the No. 2 and No. 4 most downloaded apps for Apple.

China wants to do what Japan and Korea have done with pop culture. Japan has anime. Korea has K-pop and Korean movies are all over Netflix.

Of the top 50 movies released globally so far this year, only one – boxing flick Yolo — is Chinese. But global film distributors love China. Godzilla vs Kong made $21.5 million opening weekend – more than the next 30 countries combined.

Chinese tourists surpassed U.S. tourist spending abroad in 2013. They spent a record $280 billion outside of China in 2019 before their GMOd SARS virus shut them down.

This isn’t a “China is awesome” piece. This is a warning.

Only 33% of Gallup survey respondents are satisfied with the U.S. position in the world. It worsened under Biden, thanks to wars and ongoing political crises here. Some 57% of us think the world views us unfavorably. In 2000, only 26% thought that.

Perhaps more interesting is that the percentage of people who said China was our greatest threat fell to 41% in February vs 51% in 2023. Even Russia fell from 32% to 26%. What rose? The U.S. itself rose from a non-existent 1% to 5%.

The greatest risk to the U.S. as world leader is a China orchestrated peace deal between Ukraine and Russia. The U.S. hates this idea for that reason. Secretary of State Tony Blinken called it a “trap”. If there is one large country both Russia and Ukraine trust fairly equally, it is China.

Washington may think it’s a trap; but developing nations will not.  They want this war to end.

“China has significant soft power, but I do not think China is winning versus the West,” says Wesley Hill, Lead Analyst at the International Tax and Investment Center in Washington. “Africans overwhelmingly have positive views of China and want more trade with China. However, Africans do not think China presents a superior model of development to the West and think political democracy is important. China does not enjoy popular acclaim in the post-Soviet republics, but China’s Belt and Road Initiative is quite successful.”

The U.S. risks losing its soft power because of how it is viewed geopolitically. We are mostly seen as peacemakers, but that is eroding. The U.S. risks losing its status as an exemplar of a free country with laws, so long as we continue trying to jail political opponents. And we risk losing our soft power clout if our cities look like the drug addled bowels of the Third World. That won’t be China’s fault. That will be the fault of American leaders.


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