On September 27, 2023, CKGSB hosted the webinar “How Technology Can Shape Soft Power,” in collaboration with Asia House and IE China Center. The online conference convened esteemed business executives, policy experts, researchers, and professors to explore the evolving role of tech companies in shaping global perceptions, with a focus on the US-China soft power rivalry.
The conference also served as a launch event for the report ‘Fuel the Soft Power: The Role of High Tech Companies in the Soft Power Rivalry between China and United States’, co-produced by CKGSB and IE China Center.
The event was kicked off by Dr. Sean Randolph, Senior Director at the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, who asserted, “Technology is a pivotal source of soft power in the 21st century…Digitalization and technological access will be core determinants of a country’s competitiveness.” Dr. Randolph introduced the novel concept of ‘tech diplomacy,’ explaining, “Many governments are appointing global technology ambassadors to engage in dialogues with companies about regulation and innovation.”
A captivating keynote followed from Ma Bin, Assistant Professor of Leadership at IE University, who shared insights from his survey assessing public perceptions of soft power exerted by China and the United States. He encapsulated his findings, stating, “First, the United States maintains its historically dominant position in soft power. Second, emerging economies, particularly Mexico and South Africa, demonstrate a higher level of recognition of China’s economic, business, and influential. Third, China’s education and scientific systems surpass those of the United States in recognition in six out of the ten surveyed countries.”
An ensuing panel discussion saw representatives from CKGSB, China Center, the British Council, and Sanctuary Council explore soft power and its evolution, particularly in the face of geopolitical tensions.
Jonathan McClory, Partner at Sanctuary Counsel, referenced a study by Sanctuary Council in collaboration with the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy, examining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the balance of global soft power. “What we found is that factors like arts, culture, tourism – while I want to stress are still important – have fallen in relative importance to national attributes like competence, government performance, perceived safety, global contributions, scientific innovation, and of course technological capability.”
Mona Lotten, Head of Soft Power Research and Insight at The British Council referred to survey data capturing perceptions of young people from G20 countries. She noted that high-income Western democracies with advanced technology sectors tend to perform well in soft power attributes, while South Korea has demonstrated significant improvements in audience perceptions.
CKGSB Professor of Managerial Practice, Weilei Shi, emphasized the need for China to adapt its soft power strategy by altering its narrative. “Enhancing soft power, which entails captivating both consumers and elites of other nations, demands a narrative that extends beyond economic success to a broader social context. This is something China must do in the next couple of years in order to increase its soft power.”
CKGSB Professor of Economics, Tao Zhigang, agreed with Professor Shi that China has a long way to reach parity with the United States in the soft power rivalry. However, he added that a lack of communication between China and the rest of the world, exacerbated by a global pandemic, has been a significant hurdle for China. He further acknowledged the presence of a media bias in U.S. newspapers against China, influencing global perceptions.
In a geopolitical landscape where soft power is progressively pivotal, this webinar served as a cornerstone in comprehending the transformative role of tech companies in reshaping national perspectives.