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Philip Seib on 'Intellectual Containment and U.S.-China Relations'

USC specialist argues for utilizing U.S. soft power and public diplomacy to contain China.
February 3, 2012
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The director of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, Philip Seib argued in a Huffington Post blog entry that the United States needs to develop and implement a comprehensive and strategic plan to combat China's ambitious and effective public diplomacy efforts in Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere.

Seib's essay begins:

During the past several years, Chinese audiences have flocked to see American movies such as Kung-Fu Panda, much to the alarm of China's political leadership, which has recently made clear that it is not inclined to surrender any terrain on the global cultural battleground.

In an essay published in the magazine Seeking Truth (which was founded by Mao Zedong), China's president Hu Jintao wrote, "We must clearly see that international hostile forces are intensifying the strategic plot of Westernizing and dividing China, and that ideological and cultural fields are the focal areas of their long-term infiltration." Hu added, "We should deeply understand the seriousness and complexity of the ideological struggle...and take forceful measures to be on guard and respond."

How China will respond to Hu's call for action is uncertain, but in light of China's assertiveness, the United States should develop its own soft power strategy for what promises to be a long-term cultural contest. For those attentive to the ongoing intellectual Cold War between the United States and China, Hu's words suggest the need for an American equivalent of George Kennan's "X" article of 1947 that underscored the importance of containing the Soviet Union's ambitions during the aftermath of the Second World War.

A soft power approach does not mean ignoring hard power realities. China's military growth should not be taken lightly, and recent statements by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have made clear that the United States will contest China's efforts to expand its influence within the greater Pacific region. But the world has hopefully moved beyond the time when such duels were based on major powers' amassing nuclear arsenals and otherwise flexing military muscle. In an era dominated by the tools of mass communication -- ranging from cinema to Twitter -- less dangerous, but nevertheless intense, competition will determine global political influence.

Click here to read the full essay.

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September 24, 2020 - 2:00pm

Join the USC U.S.-China Institute for a conversation with U.S. Assistant Attorney General John Demers.

October 15, 2020 - 4:00pm

Please join the USC U.S.-China Institute for a book talk with author David Lampton. His new book examines China’s effort to create an intercountry railway system connecting China and its seven Southeast Asian neighbors.