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Soft-Power Diplomacy: A New Perspective on the Study of Chinese and Japanese Foreign Policy
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Soft-Power Diplomacy:
A New Perspective on the Study of Chinese and Japanese Foreign Policy

Since Harvard professor Joseph Nye coined the term "soft power," this important conceptual approach to understanding and practicing international relations has been increasingly embraced by academics and policymakers in many countries, especially Japan and China. During the last two decades, China, as a rising power on the global stage, has been developing and presenting its evolving foreign strategy. At the same time, Japan has been defining its new statecraft to reinvigorate its stagnant economy and manage often tumultuous relationships with its Asian neighbors. Against this backdrop, the idea of soft power has become an attractive approach to foreign policy for the policymakers in both states. Arguably, no other states have paid more attention to the idea of soft power than Japan and China. Jing Sun's book Japan and China as Charm Rivals: Soft Power in Regional Diplomacy is thus a timely and important addition to the understanding of this concept. The book tells a story of how the governments and leaders of Japan and China seek to protect and enhance their national interests through diplomatic maneuvering such as wooing, persuading, and setting examples. Sun provides insightful analysis and a refreshing perspective on Chinese and Japanese foreign policies as well as the two states' bilateral relationship.

Most scholars have analyzed soft power by focusing only on either the sources of such power (the structuralist model) or the behaviors of power-wielding (the behaviorist model). In structuralist terms, soft power is thought of as a collection of attributes that make a state attractive or pivotal in the eyes of other states. In behaviorist terms, soft power is thought of as a state's ability— i.e., its capacity achieved from attraction and agenda-setting—to influence the behavior of others to get the outcomes it wants. Yet a state's soft-power [End Page 145] resources will not automatically translate into its desired policy outcomes. Many soft-power analysts fail to answer this important question: how do we know that a change in one state's foreign policy behavior is caused by another state's use of soft power and not by something else? It is thus important to establish a mechanism of power conversion in the study of soft power—that is, how the appeal of a state's values, the legitimacy of its foreign policy, and the attractiveness of its culture result in its desired policy outcomes with another state. To some extent, Sun's analytical approach bridges the gap between the assessment of the source of soft power and the policy outcomes resulting from such power by observing the interactions among three images: an image based on values, a diplomatic image based on the legitimacy of foreign policy, and a popular image based on cultural and commercial products (p. 10).

Foreign policies are formulated and implemented in international and domestic contexts that are essential to a state's policy options and outcomes. A state's sources and uses of soft power must be understood and reconceptualized on their own terms rather than in American terms. Therefore, it is imperative for the scholars of soft power to establish empirical connections between Nye's definition of soft power and their case studies. Unfortunately, many soft-power analysts have superficially applied Nye's analysis of American soft power to their own case studies and neglected to place the concept in the proper international and domestic contexts. Sun's thesis avoids this mistake by introducing the notion of "recipient context" in the introduction. Throughout the book, Sun stresses that the government and leaders of Japan and China have embraced the idea of soft power and conducted soft power-based diplomacy on their own terms. In empirical discussions, Sun spares no effort to emphasize the importance of two variables—historical experience and the domestic agendas of both wooing states and targeted states. If a wooing state has a good grasp of these two intervening factors and contextualizes its diplomatic campaigns, it can achieve more successful policy outcomes from the targeted states.

However, in spite of Sun's persuasive thesis, there are several issues in the...