- China's Footprints in Southeast Asia ed. by Maria Serena I. Diokno, Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao and Alan H. Yang
China's Footprints in Southeast Asia is an edited volume which tries to assess the effectiveness and impact of China's soft power in Southeast Asia. In doing so, the contributors employ Joseph Nye's concept of "soft power" and develop the notion of China's "footprint" in the region, defined by the editors as "the tangible presence, mark or effect of China's exercise of soft power" (p. 16). The book also attempts to address the politics of Southeast Asian countries' dependency on China. The edited volume suggests that China's soft power is imbued with "invasive" characteristics, which in turn produces a "disruptive rather than benign effect" on regional states (p. 16).
The introductory chapter by the three editors, Maria Serena I. Diokno, Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao and Alan H. Yang, begins by explaining some of the major constraints in China's relations with Southeast Asia, and how Beijing has tried to overcome them. These constraints include the historical context of China's influence on the overseas Chinese residing in Southeast Asia, the rapid modernization of the country's armed forces, its growing economic profile in the region and the South China Sea dispute. From China's perspective, many elements of the existing regional order do not align with its interests, which has prompted Beijing to try to transform some of the underpinnings of the current regional strategic landscape. Soft power is one tool China has used to transform its ties with Southeast Asia. Hence, the second chapter of this volume, written by Teng-Chi Chang, provides the concept of "footprint" to measure the economic and cultural aspects of China's presence in the region, and how these aspects impact regional geopolitics.
While both the introductory and second chapter outline the theoretical framework, the authors could have discussed in greater detail the motivations behind China's efforts to increase its soft power in Southeast Asia. This includes explaining what China aims to achieve and the means by which it wields soft power, identifying the targets of these efforts (elites or the mass public?) and considering how countries in the region perceive China's soft power attributes. [End Page 317]
Chapters Three to Six—by Ian Tsung-yen Chen, Ngeow Chow Bing, Natalia Soebagjo and Dennis D. Trinidad respectively—provide a weighty discussion of China's economic statecraft tools in Southeast Asia. These tools include trade, foreign direct investment and developmental aid. This raises two questions. Firstly, should economic statecraft be considered as soft power? Since soft power is generally understood as the ability to achieve strategic goals through attraction rather than payment or coercion, the authors could have explained why economic statecraft should be included as soft power tool. Secondly, even if economic statecraft can be considered as a form of soft power, it can also be used as a hard power tool to achieve strategic ends. A discussion about how economic statecraft tools can become "hard" through the weaponization of trade, curtailing investments or postponing foreign aid is absent.
China's cultural diplomacy as a soft power tool in the region is the subject of the next two chapters. Chapter Seven, by Yumi Kitamura, reflects on Confucianism in Indonesia, but eventually digresses by focusing on the domestic politics of Southeast Asia's largest country and how the Indonesian Chinese have taken advantage of China's rise for their own political purposes. Chapter Eight, by Hsiao and Yang, examines the Confucius Institute and Confucius Classroom to demonstrate how China is expanding its efforts to widen its soft power influence. Given their competition for influence in Southeast Asia, a comparative study of China's and Taiwan's soft power efforts in the region would have been interesting.
The book has some shortcomings. On page 8, the editors state that China aspires to connect its two Southwestern cities of "Guangzhou (Guangxi) and Kunming (Yunnan)" with Southeast Asia. In...