China has a soft-power problem—especially among its neighbors in Asia. New data collected by my organization, the Eurasia Group Foundation, demonstrates that many people in Singapore, the Philippines, and South Korea have unfavorable views of China’s soft power. While about three-quarters of people surveyed reported favorable views of U.S. soft power (a composite measure of views of the United States, its culture, its system of government, and its influence over the past five years), just over one-third said they had similarly favorable views of Chinese soft power. This is a concrete problem for Beijing, because in the Philippines and South Korea, it contributes to policy changes that conflict with China’s objectives.
While many in the U.S. foreign-policy community focus on China’s growing military power and reach, its inability to win new friends and allies through the power of example requires more focused attention. China’s soft-power deficit presents the United States with an opportunity to rebuild its own soft-power assets in Asia. Based on our data, the United States should build networks of cooperation on issues such as economic development, economic disparities between the rich and poor, political instability, and climate change.