China’s ‘charm offensive’ has been greeted by a level of suspicion by western nations. Irrespective of its aging population and limited cultural appeal, the People’s Republic of China has somehow managed to attain international influence. In the book, Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power Is Transforming the World, Joshua Kurlantzick pioneers the thought that perhaps China is winning over developing nations through foreign aid. As Jong Wong highlights, China is employing skillful economic diplomacy exemplified by regional trade agreements. The current covid-19 pandemic has further repositioned China as a global leader, and has further altered the trajectory of international diplomacy. European countries such as Italy, Spain, Hungary and Serbia have famously looked unto China for aid instead of the European Union. More daringly, in April 2020, Hungary signed a ‘secret’ railway contract with China in contravention of EU’s transparency recommendations. The situation is no different from what obtains in most other parts of the world with China notably building an 80 million dollar ‘assistance hub’ in Ethiopia.
In relation to the search for the Covid-19 vaccine, China has promised to make the vaccine universally available in contrast to the President of the United States alleged attempts to purchase a vaccine from Germany to be first used in America. The pertinent question is: would this be a prelude to another cold war? The ideological difference between the United States and the Soviet Union which was fought along political lines only culminated in victory for the United States because of the people-centric notion of democracy. In the case of a cold war between the United States and the China, the United States might find it difficult to rally support from other nations as its present foreign policy stance already excludes it from global acceptance. Furthermore, China’s charm offensive and its ability to dispense loans without ex ante conditions has somewhat enabled a harvest of support from developing nations.
Conclusively, the significance of the current situation is that it will determine the direction of foreign policy for a long time. The emphasis of the United States on ‘hard power’ as opposed to Chinese ‘soft power’ has influenced the obvious polarity in international ‘carrot’ or ‘stick’ policies. It appears that for global relevance, sanctions or display of strength might finally give way to persuasion and goodwill. The Chinese Charm offensive might alter foreign policy in the long term.