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«Soft power has become a major issue in urban economic development in China in recent years. Chinese scholars have creatively applied soft power ...»

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Soft Power and Shantou Economic Special Zone Construction:

A New Breakthrough Point for Development

Tian Guang

Shantou University

Soft power has become a major issue in urban economic development in China in recent years. Chinese

scholars have creatively applied soft power theory in their studies of different city development strategies.

Shantou is located in one of five Special Economic Zones in China and its rate of economic growth has

sped up in recent years. However, compared with other Special Economic Zones Shantou has lost its opportunities for fast development in both hard power and soft power. The article suggests that Shantou can mobilize its resources and choose to enhance soft power development as a break through point to gain socioeconomic full-scale development. The article further suggests that to build up the city’s spirit and to increase the city’s brand value would be a breakthrough point for the development of the city soft power.


Today, urban development mainly determines the world development and in the future, every country’s economic growth will rely more heavily on the contribution from cities. All scholars agree that a city’s development must take synthesized strength as its foundation. We categorize the infrastructure construction and other resources that can be transformed into material products as hard strength or hard power of a city; categorize the intangible assets, such as spiritual and the cultural traditions and characteristics as soft strength or soft power of a city. Repeatedly encountering the bottleneck constrains urban development, such as limiting land resource, degrading environmental protection, and exhausting the production capacity. To enhance and develop soft strength and power should become a rational and feasible choice facing most decision makers for urban development (Wang, 2009).

It is not difficult to find out that in today’s world those most developed, charming and attractive cities, except for their strong hard strength and power, they all have their unique soft strength and power formatted from their social capital, such as energetic cultural dynamics, their spiritual assets, and their traditional values. The mechanism that integrates those intangible assets into strength and power enhances the overall development of the cities and thus becomes a competitive advantage of those cities.

Therefore, social capital is the soft resources of regional economic development. The meaning of soft power and its formation mechanism based on social capital becomes one of the most discussed topics recently among economists, especially among Chinese economists in China. Scholars put forward a new perspective of a comprehensive observation of the regional and urban economic resource endowments in order to make a reasonable strategic choice for regional and urban development (Li, 2011).

Shantou is a coastline city located in the eastern part of Guangdong province, South East China. It is suggested that the globalization of the world economy has assigned an important role to coastal cities to Journal of Applied Business and Economics vol. 12(6) 2011 121 play in national development. In China, coastal cities have functioned as “engines” in economic growth since earlier 1980s (Han and Yan, 1999). As a coastal city, the territory of Shantou is about 2043 square kilometers with a population of 5.2 million. It is one the five Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in China.

The Chinese government gives special economic policies and flexible governmental measures to SEZs, which allows SEZs to utilize an economic management system that is especially conducive to doing business not already existing in the rest of mainland China. Authorized by the State Council from May 1, 2011 the Special Economic Zone scope expands to whole Shantou city, which combines the special zone construction and the Shantou urban development into one package. Compared with other SEZs, such as Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Xiamen, and Hainan Island, apparently Shantou missed its prime opportunity for rapid development. Presently, not only Shantou falls behind in hard strength and hard power but also behind other SEZs in soft power development. The growth of soft power in Shantou in recent years, compared with its own hard power growth, is not balanced and as a result, it slows down the overall social economic development of the city. Accordingly, the underdeveloped soft strength becomes a barrier that obstructs the SEZ construction and needs to be removed (Zhu, 2007).

Shantou definitely needs to redefine its development strategies to meet the new challenges it is facing in today’s world. The strategies for urban development concern the comprehensive and long-term planning in the light of how the city positions itself and what goal it is to attain. They serve as guidelines and roadmaps for the development of city. We argue that the full-scope development of a city relies on both its hard strength and soft strength; as such, any city must keep a balance of its both hard power and soft power. We also argue that the growth and accumulation of hard power in a city usually involves a large capital investment and may take a longer time, while the soft power development, in certain areas does not request a large capital input and could break through in a short period of time. Considering the fact that Shantou has an unbalanced structure of hard power and soft power, the realistic social economic conditions and the stern challenges Shantou is facing, we suggest that to mobilize its resources to quickly enhance and build up its soft strength and power is a rational and feasible strategic choice for Shantou SEZ construction in the near future.


The concept of soft power initially introduced by Harvard University political science professor Joseph Nye to explain and predict the persistence of the US hegemony during the days of American national decline in the 1980s. In Nye’s theory, a nation’s power includes two kinds from the development perspective, one is hard power, and the other is soft power. In his original conception, Nye defines soft power as co-optive behavioral power that attracts “others to want what you want” (Nye, 1990 b: 188). He argues that, soft power was through attraction rather than coercion to achieve the wish. It originated from a country’s culture, political ideas and foreign policies.

According to Nye, in international politics, a country can affect other country’s conduct to achieve its objectives in various ways. It can let other countries yield by means of violence; it can use economic benefits to entice other countries and let them acknowledge its goal; moreover, it can also use ideology, culture and political values and other factors to attract other countries to achieve the voluntary target, which is the soft power of that country. Compared to hard power, soft power is an alternate way of expressing the will of a country and therefore is a non-material power. In essence, the soft power manifests itself in cultural and political values and policies. The greatest feature is the use of attraction rather than coercion. The political actors achieve its goals in a subtle way rather than the frenetic method (Nye, 1990 a).

The concept of soft power has poured into the new strategic thought for the various countries in the international competition, and it becomes the new focal point for countries’ to build competitive advantages. However, Kroenig et. al (2010) argue that the term soft power is entrenched in the theory and practice of American foreign policy, scholars have not yet developed, or empirically tested, a theory about the conditions under which governments can use soft power to their advantage—and that makes good policy hard to design. Drawing on research from the different fields, they have developed a theory about 122 Journal of Applied Business and Economics vol. 12(6) 2011 the conditions under which state efforts to employ soft power will be most likely to succeed. They argue that to apply soft power effectively states must communicate to an intended target in a functioning marketplace of ideas, persuade the target to change its attitude on a relevant political issue, and ensure that the target's newly held attitude influences international political outcomes.

Nevertheless, Joseph Nye's theory of soft power was very quickly introduced to the academic and political fields in China, Wang Huning, one of the major think-tank members for both President Jiang Zeming and President Hu Jintao, published his article on soft power in the Fudan University Academic Journal, among the most prestigious academic journals in China. In the pilot paper on soft power in China Wang claims that China should build its international strategy based on a stronger soft power (Wang, 1993). Later, Chinese scholars and politicians publish a series articles and speeches on national soft power and competitive advantages, and suggest the Communist Party of China to rule its people by soft power. The intuition leads us to believe that using thirty years of reform and opening-up has laid strong and solid material foundations for the future development of China, and scored considerable influences for China in terms of hard power. However, the construction of soft power lags behind in many fields such as culture, education, public management etc. That is incongruous with the increasing influence of China (cf. Ni, 2001; Li, 2008).

The CPC General Secretary Hu Jintao stressed the importance of building the nation’s soft power several times in 2006 and made a special note on the national cultural soft power in his political report to the 17th CPC National Congress in 2007. Hu clearly indicates that the enhancement and promotion of “China’s soft power,” is a strategic measure related to the future prospects of China (Li, 2008; Tao 2010).

As the result, China government has increased its investment on diffusing Chinese cultural values in the world. For example, China has launched a globally spearheading by a network of Confucius Institutes, educational outposts designed to promote Chinese language and culture. In just under six years, China has established 320 institutes around the world. In year of 2010 alone, the Chinese government made a further $8.9 billion investment in external publicity work. Combined with the rapid expansion of Confucius Institutes around the world, a growing number of foreign-language Xinhua news outlets, and a swelling public diplomacy budget, China’s soft power capability appears to be on a steep upward curve (McClory, 2010).

The discussion on soft power thus conflagrated in the domestic society in various academic fields, such as political science, management, administrative science, economics, cultural studies and many others. More recently, as Zhang and Li (2010) observe, in China the soft power theory has extended to the areas of expertise, combined with the relevant content of the professional research. Some scholars argue that soft power has different levels, such as human level, domestic political level, and international political level (Gong, 2008); other scholars indicate that the theory of soft power can also applies to a country's internal social governance (Li, 2008). Zhang and Li (2010) propose the ruling party of Chinese society needs to strengthen its soft power in the process of governance in order to construct the harmonious society.

Creatively, the Chinese scholars started to apply the theory of soft strength and power in their discussion of various issues pertaining to regional economic growth. More specifically, they started to use the soft power theory to probe strategies for urban socioeconomic development strategies. Chinese scholars sharply note that previously Chinese city government tend to focus on the establishment of hard power and ignores the soft power, which leads to a serious waste of cultural resources, being inadequate protection of cultural heritage, and lack of wholeness and planning on the establishment of cultural soft power. At present, facing the new challenge of industrialization, informationalization, urbanization, marketization and internationalization in China, city, as a symbol of civilization and accumulation of wealth, plays an important role in China’s peaceful rising (Wu and Wang, 2009).

The concept of soft power is rapidly becoming the catch phrase in the Chinese urban development domain; almost every city is seeking its soft power development opportunities although not every city really understands how to mobilize its resources to build its soft power. Everybody, whether city politicians, scholars, or regular citizens believe that culture is not only the important fountainhead for national cohesion and the creativity, but also is the important synthesis competitive power among cities Journal of Applied Business and Economics vol. 12(6) 2011 123 (Zhuang and Yang, 2010). The Chinese scholars indicate that “soft power of cities” refers to an aggregate of a myriad of powers including social cohesiveness, culture appeal and the supportive force to science and education, which are constructed on non-material factors such as city culture, government service, the civilization of citizens and image communication. Such a soft power can attract various production and consumption factors from the outside, coordinate the socioeconomic operation in the city, improve the city taste in the fields of society, politics, economy and culture, help promote the competitive force and grant vigorous support to the healthy, harmonious, and leap-frog development of the city (Zhuang and Chen, 2009).

On the national level, to enhance the cultural soft power construction is the country’s strategy, on the local level, to enhance the soft power construction will serve as a very important factor to increase the city’s competitive advantage. A city’s well-established cultural soft strength can help to increase the asset of the city own brand, it can also help to increase the city comprehensive attractive power. This type of strength finally will generate positive influence on the city brand through the internal public (the residents) identity to the city and through the appeal to exterior public (other local inhabitants). As such, the city will have stronger attractions to the outsiders, stronger inspirational forces, and stronger persuasive power to influence (Li, 2011; Ma, 2007).

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