Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Why does China consistently beat India on soft power?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Soft-power comparison with China

The article compares India with China in terms of soft-power both countries exert based on the measures produced by Lowy Institute in Australia.

What is soft power?

  • Joseph Nye, who gave us the notion of soft power, suggests that it consists of foreign policy, cultural and political influence.
  • Foreign policy influence comes from the legitimacy and morality of one’s dealings with other countries.
  • Cultural influence is based on others’ respect for one’s culture.
  • Political influence is how much others are inspired by one’s political values.
  • Soft power is difficult to measure.

The Lowy Institute in Australia has produced various measures which correspond roughly to foreign policy influence, cultural influence and political influence.

1) India’s foreign policy influence

  • In diplomatic influence, overall, India ranks sixth and China ranks first among 25 Asian powers.
  • On networks, India nearly matches China in the number of regional embassies it has but is considerably behind in the number of embassies worldwide (176 to 126).
  • Multilaterally, India matches China in terms of regional memberships, but, crucially, its contributions to the UN capital budget are completely dwarfed by Chinese contributions (11.7 per cent to 0.8 per cent of the total).
  • In surveys of foreign policy leadership, ambition, and effectiveness, China ranks first or fourth on four measures while India ranks between fourth and sixth in Asia.

2) Cultural influence

  • Lowy’s overall measure of cultural influence ranks India in fourth place and China in second place in Asia.
  •  Cultural influence is then divided into three elements, of which “cultural projection” and “information flows” are the most important.
  • In cultural projection, India scores better on Google searches abroad of its newspapers and its television/radio broadcasts.
  • India also exports more of its “cultural services” defined as “services aimed at satisfying cultural interests or needs”.
  • China does better on several other indicators.
  • For instance, India has only nine brands in the list of the top 500 global brands whereas China lists 73.
  • On the number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, India has 37 while China has 53.
  • Respect for the Indian passport also lags.
  • Chinese citizens can travel visa-free to 74 countries while Indians can only do so to 60.
  • In terms of information flows, in 2016–17, India hosted a mere 24,000 Asian students in tertiary education institutions whereas China hosted 2,25,000.
  • On total tourist arrivals from all over the world, India received 17 million, while China received 63 million.

3) Political influence

  • In 2017 the two were not ranked that far apart in political influence.
  • The governance effectiveness index shows India scoring in the top 43 per cent countries worldwide and ranked 12th and China scoring in the top 32 per cent and ranked 10th.
  • On “political stability and absence of violence/terrorism”, India ranked 21st, and China ranked 15th.

Consider the question “What do you understand by the term soft-power? How would you assess India’s soft-power potential in terms of various parameters?”


Soft-power theorists suggest that the ability to persuade rests on the power of attraction. We in India may think we are more attractive than China. The numbers show otherwise.

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