Soft-Power Watch: China and Norway, America and the World

Reminder of our ongoing theme: All the varied elements of "soft power" -- those that together enhance a nation's prestige, moral influence and suasion, ability to make others willingly support its interests, etc -- depend less on expensive "image-building" campaigns than on an accumulation of unplanned, candid glimpses it gives of its real nature and character. It's true of people, and true of entire societies. As mentioned previously here, here, and here.

Today's China installment: The government has denied a visa to the former prime minster of Norway, apparently out of ongoing pique over the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the still-imprisoned Liu Xiaobo. In case you've forgotten, the Peace Prize, unlike the other (Sweden-based) Nobel awards, is handled by the Norwegians, although the prize committee is separate from the government. I do give soft-power points to the robustly nationalist Global Times in China for reporting on the controversy at all, at least in the English edition and albeit with a comforting pro-government spin:

The GT presentation of the government's rationale:

China's decision to deny a visa to a former Norwegian prime minister should not be over-interpreted, officials say, despite analysts saying the move reflects lingering frosty relations between the two countries.

Former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, whose term in office ended in 2005, was invited to attend and moderate a World Council of Churches (WCC) meeting this week in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. However, he was denied a visa without reason, Aftenposten, Norway's largest newspaper, reported Tuesday.

Bondevik told the newspaper his visa denial was "probably" linked to his support of the Nobel Committee's decision to award its 2010 peace prize to Liu Xiaobo, an imprisoned dissident.

However, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin stressed on Wednesday that the case should not be misconstrued.

 Chinese citizens are denied visas daily by foreign embassies and consulates and visa policies vary by country, he said.

On the US side, here is our own soft-power development: the TSA is expanding its operations overseas! Hoo boy. From the NYT:


As with the China-Norway dispute, see if you feel better or worse about the government's position after reading the explanation. As laid out in the Times story, with emphasis added:

The thinking is simple: By placing officers in foreign countries and effectively pushing the United States border thousands of miles beyond the country's shores, Americans have more control over screening and security. And it is far better to sort out who is on a flight before it takes off than after a catastrophe occurs.

"It's a really big deal -- it would be like us saying you can have foreign law enforcement operating in a U.S. facility with all the privileges given to law enforcement, but we are going to do it on your territory and on our rules," the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, said on a flight back to the United States from the Middle East, where she negotiated with leaders in Israel and Jordan about joint airport security programs. "So you flip it around, and you realize it is a big deal for a country to agree to that. It is also an expensive proposition."

It's long been the case that passengers on flights headed to the United States -- from Asian countries, Europe, Australia -- have to go through extra screening procedures at those foreign airports, compared with passengers headed anywhere else. But actual overseas TSA presence .... this can be expensive, in a variety of ways.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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