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Father of 'soft power' gives keynote speech in Taipei

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Joseph Nye, a top global political scholar who coined the term “soft power,” was invited by NU SKIN to Taipei to give a keynote speech, in which he stressed the importance of applying soft power in the global information age.

The annual NU SKIN Master Forum was held at Taipei International Convention Center yesterday, and Nye delivered a speech on the topic, “Soft Power, the Driving Force to Change the World.”

According to Nye, soft power is defined as “having people want to do what you want them to do” through attraction and persuasion, rather than by coercion or the use of force. Like love, soft power is not measurable, but that does not mean it is not real or not important, Nye said. Even Adolf Hitler used soft power to influence people close to him, despite the fact that he also employed “hard power” against others during World War II, Nye pointed out.

Anyone in a position of authority can give a command, but without soft power, people may not always be ready to follow those commands. The secret of effective management lies in the use of soft power. Providing a “vision that people can buy in” and developing a culture around it is the key to soft power, Nye said.

People can lead without an authority position. The strength lies in their vision and effective use of soft power, Nye said.

Soft Power in the Information Age

The concept of soft power is especially crucial in the age of social networking. Individuals are now empowered with much more information than was available just 20 to 30 years ago, Nye said. Communication of information was solely the domain of big corporations, but easy and cheap communication is now available to everyone, a phenomenon which has led to the “democratization of information.” Governments no longer dominate world events in the global information age: “non-state actors” may very well influence world events.

It is not the “army” that always wins; it is the “story” that wins, Nye said, adding that the winner is the person that can develop the best narrative to attract others. Nye said that he was always impressed by Taiwan's soft power. Taiwan will never be a military superpower, but has been placed in a favorable position to capitalize on its soft power. Taiwan's soft power is based on democracy, and the country's “honest election leading to changes in government earns the admiration and attraction of others,” Nye said. That soft power is playing an increasingly important role in the information age works in Taiwan's favor, Nye added.

Smart Power: Soft Power Plus Hard Power

The rise of China is littered with the application of “hard power.” China's double-digit economic growth and its increase in military expenditure have brought great number of people out of poverty and generated increased trade, but at the same time has alienated China from its neighboring countries as it flashed its military muscles more often in the East and South China Seas, Nye said.

On the soft power side, China's cultural presence is yet to be widely recognized in the global community, and its universities still do not ranking highly on global assessments. More importantly, the country lacks non-governmental organizations that are best suited to promote soft power. Beijing's censorship and its inability to tolerate dissent undercut its efforts to develop soft power.

However, it is not only China that has been guilty of applying hard power exclusively. The U.S. invasion of Iraq greatly jeopardized the image of America in Europe and the Muslim world. Government actions often undermine efforts to promote soft power.

The key in applying soft power lies in “whose story wins” and “how people manage their narratives.” However, the best strategy is “to combine soft power with hard power to form smart power.” Use of both powers will greatly enhance an entity's ability to influence others, Nye said.

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Joseph Nye, a globally recognized Harvard professor, speaks at an event organized by NU SKIN yesterday in Taipei. Nye first developed the concept of “soft power,” which is defined as the ability to convince and persuade one's way to achieve a desired outcome, rather than by using coercion or monetary incentives.

(Veronika Tomanova, The China Post)

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