This article was originally published in the Global Soft Power Index 2022.
This year, China's soft power performance has been exerted along several main lines including anti-COVID-19 efforts, innovation, the Winter Olympics, and its commercial brands.
1. Economic development in the pandemic
In the second year of the pandemic, China's GDP increased by 8.1% and this rate was the best among the world's major economies, leading to China being rated 1st in the Global Soft Power Index’s Business & Trade pillar. China’s GDP reached US$17.7 trillion with the Index rating China 1st globally as ‘easy to do business in and with,’ and first at ‘future growth potential.’
A recent government work report puts China’s GDP growth target at around 5.5% in 2022 — at the top end of the forecast range given by many economists, and significantly higher than the IMF's forecast of 4.8%. Achieving such a high level of economic growth would justify the Index’s rating of China at 9.5 out of 10 on the measure of ‘a strong and stable economy.’ This will help China's "transition from Chinese products to Chinese brands", so it is possible that the next few decades will bring further growth of Chinese brands.
At the end of 2021, the Chinese Government stated that there were 2,886 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in China. Although China was the first major country to detect the epidemic, the global perception of China’s COVID-19 performance was very low in 2021. In 2022, China earned the 19th highest ranking of 5.4 on COVID-19 Response in the Index. This is a big and significant improvement from last year’s rating of 3.7. China’s rating is likely boosted by the distribution of Chinese-made vaccines to many non-Western nations for free – using economic hard power to leverage soft power benefits in some countries.
Since 2013, China’s ranking in the “Global Innovation Index” report released by the World Intellectual Property Organization has risen steadily for 9 consecutive years and is currently ranked 12th – a ranking in part based upon the value of the nation’s brands as assessed by Brand Finance. As a developing country, China ranks first in the world in nine indicators including patent applications, trademark applications, industrial designs, high-tech exports, creative product exports and domestic market size. This fully confirms the fact that China’s soft power in the field of technological innovation and intellectual property protection is constantly growing. This is reflected in the Index’s increased evaluation of China on ‘products and brands the world loves’ which increased by a remarkable +2.2 points from 5.7 in 2021 to 7.9 this year.
4. The Winter Olympics
In cooperation with the international community, the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022 received notable praise from the International Olympic Committee and the participating athletes. The successful completion of the Winter Olympics has allowed the world to see a more confident, self-improving, and tolerant China. This helped to boost China’s rating on ‘leaders in sports’ from 2.7 to 3.0, an increase in ranking from 15th last year to 10th globally this year.
China's soft power is also reflected in many other things, from various types of cooperation in outer space technology to the increasing tendency of more Chinese people using domestic brands with more competitive quality and price in their daily lives. Over the past decade, Chinese brands have outperformed international peers in Brand Finance's brand value rankings, with their total value increasing nearly tenfold, and many brands have dominated certain industries for several years now. The picture of China's soft power changes will continue to unfold through more Chinese products becoming Chinese brands as global competitors and then global leaders in time.