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Edmond Tang/China Daily
Ronnie Chan, chairman of Hang Lun Properties Ltd and vice chairman of the Asia Society, speaks at the China Daily Asia Leadership Roundtable Tuesday. He was invited as the roundtable's honorary chairman.
The role of China's soft power
By Ronnie Chan
Published: Dec 3 2010 10:19
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Editor's note: The following is a speech delivered by Ronny Chan at the launch ceremony of China Daily Asia Leadership Roundtable November 2.

Before Hong Kong returned to China, I thought Britain would retreat considerably from Hong Kong, and America would likely extend its influence in Hong Kong. There were many issues that confronted the US-China relations and the US-Asia relations.

I think that I was not as worried as today. I fear that perhaps the US-China relations might have reached a point where it might not be as pleasing as many of us in this room have hoped.

But I also realize another thing: the knowledge and the mutual understanding of the two countries are really lacking. It is not just a matter of substance; it is a matter of communication. As we all know, a good situation can be turned into a bad one if we mis-communicate - or conversely, a tough situation can be greatly helped if the communication is correct. And so that caused me very much in the past (20 some years) to devote my time to bettering US-Asia relationships and especially US-China relations.

Now let me look at the matter from a different angle from the perspective of China. A lot of people forget that from the last 2,000 years, China has been one of the most successful nations on earth. There is no denying that in the last 200 years China ran into some hard times. I think that in the last 20 years, we all witnessed the rise of China. What if the last 200 years of tough time in China's history was just an anomaly? What if China is returning to the path that China has been treading for 2,000 years, being one of the most advanced, civilized, prosperous countries in the world?

A lot of people have talked about "hard power". If you're a leader of a country, you'd worry about that. Increasingly a lot of other people have been talking about "soft power". Maybe three years ago Tung Chee-hwa, our previous Chief Executive of Hong Kong, held a forum in Beijing, and being a member of the board of this foundation I was in. Larry Summers was there, Joe Nye from Harvard was there, Ezra Vogel was there, many of these so-called China experts were there.

We started to talk about soft power, Joe asked me a question: historically which country in your opinion has been the most successful in using soft power for the last many centuries, if not millennium? I think the answer is pretty obvious. You may be against the thoughts, but the reality is China. If you look at Western history with the Greeks, Alexander the Great, the Romans (and if you divide it into Eastern Roman or Western Roman Empire and so forth), it was mainly hard power that conquered the world. Whereas China, for 2,000 years or even longer since the Han Dynasty, has far fewer wars than the West. And China uses soft power perhaps more successfully than any other countries.

Lucian Pye, a friend of mine, who has unfortunately passed away and who was a China expert at MIT, said something which to me encapsulates China better than any Chinese, perhaps a foreigner sees China more objectively. He said China is "a civilization which pretends to be a nation state", which means, it is a soft power nation.

I think that perhaps China needs to retreat through 2,000 years of history of being the most successful nation in using soft power. Without much of use of the military, China was able to influence its neighbors, be friends with its neighbors, trade with its neighbors, and be a civilization. That was in many ways an enrichment to its neighbors. So today I suggest that China, facing a communication issue among others, should return to its route and soft power, and be a nation full of thoughtful people, analytical people, people with independent thoughts, people who have knowledge of the East and the West, people who can communicate and bridge the gap between the East and the West.

Recently somebody asked me to give a talk on how to be a respected businessman. I said that might be a problem for me to talk about it because I'm not sure if I am that respected. But nonetheless I was given the task, so I gave him some thoughts. I gave a conclusion that it is not enough to have just money. To be sure, if I don't make a lot of money, I won't be invited here. So let's face it, if you're a businessman you'd better have a lot of money, just like if you're a nation you'd better have strong economy, even a strong military. But having said that, because a businessman makes a lot of money does not mean that he is respected. You must be thoughtful, analytical, caring and many other things in order to be a respected businessman.

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