The Australian Loy Interpreter website published Melissa Taylor, a researcher at the Asian Institute of the University of Melbourne, entitled “What’s wrong with Australia’s “soft power”?” on February 19. The full text is excerpted as follows:
In October last year, Australia’s Foreign and Trade Department confirmed that it had stopped the 2018 “soft power assessment” grandly launched by then Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, which was said to ensure that “Australia remains a convincing force in our region”.
Australia seeks to build an idea with this assessment, which is widely believed to refer to the attraction and persuasion a country has without resorting to force (i.e. “hard power”).
So, why does soft power fall out of favor? What does this tell us about Australia’s current foreign policy positioning?
There is a good reason not to issue a soft power report in 2020.
First the forest fires, then the epidemic, these major challenges have negatively affected many aspects of Australia’s soft power, such as tourism, international education and creative industries.The release of assessment reports at a time when these industries are in difficult circumstances can be disturbing and likely to exacerbate calls for more government support for these industries as national assets.
Perhaps the better question is why the evaluation report was not published in 2018 or 2019.
Does it not coincide with the government’s focus? Are the evaluation results not ideal? At a hearing before the Senate Budget Committee in early 2020, the Australian Foreign and Trade Secretary General, Fran-An Son (Frances Adamson), said that “we find it difficult as a department to produce a report that we think is absolutely meeting the goal”.
Since then, all references to “soft power” have disappeared from the organization chart of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, indicating that there is a major doubt about this statement.
Despite determined efforts such as the Soft Power 30 Index, there have been concerns about the lack of conceptual clarity of soft power and there is no consensus on how to measure soft power and put it into practice.
The critical view still holds that what cannot be measured is not important.
Politically, soft power can also pose a challenge not only to recognize characteristics that may be regarded as national advantages, but also to reflect on weaknesses in soft power, such as some policies that undermine Australia’s international reputation, including its approach to climate change and asylum-seekers, or the reduction of foreign aid. .
Another major challenge is to avoid conflating soft power with the negative connotations of “influence” and “foreign interference”. Obviously, there is not only hard power in international relations, but also the big countries do not always get the results they want.
In international affairs, reputation is obviously crucial.
The difficulty lies in proposing a theory to explain and measure a country’s ability to influence its international environment. Even if the assessment is not completed, we hope that this process will help guide Australia to take friendly actions.