John Lee for Businessweek:
While China’s neighbors look at the country’s rise with a mixture of apprehension and admiration, the story of India’s reemergence as a regional power is more attractive to many states in the region. After all, unlike China, India has no history of invasion or domination in East and Southeast Asia and does not have competing claims in the South China Sea with other Asian states. Moreover, “in today’s world,” India’s then-Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor said in a speech last November, “it is not the size of the army that wins but the country that tells the better story.” As the world’s largest democracy, with a vibrant press and thriving entertainment industry, India has huge soft power advantages over China and its state-controlled media. The implication is India can take advantage of that goodwill as Asia’s two giants battle for influence in the region and around the world.
Tharoor is correct to refer to India’s soft-power advantages. But goodwill towards India and the enormous potential of Indian soft power—the ability to influence the behavior of other states through attraction and cooptation rather than military force or economic inducement—does not arise simply from the growing popularity of Bollywood movies or the fact that Indian contestants (along with those from Venezuela) have won more Miss World contests than any other country. The fact that one likes Indian culture may not necessarily lead foreign governments to accede and acquiesce to Indian foreign policy objectives.