Q) What do you understand about soft power? Evaluate the performance of India’s soft power holistically around the world and present a comparative analysis with China.

Why this Question?

Important part of GS Paper-II.

Key demand of the Question 

The answer must evaluate the performance of India’s soft power holistically at the global level and also compare it with the soft power capabilities of China.


Evaluate – When you are asked to evaluate, you have to pass a sound judgement about the truth of the given statement in the question or the topic based on evidence.  You have to appraise the worth of the statement in question. There is scope for forming a personal opinion here.


Briefly explain what constitutes soft power.


In the first part, explain how India has managed to build a powerful, culturally acceptable, image abroad over the last half-century. Highlight the facts related to ranking and discuss the performance of India.

In the next part, present a comparison between the performance of India and China in soft power capabilities.


Conclude with a way forward.

Model Answer

The term soft power was coined by Joseph Nye and captured the important and (at the time) poorly studied phenomenon in international affairs of “getting others to want the outcomes that you want,” predicated on the attractiveness of one’s culture, political values and foreign policy. Though slower to yield results, soft power is a less expensive means than military force or economic inducements to get others to do what we want.

India’s Performance

  • India’s spiritualism, yoga, movies and television, classical and popular dance and music, it's principles of non-violence, democratic institutions, plural society, and cuisine have all attracted people across the world.
  • India’s soft power is being leveraged alongside larger foreign policy initiatives such as the Look East Policy (now Act East).
  • India’s soft power diplomacy, particularly in Afghanistan involves winning “hearts and minds” and strengthening its cultural as well as political relations with Afghanistan, backed with the ideas of nation building and political stability.

In 2020, for the first time India broke into the top 30, in the Brand Finance Global Soft-Power Index 2020, which highlighted that India punches well below its weight.

India vs China

  1. In the overall diplomatic influence, among 25 Asian powers, China stands at first while India ranks sixth. The diplomatic influence further divided into the following:
  • Diplomatic Networks: though India nearly matches China in the number of regional embassies but it considerably lags behind the number of embassies worldwide (176 to 126)
  • Multilateral Power: Even though India matches China in terms of regional memberships, its contribution to the UN capital budget is completely dwarfed by Chinese contributions (11.7% to 0.8% of the total).
  • Foreign policy leadership, ambition & effectiveness: China ranks 1st or 4th on four measures while India ranks between 4th & 6th in Asia.
  1. In the overall Cultural Influence measure, India stands at 4th place & China at 2nd place in Asia. Lowy further divided cultural influence into 3 following elements:
  • Cultural projection: India scores better on Google searches & it also exports more of its cultural services.
  • But China does better on several other indicators, such as: India has only 9 brands, while China has 73 brands in the list of the top 500 global brands.
  • Of the number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, India has 37 while China has 53.
  • In the travel visa-free sphere, an Indian passport is allowed only in 60, while a Chinese passport can do so in 74 countries.
  1. Information flows: In 2016-17, India hosted a mere 24000 Asian students in tertiary education institutions whereas China hosted 2.25 Lakhs.
  2. Tourist arrivals: In 2017, India clocked 5 million arrivals from Asia whereas China clocked 41 million & ranked 1st among 25 Asian countries. On total tourist arrivals from all over the world, India received 17 million while China received 63 million.
  3. Finally, in the political influence measure of 2017, both are placed close enough. The governance effectiveness index shows India scoring in the top 43% countries worldwide & ranked 12th, while China scored in the top 32% & ranked 10th. In political stability & absence of violence/terrorism, India ranked 21st & China ranked 15th.

Around the world, in the current era China evokes awe, India evokes silence. Classical India stands head-to-head with classical China in the regard it garners, but Contemporary India has been left a distance behind. It's high time for India to recognize its soft power bottlenecks & has to work hard to give superior competition to China.