Soft Power of Donald Trump and Xi Jinping

China is rapidly investing in cooperative development within the international community. President Xi Jinping expressed his intentions to develop Chinese soft power. Since then, the efforts to increase China’s popularity and likeability have continued. For example, the country invested billions of dollars in developing the Belt and Road Initiative. It is possible to highlight the opening of Confucius Institutes, the development of educational exchange programs with higher educational institutions, and the increasing Chinese media’s presence in the international arena (Albert, 2018). Thus, it is evident that China is planning the overall development of its soft power worldwide.

The point which can be presented as the primary intention of President Xi is the development of national power. According to the research by Ahmad (2012), national power constitutes three main components violence, wealth, and knowledge. Violence is considered to be a low-quality power due to its coercive and inflexible nature. Wealth is the medium power, and knowledge is distinguished as the highest quality. In this manner, the investments made aim at both knowledge and wealth. The actions of President Xi are considered to construct an intelligent society for the Chinese people. By investing in the educational system, he created the human resources to lead the Chinese nation to power. Namely, not destructive power gained by violence but the power of knowledge. As known, a higher level of education leads to more effective state management. Then, it would be convenient to have professionals from China who could govern the country effectively. Moreover, the Communistic ideology might need scientific research since it was primarily marginalized after the Cold War. Hence, President Xi might try to pursue the goal of the country’s power enhancement less radically.

It is also possible to consider that the aim behind such high investment in soft power is part of the global expansion of the Chinese economy as well. The term soft power involves “possession and distribution of cultural or otherwise “soft” artifacts” (Hagström & Nordin, 2020, p. 509) that may affect foreign policy. The global community negatively perceives the expansion of the Chinese economy in fear of market monopolization and dominance. As a result, this initiative by President Xi to increase Chinese soft power may reflect a local response to the cautious relation of foreign powers. As was noted before, the power of the nation includes wealth as well as knowledge. Then, establishing trade networks is beneficial for enlarging the country’s wealth. As such, familiarizing the market with Chinese culture makes people in power perceive Chine better. If there are fewer cultural differences, communication and, reluctantly, trade grows more rapidly. Therefore, by injecting the elements of Chinese culture through media and other institutions, Xi might be trying to engage with the global economy more.

In contrast, Donald Trump, during his presidency, considered a different approach. His doctrine is accepted as the retreat from the front. He ceased operations on the American commitments that he deemed risky, politically unappealing, or costly. His actions were radical in consideration of seven Muslim-majority countries as he attempted to ban travelers that originated from the Middle East. He declared American withdrawal from UNESCO and the Paris Agreement on climate change. President Trump attempted to nullify Iran’s nuclear deal, a free-trade pact with South Korea, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). His budget plan for 2018 included plans to slash foreign aid by 42%, or $11.5 billion, and limit American financing for development programs (Osnos, 2018). These actions are akin to the attempt to alienate the US government from the international arena, a clear cut from recognizing what is considered soft power.

The motifs for such bold statements are not transparent and subject to speculation. However, several perspectives and hypotheses can be drawn using the prism of national power and public relations. First of all, Donald Trump, before becoming a president, was primarily a businessman. His perspective on international politics was concerned with the enhancement of the local economy in mind. It is certain that withdrawal from Paris Agreement would have increased the production capacity of local plants at the cost of unprecedented environmental damage. This approach would have been a short-term boost for the country’s GDP. However, it is essentially a focus on the middle power — wealth. In this way, the aims of Presidents are similar: both of them want to enhance the local economy, yet, their methods are different. While Xi tries to enter the global economy and gain a more significant share, Trump restricts US production by restricting the global market influence. Therefore, the de-emphasis on soft power serves the goal of its economic enhancement.

The economic factor is essential for the self-sustainability of any country, even so for a powerhouse such USA. Trump was overly concerned with the internal US market without realizing the benefits of international trade. At the time, his focus was on expanding the internal market at the expense of foreign companies and the workforce. This plan is comparable to the times before globalization, where each state focused on self-sufficiency. This idea of self-sufficiency was something that fueled Trump’s agenda and led to the de-emphasis of soft power. Trump’s pursuit of a closed economy was a response to his perception of the significant risk that an open economy has — highly emphasized dependence on imports and the inability of domestic companies to compete. As a result, Donald Trump was determined to eliminate this threat by rejecting the core principle of soft power. Moreover, Trump could be concerned with the goal of a self-sustained country, which would suffer less influence from others caused by the economy. These influences are cultural, primarily; hence, the attempt to concentrate on the local economy might be connected to the aim of cultural preservation.

Another factor that contributed to such development is the populist nature of President Trump’s approach to politics. Primarily, he was focused on public concerns, which revolved around the increased presence of immigrants in the job market. In order to appeal to a greater audience, he used social media and instigated a populist-styled simulation of public diplomacy (Surowiec & Miles, 2021). His primary approach toward public relations revolved around the idea of pleasing the masses and eliminating threats instead of resolving the issues. Trump demonstrated high skill of demagoguery by appealing to people’s desires and prejudices. He empowered them through his speeches and promises but failed to deliver permanent results. Nevertheless, this led to devastating consequences for America in the role of an international leader. The approval and trust in the US government diminished as the importance of soft power was ignored because the president was not adamant in political affairs and had forgotten core American values of liberty.


Ahmad, A. (2012). Concept of national power. Strategic Studies, 32(2/3), 83-101. Web.

Albert, E. (2018). China’s big bet on soft power. Council on Foreign Relations. Web.

Hagström, L., & Nordin, A. H. (2020). China’s “politics of harmony” and the quest for soft power in international politics. International Studies Review, 22(3), 507-525.

Osnos, E. (2018). Making China great again. The New Yorker. Web.

Surowiec, P., & Miles, C. (2021). The populist style and public diplomacy: kayfabe as performative agonism in Trump’s Twitter posts. Public Relations Inquiry, 10(1), 5-30. Web.

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