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Obama shows his smart power
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17:02, April 17, 2009

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US President Barack Obama announced on April 13 that he would eliminate the restrictions imposed on US citizens, which prevent them from visiting their families in Cuba and remitting money to their relatives in Cuba. The New York Times said this is the most significant change in US policy toward Cuba over the past few decades. Expressing friendship to Cuba is just one of the highlights of Obama's soft diplomatic policies since he took office.

From East Asia to the Middle East, from South America to Europe, Obama and his senior officials have launched a "springtime diplomatic offensive" with smiles and olive branches. In Turkey, Obama said that he has never wanted to make war with the Islamic world and that he wishes to hold dialogue with Iran. In Europe, he raised the denuclearization issue and said words that European people like to hear. In Geneva, the US and Russia promised to "reset" their bilateral relations. In Asia, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited four countries as soon as she took office, which has become known as "a journey of listening." Obama's diplomatic policies have begun showing notable differences from the previous administration.

The US is the world's number one power, and is a dominant power in the existing international order. The shift in diplomatic policy by the US will inevitably have far-reaching impacts on changes to the international situation. Looking at the current momentum, this type of "smart power-oriented" diplomacy has already played a certain positive role in raising the image of the US and easing the deterioration of main issues on the global agenda.

The adjustments to Obama's diplomatic policy is favorable firstly for restoring relations between the US and certain countries, as well as for reinforcing cooperation with its allies; secondly, from the perspective of the current general background of the changing political environment, the influence of public opinion is increasingly important, and has become the focus of competition between each power on the international stage. Obama's diplomatic policy is clearly helpful for improving the US image in the world; thirdly, facing the current serious financial crisis, the US should make more use of soft power and less use of hard power, which will ease its burdens and will be more favorable for US efforts to put enormous financial, personnel and physical resources into its economic recovery.

Obama's diplomatic policies have shown the world the following outstanding features: more flexibility, more good will, more affinity, and more reliance on diplomatic negotiation. In essence, this type of diplomatic policy is aimed at forming a sort of moral and just influence. Such policies are aimed at dominating the commanding height of morality and justice by means of "skillfulness and wisdom" such as "flexibility and good will."

The US will not give up its dominant role in world affairs. In the past, perhaps it relied more on the deterrence of its military power to meet this strategic goal. Now and in future, it will rely more on its moral and just influence to influence the world.

Of course, influence in international affairs through moral force does not mean completely throwing away big sticks and picking up sweet carrots. Wrapping a big stick in a layer of soft sponge or putting a carrot at the front and a big stick at the back, the US has never given up its powerful military force. However, more initiative and active employment of soft power by the US is likely to help it change form a binding force or a dominant force into a force that respects public opinion around the world.

Diplomatic policy is also a kind of political game. One of its fundamental principles is to obtain the largest benefit at the least cost. The adjustment of Obama's diplomatic policy notably predicates reduction of cost, without any change in their goal to obtain the most benefits. In the future, it remains to be seen what impact the US reduction in hard power will make on global political, economic and security patterns; in particular, when meeting with less traditional security challenges, can the Obama administration continue to make the most effective response at the least cost?

By People's Daily Online

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