Lord Wei addresses House on Soft Power and Conflict PreventionDecember 6, 2014
In summary, he reflected on the place of trade as a means of influence. Soft power is often thought of in terms of non-profit, diplomatic and associational activity. However, commercial and cultural initiatives have criss-crossed the world over the centuries and have enabled countries and cultures to communicate and connect across language and other barriers.
For example, the European initiatives emanating from the courts of kings and nobles in France, Italy and beyond, find their expression still today in the luxury wares and fashions that fill high streets around the world.
Each initiative identifies iconic products or artefacts in areas that have universal appeal, allowing them to say something of their host culture that words alone cannot convey, and often specifically in four areas: food and drink, housing, clothing or fashion, and communications, which covers both transportation and now IT. So whether one is drinking a Coca-Cola or Earl Grey tea, driving a Mini or a Cadillac, wearing Armani or Savile Row, and so on, millions are able to partake in both high-end and everyday products and services that enable them to have a taste of another culture from somewhere around the world and thus create goodwill and admiration.
Also the role of sport, exported around the world, created a valuable means ultimately of enabling friendly competition between nations, as a way of building relations and avoiding conflicts which might otherwise get out of hand.
With all these, one can pick up consciously or subconsciously a set of values that belies the simple functionality of the products that make them up – an understanding of quality and craftsmanship, of honour and tradition, civility, good humour, fair play, social responsibility, community, freedom, prosperity and aspiration.
The key to whether such values have a positive or negative impact ultimately comes down, of course, to people. And here is the rub: our soft power and that of other cultures derive not just from our products and cultural artefacts, and not even just from our values, but from the behaviour and mindset of the people who promote these values and artefacts to the world.
Here there is a particular poignancy because, noting that Christmas is just round the corner, there is a person, in Jesus Christ, whose soft power, if you like, has persisted to this day and shaped nations, not least our own; and whose example, if followed, gives us a guide to how to prevent unnecessary conflict and be the kind of people who promote peace, not violence.
Jesus encouraged his followers to represent him by helping to peacefully bring his values of love and blessing to the world, using the trade routes that were the Roman internet of the day to shape history to the then ends of the earth. He did this not by confining himself and his message of salvation to one country, city, or even building, but by positively influencing the very people who shape culture and values, and who oversee how these are transmitted locally and globally, and who through trade and commerce shape the narratives—the dreams to which people aspire.
Some might argue that faith, whether Christian or other faiths, is a historical source of conflict, and should be kept out of any debate about soft power. However, we need to understand the nuance. The kind of faith that underpinned Jesus’s notion of ekklesia, of his church throughout a city making peace and caring for the needs of its citizens—young, old, masters or employers—is the kind that brings peace, and which can help steer the right values and the right artefacts in the right direction.
Today we live in a world of conflict. We need people who can follow Christ’s lead and take a stand for winning the peace, not just the war, whose values are positive and who can help prevent conflict, and whose everyday lives, products and narratives, instead of sowing division, promote understanding, restraint and tolerance.
The full speech can be found here