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Limits of Chinese Soft Power

At the last minute, several of the countries which earlier in the week had signaled they would boycott the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for Liu Xiaobo--the subject of my World Politics Review column on Friday--reversed their positions.

Serbia found itself caught between its close relations with China--who has steadfastly supported Belgrade's position on Kosovo--and its desire for pursuing integration with the European Union. Serbia's decision to honor the Chinese demarche had not been welcomed by the European Union, and this past Thursday, in Belgrade, EU enlargement commisioner Stefan Fule, during his press conference with Serbia's prime minister Mirko Cvetkovic, made it clear that a country seeking membership in the EU ought to "follow agreed EU foreign policy positions, especially concerning human rights."

Serbia seems to have then adopted the approach that Vinod Sharma had advised for India--the ambassador did not attend but a Serbian official, Sasa Jankovic, was present at the ceremony in Oslo as a representative of the prime minister. In this uneasy compromise Serbia attempted to balance out the contradictory set of pressures it was under.

Ukraine, which is also seeking closer ties to the EU, also made it clear that its ambassador was not attending the ceremony due to a previously-scheduled trip to Kiev, and that first secretary Iryna Bilorus represented Ukraine at awarding of the Nobel Peace prize.

By appearing to back the Chinese request, but making a last minute change, some of the states that ended up having representatives present may have tried to cover all bases. They helped China, earlier in the week, register its disapproval, but by having someone in the hall Friday in Oslo, also made sure to take into account how this would play in Washington and in the countries of the European Union.

I concluded on Friday by observing, "China's ability to sway other states to its point of view, while still limited, is growing." But the Oslo reversal also points to the fact that the Euro-Atlantic West still has a great deal of clout.

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