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Charm Offensive or Offensive Charm? An Analysis
of Russian and Chinese Cultural Institutes Abroad
Milos Popovic , Erin K. Jenne & Juraj Medzihorsky
To cite this article: Milos Popovic , Erin K. Jenne & Juraj Medzihorsky (2020): Charm Offensive
or Offensive Charm? An Analysis of Russian and Chinese Cultural Institutes Abroad , Europe-Asia
Studies, DOI: 10.1080/09668136.2020.1785397
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/09668136.2020.1785397
© 2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa
UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis
Published online: 31 Jul 2020.
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Charm Offensive or Offensive Charm? An
Analysis of Russian and Chinese Cultural
MILOS POPOVIC, ERIN K. JENNE & JURAJ MEDZIHORSKY
Major powers have long used cultural institutes to enhance their appeal in foreign countries. As aspirant
powers, Russia and China have recently launched cultural institutes of their own with the aim of improving
their international reputations. However, the location and operations of the Confucius Institutes and Russkiy
Mir Institutes often seem to run counter to these aims. Drawing on policy diffusion theory (PDT), we argue
that these choices are less the product of strategic calculation than of policy emulation and decoupling.
Using a mixed methods approach, we show that, while the Confucius Institutes and Russkiy Mir Institutes
were modelled after their Western counterparts (emulation), China and Russia have operated their institutes
in ways that go against the principles of cultural diplomacy (decoupling). An analysis of ﬁeld research on
these institutes suggests more overall decoupling with Confucius Institutes than with Russkiy Mir Institutes,
which might help account for the relatively greater backlash against the Confucius Institutes in their host
MORE THAN A DECADE AGO, THE RUSSIAN AND CHINESE governments launched parallel
campaigns of cultural diplomacy to increase their appeal abroad. As aspirant great powers,
both states marketed their distinctive brands through state-sponsored cultural institutes and
other government organised non-governmental organisations (GONGOs). Besides
sponsoring international media activities, publications, exchanges and sports events,
Beijing introduced cultural institutes in 2004, named after the Chinese philosopher,
Confucius. Confucius Institutes are established in partnership with educational institutes in
foreign countries using a cost-sharing scheme to provide language and cultural instruction
© 2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-
NoDerivatives License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use,
distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed,
or built upon in any way.
The authors would like to thank Robert Jervis and Greg Mitrovich for their comments on an earlier version of
this article. All the remaining errors are our own. The research in this article was supported by the US
Department of Defense’s Minerva Initiative, Grant N000141510039. Juraj Medzihorsky acknowledges
postdoctoral support from the European Research Council, Grant 724191, PI: Staffan I. Lindberg, V-Dem
Institute, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
EUROPE-ASIA STUDIES, 2020
at primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions. At the same time, Russia launched
its own campaign of foreign inﬂuence by establishing media networks such as Russia Today
and Sputnik, think tanks and foundations. In 2007, Moscow rolled out new cultural institutes,
the Russkiy Mir Institutes and Cabinets, dedicated to offering cultural and language services
to foreign publics to enhance Russia’s international image though a ‘cross-culture dialog and
strengthening understanding between cultures and peoples’.
These campaigns have raised
red ﬂags in the West. In 2014, the American Association of University Professors warned
that ‘most agreements establishing Confucius Institutes [represent] unacceptable
concessions to the political aims and practices of the government of China’(AAUP 2014).
Since that time, a number of other Western universities, including McMaster University in
Toronto, the Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec, the Université de Lyon, Pennsylvania
State University and Stockholm University have closed their Confucius Institutes, citing
issues ranging from human rights to academic freedom to security concerns.
January 2020, at least 29 of the Confucius Institutes established in the United States have
been shuttered over charges of academic censorship and opaque hiring practices, among
other things (Legerwood 2020). Although the backlash against Confucius Institutes is
partly due to rising geopolitical tensions between the US and China, Confucius Institutes
have also encountered signiﬁcant backlash in other Western societies. By contrast, Russkiy
Mir Institutes have encountered far less pushback from their host countries, despite
warnings by some scholars that Russia is pursuing a campaign of insidious inﬂuence
through ‘Trojan Horses’in Europe (Polyakova et al.2016; Orenstein & Kelemen 2017).
Nonetheless, the Ukrainian Ministry of Education banned all cooperation between the
Russkiy Mir Foundation and Ukrainian educational institutions from 2015.
Beijing and Moscow used their cultural institutes in ways that generate hostility in their
host countries and why have the Confucius Institutes attracted more negative reactions
than the Russkiy Mir Institutes, particularly in the West? Joseph Nye (2013) argues that
China and Russia are simply bad at cultural outreach in Western countries, which requires
the kind of open dialogue that authoritarian regimes simply cannot deliver. Others contend
that these are simply the growing pains of aspirant powers, which can be overcome with
the development of better communication strategies (Ding 2008; Callahan & Barabantseva
2011; Holyk 2011; Blanchard & Lu 2012). However, neither theory can explain why the
Confucius Institutes attracted greater international blowback than the Russkiy Mir Institutes.
Drawing on policy diffusion theory (PDT) (Meyer et al.1992,1997), we argue that
Beijing and Moscow adopted elements of other major powers’cultural institutes in order
to achieve similar levels of public relations success (emulation). However, in practice, they
have established and operated their institutes in the service of narrower political interests,
While the Institutes disseminate Russian art, history, culture, music and other popular content, the role of
the Cabinets is to promote the Russian language and serve as an information hub for Russian compatriots. See,
‘Russian Center—Deﬁnition and Mission’, Russkiy Mir Cabinet, available at: https://russkiymir.ru/en/rucenter/
what-is2.php, accessed 25 May 2020.
‘Confucius Institutes Under Scrutiny in UK’,European Interest, 20 February 2019, available at: https://
www.europeaninterest.eu/article/confucius-institutes-scrutiny-uk/, accessed 25 May 2020.
‘If We Were Given Big Budgets—The Russian Flag Would Be All Over the World’, Russkiy Mir
Foundation, 31 July 2015, available at: https://russkiymir.ru/en/publications/193690/?fbclid=
IwAR3Mw1Y5L_vqX30_SQz53wqSlMjD5vgsnub3Y3oyAISG8-567GSi-5xqK-U, accessed 3 January 2019.
2 MILOS POPOVIC ET AL.
which frequently collide with the principles of cultural diplomacy (decoupling). Since
Moscow’s geopolitical ambitions extend primarily to neighbouring countries with shared
cultural values, there has been less decoupling between diplomatic principles and practice
in the case of the Russkiy Mir Institutes. By contrast, China has overwhelmingly placed
its Confucius Institutes at top universities in Western democratic countries that have
divergent values, making them poor candidates for cultural outreach. We ﬁnd evidence for
emulation in the internal organisation of the Russkiy Mir Institutes and Confucius
Institutes and in the mission statements of their founders. We ﬁnd support for decoupling
by conducting an analysis of an original dataset of Chinese and Russian institutes as well
as a synthetic review of studies on the day-to-day operations of Confucius Institutes and
Russkiy Mir Institutes.
Our article is structured as follows. We ﬁrst outline the main question—the variable
placement and reaction to Chinese and Russian cultural institutes. We then lay out the
argument that policy diffusion helps us make sense of why China and, to a lesser extent,
Russia have adopted Western blueprints of soft power, only to subvert them in practice.
We examine the evidence using quantitative analysis of our dataset of cultural institutes
and a review of ﬁeld studies of their operations on the ground. The ﬁnal section
summarises our ﬁndings and offers policy advice.
Cultural diplomacy and soft power
Soft power can be deﬁned as ‘the idea that others will align themselves to you and your policy
preferences because they are attracted to your political and social system, values and policies’
(Breslin 2011, p. 8). It denotes the ability of a country to inﬂuence other societies around the
world through agenda-setting, attraction and persuasion (Nye 1990,2006,2011; Parmar &
Cox 2010; Ilgen 2016). Soft power is not a substitute for, but rather a handmaiden of,
statecraft. If a country enjoys soft power in another country, the ﬁrst country might be able
to achieve its policy goals in the second country through persuasion, rather than
conditionality, sanctions or military force. Soft power is thus a latent and lateral resource
that enhances a country’s foreign inﬂuence.
Cultural diplomacy, a form of ‘people-to-people’engagement, is used by governments to
boost their soft power in foreign countries. It consists of a lateral exchange of cultural
products such as literature, music or sports ‘with the intention of fostering mutual
understanding’(UN Security Council 1997). In practice, the sponsor state uses public
outreach to garner popular favour in the host state. However, the success of such
programmes is dependent upon a relationship of trust and understanding between the
sponsor and the host states. Cultural diplomacy may only ﬁnd fertile ground in an
environment of open dialogue and a commitment to investing in a long-term relationship
on the part of both states (Gienow-Hecht & Donfried 2010). Where such programmes are
politicised, they can engender a backlash in the host state. When the sponsor state is
called out by citizens or representatives of the host state for any of these reasons, it ﬁnds
itself in a second bind: the sponsor state cannot counter the criticisms directly because
doing so will be seen as propagandistic, further undermining its credibility (Nye 2011).
Cultural institutes can help to square this circle. Cultural institutes are a type of
government-sponsored non-governmental organisations (GONGOs) that serve as a
CHARM OFFENSIVE OR OFFENSIVE CHARM? 3
surrogate for the sponsor state within the host state. The aim of cultural institutes is to build
popular appeal for the sponsor state not only by offering non-controversial cultural products
to the public of the host state, but also by serving as a nominally independent, in-country
advocate for the sponsor state. By emphasising language, customs and art, cultural
institutes help to promote a benign image of the sponsor state, playing down the more
controversial elements of its foreign policy practices.
Historically, cultural institutes have been used for relatively modest goals such as
maintaining linkages with ethnic diasporas in foreign countries or building popular support
for speciﬁc policy initiatives. Prior to World War I, the British government encouraged
missionaries, entrepreneurs, artists and intellectuals to spread its cultural practices
throughout the globe without necessarily bankrolling their efforts (Gienow-Hecht &
Donfried 2010, p. 18). Starting in the late nineteenth century, cultural institutes were
explicitly used to enhance the sponsor state’s standing on the international stage. In 1883,
for instance, France established the Alliance française, formally an NGO, as a means of
rebuilding the country’s prestige after its humiliating defeat in the Franco–Prussian war
(Paschalidis 2009, p. 278). In the interwar period, the UK launched the British Council ‘to
counteract Nazi plans for global cultural hegemony’(Hartig 2012, p. 57). After World War
II, Germany established the Goethe Institute in order to rebuild its image abroad
(Pamment 2013, p. 12; Varga 2013, p. 444). By the twentieth century, cultural institutes
had become a sine qua non of great power status. Paschalidis argues, in fact, that ‘until
1989 external cultural policy were the prerogative of the major powers’(Paschalidis 2009,
p. 283). Great Britain and France deployed them around the world in the name of mission
civilisatrice or in today’s terminology, development missions. The British Council and
Alliance française claim to promote democracy, human rights, openness to other societies
and market liberalism. To do so, they foster open, horizontal dialogue with the host
society (Melissen 2011).
While the British Council and Alliance française are among the best-known examples of
GONGOs, cultural organisations of various types have been used by the United States. As
one former State Department ofﬁcial put it, the United States ‘would not engage in
competitive propaganda but would endeavour slowly, carefully and meticulously to
construct solid foundations for cultural interchange’(Arndt 2005, p. 58). The slow pace of
outreach was designed to establish long-term lateral bonds between the two states by
building an inter-societal reservoir of goodwill. It is through these bonds that the sponsor
state can reassure the host state of its own benevolence in times of doubt. In the words of
Robert L. Johnson, co-founder of the United States Information Agency, cultural
diplomacy serves as a conduit for American ideas to inﬂuence the view of foreign nations
‘so that understanding may replace suspicion’(Arndt 2005, p. 267). Cultural institutes are
thus a vital element in the diplomatic toolkit because they help to build and maintain the
foundation of inter-societal trust between the sponsor and host, generating politically
valuable goodwill in the host state.
Why are some cultural institutes better at performing this function than others? To answer
this question, we turn to the principles of soft power developed by Joseph Nye and extended
by other scholars. In our reading, four stand out as particularly important to cultural
diplomacy (see Table 1). First, there should be cultural similarities between the sponsor
and host states because a common cultural, ethnic or religious identity lays the foundation
4 MILOS POPOVIC ET AL.
for smoother cross-cultural communication. Nye (2008, p. 95) argued that when a
government targets culturally dissimilar societies or disregards negative feedback from
host societies, it can undermine its soft power potential. Second, having a common
political identity aids diplomacy because the host society may trust the political intentions
of the sponsor state. Third, strong economic ties between the sponsor and host states
facilitate cultural diplomacy due to the recognition by the host society that the economic
futures of the two states are joined. The US government, for example, has used public–
private partnerships to complement its economic expansion into foreign markets
(Rosenberg 2011). Finally, an open, two-way dialogue must be maintained to forge inter-
societal bonds of trust across the sponsor and host states.
In light of these principles, the placement of Chinese and Russian cultural institutes
around the world raises questions. In 1987, Beijing established the Ofﬁce of Chinese
Language Council International (informally known as Hanban), a government entity
afﬁliated with the Ministry of Education and tasked with promoting the instruction of
Chinese abroad, among other things. Since 2004, Beijing has invested at least US$500
million to establish 530 Confucius Institutes at partnering universities and colleges and
631 Confucius Classrooms in primary and secondary schools in 127 countries. Each
Confucius Institute was established by Hanban in cooperation with the Chinese
NYE’SCONDITIONS OF SUCCESSFUL CULTURAL DIPLOMACY
(1) Cultural similarities Cultural diplomacy is most likely to succeed with societies that have a common set
of values or identities.
‘Even when honestly applied, US values can repel some people at the same time
that they attract others. For example, American feminism, open sexuality, and
individual choices are profoundly subversive in patriarchal societies.’(Nye
2004, p. 55)
(2) Economic ties Host societies might be more open to cultural diplomacy from countries with
which they have stronger economic ties.
‘[Indochina’s] heavy reliance on China’s economic incentives and political support
has made Beijing much more comfortable about exercising its soft power
initiatives based upon strong bilateral ties.’(Hsiao & Yang 2014, p. 25)
(3) Political similarities Cultural diplomacy is more likely to succeed if its participants share similar
political values and institutions.
‘For a long time, the calculation was made exclusively on an economic basis. They
thought that if we go forward with an economic project then everything will end
up in the right place. But our economy did not develop as quickly as we might
like because the image of Russia was inadequate.’(Dougherty 2013, p. 24)
‘Individualism and liberties are attractive to many people, but repulsive to some,
particularly fundamentalists.’(Nye 2004, p. 55)
‘Soviet authorities …did not know how to package Soviet modernity and progress
so that it was appealing and competitive to capitalist, i.e. American audiences.’
(Magnúsdóttir 2010, p. 67)
(4) Open intercultural
Cultural diplomacy is more likely to succeed within an open intercultural
‘Techniques of public diplomacy that are widely viewed as propaganda cannot
produce soft power. In an age of information, the scarcest resources are attention
and credibility. That is why exchange programs that develop two-way
communication and personal relations among students and young leaders are
often far more effective generators of soft power than, say, ofﬁcial broadcasting.’
CHARM OFFENSIVE OR OFFENSIVE CHARM? 5
government and the host country’safﬁliated institute or university. Currently, China operates
480 Confucius Institutes worldwide.
For its part, Russia has founded 235 Russkiy Mir Institutes in 70 countries since 2007
under the Russkiy Mir Foundation, which is tasked with promoting the Russian language
abroad under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education. Figure 1
shows that the cultural institutes cluster geographically—Confucius Institutes are
overwhelmingly located in Western countries, with the US alone hosting one third of
them. By contrast, Russkiy Mir Institutes are primarily located in Russia’s neighbourhood
(Ukraine, Central Asia and the Baltic states).
These patterns suggest that conventional accounts of Russian and Chinese soft power
policies are, at the very least, incomplete. According to one inﬂuential theory, Russia and
China place their cultural institutes in the West to propagate an alternative vision of global
governance. Their ultimate aim is to beat the West at its own soft power game by
competing quite literally on their own turf (Lankina & Niemczyk 2014; Bermeo 2016;
Diamond et al.2016; Walker 2016). According to Diamond et al.(2016), ‘a new global
competition in soft power is thus underway’in which both China and Russia have
attempted to soften their image abroad or even promote authoritarianism. Cooley (2015)
likewise warns that Russian and Chinese soft power poses grave threats to the democratic
West; and Walker (2016) argues that the institutes serve to thwart democratisation in the
developing world through autocracy promotion. Still others claim that the real aim of
these campaigns is merely to shore up popular support at home (Edney 2015). Nearly all
of these authors, however, construe Russian and Chinese cultural diplomacy as a direct
attempt to compete for the hearts and minds of people living in Western and/or liberal
democratic societies. However, many Confucius Institutes and most Russkiy Mir Institutes
are placed not in democratic countries, but in countries that trade with the sponsor state.
Although China does disproportionately target democracies, it pays more attention to
university ranking and country wealth in its placement. In other words, the location of
Confucius Institutes and Russkiy Mir Institutes suggests a more complex story than direct
competition with Western democracies.
More sympathetic scholars argue that China and Russia have yet to ﬁgure out how to
conduct cultural diplomacy and offer suggestions as to how they might do so more
skilfully. Among other things, they recommend that Beijing develop its ‘normative
resources’(Ding 2008, p. 44; Callahan & Barabantseva 2011) and ‘instrumental
characteristics’(Holyk 2011; Blanchard & Lu 2012). Others explore how Confucius
Institutes affect host societies, the linkage between Confucius Institutes and overseas
Chinese, and the role of Confucius Institutes in improving inter-governmental relations
(Smith et al.2009; Starr 2009; Pan 2013). While this body of work yields important
policy insights into how aspirant powers can boost their cultural attractiveness, it does not
address why the aspirant powers would locate and operate their institutes in ways that
seem ill-suited for growing their international prestige.
‘Confucius Institutes Worldwide’, University of California Los Angeles, available at: https://www.
confucius.ucla.edu/about-us/confucius-institutes-worldwide, accessed 25 May 2020.
6 MILOS POPOVIC ET AL.
We believe that both camps may have overstated the top-down instrumentality of Chinese
and Russian cultural diplomacy. Our analysis of Confucius Institutes and Russkiy Mir
Institutes tells a story of policy emulation and decoupling whereby Russia and China
adopted past models of cultural diplomacy without fully adopting the soft power
principles upon which their effectiveness depends. This decoupling between institutional
design and implementation, particularly of Confucius Institutes in liberal democratic
societies, may help to account for the sometimes hostile reactions Confucius Institutes
FIGURE 1. CONFUCIUS INSTITUTES AND CLASSROOMS (2004–2015) AND RUSSKIY MIR
INSTITUTES AND CABINETS (2007–2015)
Source: The ofﬁcial Hanban website, available at: http://english.hanban.org/node_10971.htm, accessed 25 May 2020;
the ofﬁcial website of The Russkiy Mir Foundation, available at: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1_j-
kesjnVWTlM9AIlR43_ROnGro&usp=sharing, accessed 25 May 2020.
CHARM OFFENSIVE OR OFFENSIVE CHARM? 7
have encountered in the US, Canada, Australia, France, Germany and Sweden. The section
below lays out the policy diffusion argument in detail.
Cultural diplomacy and policy diffusion
Policy diffusion theory (PDT) holds that ideas and identities are not only socially constructed,
but transmitted or diffused from one social setting to another through transnational activist
networks (Keck & Sikkink 1999), epistemic communities (Haas 1992) and norm
entrepreneurs (Mintrom & Norman 2009). There are two interrelated mechanisms by
which policies diffuse from one government to another. The ﬁrst mechanism is inter-state
competition and incremental learning. Rather than creating policies from scratch,
governments search for general policy models that have a record of success in similar
states, anticipating that these models will yield similar material beneﬁts to the adoptee
(Jones-Correa 2000; Elkins & Simmons 2005). In welfare, tax and environmental policies
alike, there has been a marked policy convergence or institutional isomorphism across
states, as a consensus forms that one policy model is superior to alternative models. For
example, Meseguer (2006) observes that countries learn from the effectiveness of others’
trade liberalisation policies, adopting those policies deemed to have been a success. In
hospital ﬁnancing, Gilardi et al.(2009) and Gilardi (2010)ﬁnd that countries abandon
their policy models if they perceive them to be ineffective and search for policies that
have proven effective elsewhere. There has been a similar convergence across national
higher education policies following UNESCO standards (Meyer et al.1997), as well as a
sudden expansion of human rights laws enacted across countries (Meyer et al.1992).
The second mechanism is emulation. Here, individuals and organisations imitate the
policies of their more successful peers in order to elevate their status (Shipan & Volden
2008, p. 843). Rather than investing in a custom-designed solution, states simply copy
what the leading states are doing. Gilardi (2010) shows that decision-makers often imitate
policies that have helped incumbent politicians elsewhere win re-election. In the
nineteenth century, for example, Japanese elites adopted Western institutional practices in
their pursuit of major power status by studying the ‘army and police in France, the Navy
and postal system in Great Britain, and banking and art education in the United States’
(Powell & DiMaggio 1991, p. 69). Because the world’s trendsetter states have long been
in the West, there has been a long-term global convergence towards Western policy
models. Emulation is particularly likely when the state’s goals are unclear, when
alternative means are absent or when the environment creates symbolic uncertainty
(Powell & DiMaggio 1991, p. 151; Meseguer 2006, p. 73).
The perils of policy emulation should be obvious. Importing policy models from their
original context to a different context without proof-checking them through a rational
learning process can lead to a mismatch between the model’s design and ﬁnal
implementation (Dobbin et al.2007, p. 454; Shipan & Volden 2008). The mismatch
occurs because foreign models ‘cannot simply be imported wholesale as a fully
functioning system’(Meyer et al.1997,p. 154). While early adopters can and often do
tailor these models to local needs, late adopters have less discretion in how they use these
models (Ansari et al.2010, p. 79). In view of mounting pressures to conform, and in an
effort to avoid the costs of catching up with trendsetters, late adopters often neglect to
8 MILOS POPOVIC ET AL.
undertake necessary adjustments to adapt the models to local conditions (Ansari et al.2010,
p. 79). This introduces a misﬁt between the imported policy model and the local policy
context—either because the model does not ﬁt the adopter’s goals or because it demands a
set of practices that are difﬁcult if not impossible for the adopter to employ. The result is a
decoupling between the institutes’stated objectives and their practices on the ground.
The Russkiy Mir Institutes and the Confucius Institutes were, to a great degree, products
of incremental learning and policy emulation. Chinese and Russian leaders have openly
admitted to copying the cultural institutes of leading global powers. The Russian
experience with cultural institutes dates back to 1925 and the establishment of the
All-Soviet Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries (Vsesoyuznoe
Obshchestvo Kul’turnoi Svyazi c Zagranitsei—VOKS), a Soviet organisation that ran
cultural institutes to spread the positive and controlled image of the ﬂedgling communist
state and penetrate the circles of the Western bourgeoisie (Barghoorn 1958, p. 44; Agaev
& Krylov 2002; Fayet 2010, pp. 38–9). VOKS formed and operated numerous ‘friendship
societies’to promote artistic, cultural and scientiﬁc exchanges among educational
organisations and public institutions abroad (Kogan 2012, p. 95). According to its ﬁrst
chief, Olga Kameneva, VOKS was not itself an original Soviet invention, but was inspired
by Western institutes such as the Alliance française (Kogan 2012, p. 39). In 1958, the
Soviet government consolidated VOKS’s numerous friendship societies into the Union of
the Soviet Friendship Societies (SSOD), which pursued goals speciﬁc to the region of
operation (Kogan 2012). Soviet centralisation of cultural diplomacy led the United States
to follow suit by creating the Bureau of Intercultural Relations, even assigning a
Counsellor for Cultural Affairs to the US embassy in Moscow (Barghoorn 2015, pp. 1–2).
In the twenty-ﬁrst century, Russian leaders have launched new programmes of cultural
outreach in line with the country’s rising geopolitical ambitions. In 2007, Russian
President Vladimir Putin signed a law that created the Russkiy Mir Foundation (Russian
World Foundation), one of Moscow’s most important instruments of soft power, aimed at
‘promoting the Russian language, as Russia’s national heritage and a signiﬁcant aspect of
Russian and world culture, and supporting Russian language teaching programs abroad’.
The Kremlin’s original aim was to create an alternative world order or, as Russkiy Mir
Head Vyacheslav Nikonov put it, ‘a self-standing civilization’with Russia at its centre
(Nikonov 2010, p. 4). In his words, ‘Russian World—that is civilization and, as
civilization, is broader than ethnicity, territory, religion, political system and ideological
preferences. Russian World is poly-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-semantic’(Nikonov
2010, p. 5). As early as 2000, the leadership called for the promotion of ‘a positive
perception of the Russian Federation in the world, to popularize the Russian language and
culture of the peoples of Russia in foreign states’(Putin 2000). The Russian institutes
were meant to serve as the backbone of a wider Eurasian space centred around Moscow,
while persuading target societies that Moscow is benign and its foreign policies legitimate.
At the same time, China had been preparing its own charm offensive. In the 2000s, then
Chinese president Hu Jintao asserted an urgent need for China to boost its inﬂuence on the
‘About Russkiy Mir Foundation’, Russkiy Mir Foundation, paragraph 4, available at: http://www.
russkiymir.ru/russkiymir/en/fund/about, accessed 3 January 2019.
CHARM OFFENSIVE OR OFFENSIVE CHARM? 9
international stage by building up its soft power (Jintao 2017). As Xi Jinping prepared to
succeed Hu Jintao as president in 2011, he issued a communiqué stressing the need to
‘increase China’s soft power, give a good Chinese narrative, and better communicate
China’s messages to the world’(Feith 2015). President Xi speciﬁcally declared the
Confucius Institutes to be ‘a symbol of China’s unremitting efforts for world peace and
international cooperation’and a means to link ‘the Chinese people and people of other
The original aim was to promote China as an alternative global power. An
even franker perspective on the operations of the Confucius Institutes was provided by Li
Changchun, the propaganda head of the Chinese Communist Party, who described the
Confucius Institutes as ‘an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up’.
From their ofﬁcial statements, it would indeed seem that Beijing and Moscow intended
their cultural institutes to serve as instruments of soft power as part of their international
charm offensive. In 2015, President Xi Jinping declared that his principal policy aim was
to transform China into a ‘socialist cultural superpower’(Shambaugh 2015). Chinese IR
specialists have become keenly interested in how the EU engages in common security,
multilateralism and global crisis management so that China can build an alternative model
of global leadership (Cabestan 2008, p. 206). Russian President Vladimir Putin likewise
proclaimed Russia’s ambition to promote a ‘counterbalance in international affairs and the
development of global civilization’(Putin 2013). Former Russian President Dmitrii
Medvedev declared Russkiy Mir Institutes to be ‘the key instrument of the so-called soft
power’(Sergunin & Karabeshkin 2015, p. 355), speciﬁcally, a means to restore Russia’s
major power status. Its ﬁrst director, Vyacheslav Nikonov, deﬁned Russian World as a
‘global phenomenon, which cannot be described in one word’(Nikonov 2010, p. 4).
The actual blueprints of the Confucius Institutes and Russkiy Mir Institutes provide
evidence of learning and policy emulation. Moscow explicitly drew on the Alliance
française in establishing more top-down control over the operation of Russkiy Mir
Institutes. According to the then head of the overarching agency Rossotrudnichestvo,
Konstantin Kosachev, ‘I am trying to develop a new concept that is called, very
conditionally, the creative concept of a Russian World. It’s very similar to what the French
have been doing for many years with Francophone programs, with the focus on language,
history, culture’(Dougherty 2013, p. 43). Russkiy Mir founding director Vyacheslav
Nikonov directly referenced the role played by Western institutes in designing the Russkiy
Mir Institutes, saying, ‘there are many examples around the world to which we should
turn: the British Council, the Cervantes Institute, Goethe [Institute], Dante [Alighieri
Society], Confucius [Institute], the Francophone programme [Alliance française], and so
forth. There are so many excellent examples, which we are carefully examining’(as cited
in Sidibe 2007). Kosachev declared, ‘this is a foreign policy instrument for every country,
and Russia is the last to use it. We’re learning to use it mostly from the US, from the
Europeans and now the Chinese’(Dougherty 2013, p. 64).
‘Xi Backs Confucius Institutes’Development on Anniversary’,Xinhua, 27 September 2014, available at:
https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2014-09/27/content_18673336.htm, accessed 25 May 2020.
‘A Message from Confucius: New Ways of Projecting Soft Power’,The Economist, 24 October 2009,
available at: https://www.economist.com/special-report/2009/10/24/a-message-from-confucius, accessed 25
10 MILOS POPOVIC ET AL.
For its part, Beijing seems to have engaged in more syncretic learning and emulation,
combining direct government control (similar to the British Council), government funding
combined with an autonomous agency (similar to the Goethe Institute), and joint ventures
with local partners (similar to Instituto Cervantes) (Starr 2009). Chinese ofﬁcials made a
close study of US cultural diplomacy in particular to emulate its techniques (Leonard
2008, pp. 92–5), programmes of student exchange, language courses and operational
independence (Ren 2012, p. 18). Hartig (2012, pp. 57, 69) observes that the Confucius
Institutes were both a mirror image of, and counterbalance to, the British Council and
However, emulation never generates a perfect copy; when policy models are transmitted
from one setting to another, we should expect to see a signiﬁcant degree of institutional
decoupling. Under this logic, the trappings of the policy adopted through emulation are
repurposed to conform to the adoptee’s speciﬁc interests. While Russia and China
designed their institutes in ways that mimic some of the highly visible features of these
earlier models, they edited out the elements of the model that collided with their regime
Our research design combines quantitative and qualitative analysis. We show evidence of
policy decoupling through a quantitative assessment of the placement of Confucius
Institutes and Russkiy Mir Institutes around the world. We then illustrate this
decoupling by drawing on published data and ﬁeld research on how these institutes
have operated on the ground. We compiled an original cross-country dataset on
Confucius Institutes/Confucius Classrooms and Russkiy Mir Institutes over the period
2004–2015. Drawing on the ofﬁcial websites of these institutes, we collected the name
of the sponsor (where applicable) and host university, the year of establishment and the
total number of Confucius Institutes and Russkiy Mir Institutes per observed country.
We obtained the geographic latitude and longitude of each institute (see Figure 1)from
Google Maps. There was a total of 530 Confucius Institutes at universities and
colleges and 631 Confucius Classrooms in primary and secondary schools in 127
countries. In the period of our study, the countries with the greatest number of
Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms were the US (470), UK (141),
Australia (49), Canada (33), Italy (31) and South Korea (26). By contrast, there were
only 235 Russkiy Mir Institutes in 70 countries. States with the greatest number of
Russkiy Mir Institutes were Ukraine (21), Bulgaria (11), China (11), Turkey (10), the
US (10) and Moldova (9). The majority of Confucius Institutes and Classrooms were
established in Western countries, whereas a plurality or one third of Russkiy Mir
Institutes were located in countries neighbouring Russia. We model the total number of
institutes established in a country as of 2015 as a function of covariates. The reported
models are zero-inﬂated negative binomial regressions with logarithmic link function.
We also check for sensitivity by ﬁtting standard negative binomial versions of the models, with the same
CHARM OFFENSIVE OR OFFENSIVE CHARM? 11
All models are Bayesian, ﬁtted using the brms library (Bürkner 2017) for the R language,
applying its default non-informative priors. In all models, the covariates are averaged
over the 2003–2014 period.
Decoupling is measured as the extent to which Beijing and Moscow violated the ﬁrst three
of Nye’s principles of cultural diplomacy outlined in Table 1. According to Nye (2004), the
similarity of cultures and values is one of the main conditions for successful cultural
diplomacy. Cultural similarity is notoriously difﬁcult to measure, and the available
measures offer various trade-offs between speciﬁcity and coverage. The largest available
cross-country dataset on cultural attitudes, the World Values Survey (Inglehart et al.2014),
contains only about one third of the world’s countries, which makes it poorly suited for
our purposes. To ensure better coverage, we use a much cruder measure, that of whether
the host state shares a border with the sponsor state. We use the Correlates of War
geographic contiguity data to construct this variable (Stinnett et al.2002). If China and
Russia are attending to cultural similarity, then they should be more likely to place the
institutes in their respective neighbourhoods.
Political similarity is assessed by capturing the level of democracy of the host
countries. To measure this, we use the Electoral Democracy Index (EDI) of the V-Dem
Institute (Coppedge et al.2018;Teorellet al.2019), which ranges from 0 (not
democratic at all) to 1 (complete electoral democracy).
are likely to feel marginalised in the existing international liberal order and, therefore,
see China as an alternative global leader (Huang & Ding 2006). If this logic
holds more generally, then both China and Russia should have established more
institutes in non-democratic countries to maximise regime similarity. Finally, economic
ties between the sponsor and potential host countries are measured using trade
which is the net sum of imports and exports between China/Russia and each
We include additional covariates to analyse the placement of Confucius Institutes and
Russkiy Mir Institutes. First, wealthier states might make more appealing targets for
cultural diplomacy because wealthy countries tend to have better developed educational
systems, providing a more favourable infrastructure for the institutes. We measure
country wealth using GDP per capita data of Gleditsch et al. (2002)asreportedinthe
Quality of Government Dataset (Teorell et al. 2018). China might also be using its
institutes to ‘buy prestige’(Wines 2011), in which case we would expect it to be placing
the institutes at prestigious universities. We capture this factor using the number of
universities from each country featured in the QS World University Rankings (Symonds
2015). Finally, we add country population, as more populous countries may attract more
We also check for sensitivity by ﬁtting the same models with two alternative regime measures: QoG’s
fh_ipolity2 variable (Hadenius & Teorell 2007), which combines the popular Polity (Gurr et al.2010) and
Freedom House scores, and the mean Uniﬁed Democracy Score (Pemstein et al.2010). While all three
regime measures strongly correlate, their correlations are not perfect, and they have slightly different
geographic coverages. All three indices lead to the same substantive conclusions with only slight numeric
differences between the estimates.
‘United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database’, Comtrade, 2010, available at: http://comtrade.un.
org, accessed 4 January 2019.
12 MILOS POPOVIC ET AL.
Figure 2 shows the ﬁt of 12 bivariate zero-inﬂated negative binomial generalised additive
models (GAMs). In each of the models, the number of Confucius Institutes or Russkiy Mir
Institutes is a function of a single covariate averaged over 11 years. To allow for possible
non-linearities in the relationship between the variables, we use smooth curves except in
cases where the covariate is binary. We ﬁnd that all covariates except for being China’s
neighbour are mostly positively associated with CI placement. By contrast, RM placement is
associated with being Russia’s neighbour, but not with the level of electoral democracy.
Figure 3 reports the coefﬁcient estimates (posterior means and credible intervals) from
zero-inﬂated negative binomial regressions of the number of institutes per country that
include all six covariates simultaneously. Since the models are Bayesian, we can draw
direct inferences about the coefﬁcients without recourse to signiﬁcance tests. In the case of
Confucius Institutes, all point estimates are positive, as in the case of bivariate regressions.
In contrast, some of the point estimates for the placement of Russkiy Mir Institutes are
clearly positive and some clearly negative; and still others are neither. Comparing the
coefﬁcients one by one, China’s neighbours are more likely to host more Confucius
Institutes, even conditioning on the other ﬁve covariates, but Russia’s neighbours are not
clearly more likely to host more Russkiy Mir Institutes. In the case of trade, the situation
is reversed—the coefﬁcient is larger in Russia’s case. University prestige is positively
associated with both Confucius Institutes and Russkiy Mir Institutes, but the relationship
is considerably stronger for Confucius Institutes.
While in the bivariate models, population size is positively associated both with the
placement of Confucius Institutes and Russkiy Mir Institutes, in the larger models it is
positive in the case of Confucius Institutes, but negative in the case of Russkiy Mir
Institutes. In other words, conditional on the other ﬁve covariates, a smaller country is
likely to host fewer Confucius Institutes but more Russkiy Mir Institutes. The contrast is
even stronger in the case of per capita GDP. While China clearly focuses on richer host
states, conditional on the other ﬁve covariates, Russia places its institutes in poorer
countries. Finally, looking at EDI’s coefﬁcients it is clear that China is more likely to
place Confucius Institutes in more democratic countries, while Russia does not favour
democratic host countries.
Our analysis paints a picture of greater institutional decoupling in the case of the
Confucius Institutes than in the Russkiy Mir Institutes. Whereas Russia has generally
placed Russkiy Mir Institutes in neighbouring countries which are also its trading partners,
following Nye’s principles on economic ties and cultural similarities, China has
disproportionately located Confucius Institutes in democracies and in countries containing
prestigious universities. Because these countries do not share China’s political or cultural
values, they are not optimal targets for Chinese cultural diplomacy, according to Nye.
Qualitative evidence of decoupling
We now turn to the ﬁndings of studies on the day-to-day operations of Confucius Institutes
and Russkiy Mir Institutes to illustrate decoupling between institutional design and practice at
the micro-level. Here, a signiﬁcant body of work suggests that these institutes tend to attract
CHARM OFFENSIVE OR OFFENSIVE CHARM? 13
FIGURE 2. BIVARIATE ZERO-INFLATED NEGATIVE BINOMIAL GAMSWITH SPLINE
Notes: Each dot represents a country. Y-axes show the number of institutes with ticks placed on inverse hyperbolic sine
scale. X-axes show covariates. Except for the neighbourhood covariate, the ticks are placed on inverse hyperbolic sine
scale. Shaded areas show 50% and 95% credible regions.
Source: The authors.
14 MILOS POPOVIC ET AL.
criticism in Western democratic societies. For one thing, neither government has distanced
itself from its cultural institutes, contrary to Nye’s dictum to keep politics separate from
cultural outreach. While the British Council and Alliance française operate independently
of their sponsor governments, Russkiy Mir Institutes and Confucius Institutes are largely
top-down affairs, mimicking the organisational structure of the sponsor state regimes.
Second, the imperative of appealing to the society more broadly has often been jettisoned
in favour of narrower political interests. Originally, the Russkiy Mir Institutes were created
to build an inclusive ‘Eurasian civilisation’centred in Moscow. As Konstantin Kosachev,
then head of Rossotrudnichestvo, explained:
Our dream is to try to initiate a union, a consolidation of the ‘Russian World’in which the centre
would be people who are Russian but then, radiating out from that, include those who studied in
Russia, married Russians, created families, have business interests, are in some way connected
professionally or personally. Then there is another layer of people who are simply interested in
Russia, in its literature, the ballet, the cosmos. (Dougherty 2013, p. 43)
Consistent with these ambitions, Moscow has placed its institutes disproportionately in
states that are on Russia’s periphery—states that had been turning to the West but still lay
within Russia’s traditional sphere of inﬂuence. Laruelle (2015, p. 10) argues that Moscow
focused on these countries to minimise the odds that ‘colour revolutions’would return to
the region, which would pose threats to Russian regional dominance. It might be said that
Russia has undertaken a ‘charm defensive’to connect these seemingly disparate agencies
into a network that can penetrate neighbouring regimes and societies (Krastev 2005).
Nikolai Patrushev, former head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), deﬁned this
network a ‘soft power’weapon in the hands of the Russian government: ‘NGOs must be
FIGURE 3. COEFFICIENTS UNDER TWO ZERO-INFLATED NEGATIVE BINOMIAL MULTIPLE
REGRESSIONS OF THE NUMBER OF CONFUCIUS/RUSSKIY MIR INSTITUTES BY COUNTRY
Notes:N= 169 under both models. Intercepts not shown.
Source: The authors.
CHARM OFFENSIVE OR OFFENSIVE CHARM? 15
told what problems they should tackle and for what purpose …. The Constitution and laws
must be changed before the wave of orange revolutions spreads to the leaders of the
Commonwealth of Independent States’(Popescu 2006, p. 2). Moscow founded, among
other things, the Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund and the Russian Council on
International Affairs, to connect with civil societies abroad (Wilson 2015, p. 1189).
However, the ground operations of Russkiy Mir Institutes have not always reﬂected Nye’s
fourth principle: maintaining an open cultural dialogue between sponsor and host country.
While the ostensible aim of the Russkiy Mir Institutes is to reach out beyond Russian
compatriots to wider Eurasian populations (Dougherty 2013), the institutes have focused
nearly exclusively on servicing ethnic Russians, effectively alienating the states’ethnic
majorities (Cwiek-Karpowicz 2013, p. 7; Simons 2015, p. 11). Russia’s use of Russkiy
Mir Institutes in neighbouring countries has come under increased scrutiny in recent years.
In Ukraine, Moscow has used Russkiy Mir Institutes as a conduit for funding large
Russian-speaking organisations—including the ‘Russian-speaking Ukraine’
(Russkoyazychnaya Ukraina) umbrella organisation of 120 civic groups and 10,000
members established by an MP from former President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of the
Regions (Partiya Rehionov)—with a focus on projects that promote the country’s east–
west language divide (Lutsevych 2016, p. 15). The Russkiy Mir Institutes in Ukraine were
banned after Yanukovych was removed from power in 2014.
In Estonia, Kallas (2016) shows that while Russia has sought to strengthen its ties with the
diaspora through a coordination centre (including Russkiy Mir Institutes), it has fai led to attract
many young Russians who strongly identify with Estonia and have mixed feelings towards
Russia. Expelled and disillusioned members suggest that meddling by the Russian embassy
in Tallinn undermined the autonomy of the compatriot centre, alienating all sides
(Lutsevych 2016, p. 11). Hedenskog and Larsson document a similar decoupling pattern in
Latvia where Russia’s paternalistic attitude toward the Russian-speakers not only failed to
exploit cultural ties for political purposes, but actually laid the groundwork ‘for new
schisms within the group’(Hedenskog & Larsson 2007, p. 43). Simons (2015), too, ﬁnds
that public opinion of Russia in the Baltic states is very negative, due to past grievances as
well as present-day fears that the Kremlin might use the local Russian-speakers as a tool to
pressure their governments to enact more pro-Russia policies. Still, Russkiy Mir Institutes
have not provoked the same kind of backlash in host countries as the Confucius Institutes.
We see a clearer pattern of institutional decoupling in the case of Confucius Institutes.
Although intended to promote dialogue with foreign audiences, Beijing’s authoritarian
governance permeates Hanban’sday-to-day administration. Because of their concern about
the activities of Chinese citizens abroad, Chinese leaders have used Confucius Institutes to
monitor the activities of ethnic Chinese abroad rather than to initiate an open dialogue
with foreign societies (Kurlantzick 2007, p. 76). Although formally dedicated to using
culture and language to appeal to foreign students, the courses offered by Confucius
Institutes are centrally controlled by Hanban. In courses on Chinese history, Confucius
Institute staff are instructed to avoid certain controversies such as Tiananmen Square in
favour of teaching China’shistory of ‘national humiliation’at the hands of external
powers (Sahlins 2018).
The Confucius Institutes are also handicapped by institutional deﬁcits. One is a persistent
shortage of Chinese language instructors who are proﬁcient in the local language. This has
16 MILOS POPOVIC ET AL.
compelled local Confucius Institutes to recruit college graduates regardless of their majors,
diluting the quality of instruction.
The proliferation of poor language programmes
tarnishes the image of Confucius Institutes. A second issue is the shortage of handbooks
in local languages, which deters students who are not proﬁcient in English from enrolling
in the Confucius Institute language programmes. This further circumscribes the reach of
Confucius Institutes and hence their ability to generate soft power. Through it all, Hanban
has done little to adapt to social values in the host state, instead maintaining a tight grip
on the operation of Confucius Institutes even as they court controversy in their host
communities. For example, Hartig (2015, p. 133) recounts how Hanban ofﬁcials have
mandated self-censorship among Confucius Institute instructors with regard to sensitive
issues like Tibet, Taiwan or Tiananmen, despite vigorous objections by their host institutions.
Finally, Confucius Institutes deviate from Nye’s recommendations in terms of their
institutional relationship with the sponsoring government. While it is true that Western
cultural institutes like the British Council or Goethe Institute receive government grants,
they are protected in their charters against direct government interference. By contrast,
Confucius Institute instructors are contractually bound to ‘promote the values of China’s
one-party state’(Hughes 2014, p. 55) in all their activities, violating Nye’s principle of
maintaining an open inter-cultural dialogue. Hanban carefully screens Confucius Institute
instructors and employees to ﬁlter out human-rights activists, Falun Gong members or
anyone other than those loyal to the CCP. One teacher at the Confucius Institute at
McMaster University in Canada was forced to ﬁle for asylum due to her prior Falun Gong
membership and concern about incriminating herself under Chinese law. Hanban retains
wide latitude in imposing punishments for engaging in ‘any activity …without permission
or authorisation from the Confucius Institute Headquarters’(Hughes 2014, pp. 58–9).
Finally, Confucius Institutes violate Nye’s cardinal rule against mixing politics with
culture by extending their activities beyond language and cultural instruction, engaging in
the academic life of their host institutions, and ‘moving into a new stage of
“indigenization”(bentuhua) of the broader academic life of the universities’(Hughes
2014, p. 69). Beijing has even been known to use GONGOs, including its Confucius
Institutes, to attract Western ﬁnancial support (Patalakh 2017, pp. 45–6) and solicit
donations from Chinese citizens around the world (Brenner 2012, pp. 135–36).
Severe institutional decoupling in China’s Confucius Institutes is at least partly responsible
for the backlash that Confucius Institutes have encountered in Western countries. In 2012, the
Confucius Institute at the University of Sydney organised a lecture by Chinese academics who
promoted China’sofﬁcial view on Tibet, ushering in a wave of criticism from the Tibetan
community and the Australian public (Hughes 2014, p. 58). Opposition to Chinese cultural
institutions has surged as a consequence of growing concerns that China is using its
institutes as a Trojan Horse. The operations of German Confucius Institutes led to a public
panel discussion in 2012 over whether Confucius Institute scholars were free from Beijing’s
inﬂuence; accusations were made that Confucius Institute directors reported to the Chinese
ambassador in Berlin about their work (Hartig 2015, pp. 143–44). In 2014, the University
‘Confucius Institute Looks to Local Recruitment’,CNTV, 11 July 2013, available at: http://en.people.cn/
90782/8321118.html, accessed 25 May 2020.
CHARM OFFENSIVE OR OFFENSIVE CHARM? 17
of Chicago discontinued its agreement with Hanban after 100 faculty members submitted a
petition to shut down the School’s Confucius Institute (AAUP 2014; Redden 2016). A
number of other Western universities, including McMaster University in Toronto, the
Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec, the Université de Lyon, Pennsylvania State University
and Stockholm University have also closed their Confucius Institutes over charges of
human rights violations and academic censorship.
Altogether, this supports an account of
institutional decoupling from the principles of cultural diplomacy.
Many Western scholars believe that the Russkiy Mir Institutes and Confucius Institutes have a
poor record of success because authoritarian regimes do not have the wherewithal to engage
democratic publics. More sympathetic scholars believe that the problems with the Russkiy Mir
Institutes and Confucius Institutes are due to institutional growing pains. We contend that
neither account fully captures the rationale of Chinese and Russian cultural diplomacy in these
cases and that PDT offers a fuller explanation of both the placement of Confucius Institutes
and Russkiy Mir Institutes in their day-to-day operations. In establishing the Confucius
Institutes and Russkiy Mir Institutes, Beijing and Moscow have openly emulated older models
of cultural diplomacy used by past powers to enhance their international reputation.
Our quantitative analysis of an original global dataset of Confucius Institutes and Russkiy Mir
Institutes supports this generalclaim, showing that whileboth Beijing and Moscow favoured their
trading partners, Beijing has been more likely to place its institutes in countries with dissimilar
cultural and political systems, against Joseph Nye’s recommendations. At the same time,
existing studies on the operations of Confucius Institutes and Russkiy Mir Institutes show that
the Chinese and Russian governments have directly interfered with the instruction, hiring and
cultural activities of their institutes. Wherever the institutes have been deployed in pursuit of
narrow political interests, the sponsor states inadvertently limit their soft power potential.
It is not possible to directly measure the ‘success’of the Confucius Institutes or Russkiy
Mir Institutes, since we do not have the counterfactual of what each host society would have
been like without the institutes in question. However, it is notable that neither China nor
Russia have improved their public image in any of the countries they have targeted. In
fact, survey data from Pew Research and Gallup suggest that favourability toward China
and Russia across host countries has remained constant or declined since Beijing and
Moscow launched their charm offensive. Although China has placed nearly half of its
Confucius Institutes in the US and UK, positive views of China in these countries dropped
by 10–15 percentage points between 2013 and 2015, largely due to growing security
tensions between these countries (Gallup 2015, p. 12; Wike 2015). We believe that China
might have derived greater beneﬁt from placing the institutes in politically similar
countries—non-democracies rather than democracies. While Moscow appears to have
largely avoided the trap of targeting inhospitable political systems, the operation of the
Russkiy Mir Institutes in Ukraine has done little to help, and has probably hurt, Russia’s
‘Confucius Institutes under Scrutiny in UK’,European Interest, 20 February 2019, available at: https://
www.europeaninterest.eu/article/confucius-institutes-scrutiny-uk/, accessed 25 May 2020.
18 MILOS POPOVIC ET AL.
image in that country. Among the top Russkiy Mir host countries, only China and Moldova
have a steadily positive view of Russia, while Bulgaria, Turkey and Ukraine have an overall
negative opinion of Russia and its leadership (Gallup 2015, pp. 12–3).
What this means is that although China and Russia have strong incentives to use cultural
diplomacy to improve their image abroad, they face considerable challenges in doing so. Not
only do they face an uphill battle in appealing to the publics of liberal democracies, but
Beijing and Moscow have exerted direct control over their institutes in societies that value
open dialogue. There are already fears in the West that Beijing and Moscow are executing
grand schemes to undermine Western hegemony and cultivate authoritarianism on Western
soil. The regimes’revealed preference to micro-manage their soft power campaigns only
reinforce these fears. Their actions become more explicable through the lens of policy
emulation and decoupling—Beijing and Moscow adopted models of Western diplomacy
without observing the rules that make them effective. So long as this institutional misﬁt
remains unaddressed, the Confucius Institutes and Russkiy Mir Institutes (and probably
other instruments of Chinese and Russian soft power) are unlikely to do more than
reinforce the good opinion of those who need no persuasion.
MILOS POPOVIC, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute of Security and
Global Affairs, Leiden University, Wijnhaven, Turfmarkt 99, 2511 DP The Hague, The
Netherlands. Email: email@example.com
ERIN K. JENNE, Professor, Department of International Relations, Central European
University, Quellenstraße 51, 1100, Vienna, Austria. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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