Kurlantzick, Joshua 1976–

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Kurlantzick, Joshua 1976–


Born 1976.


E-mail—[email protected].


Journalist. Time, columnist; New Republic, foreign editor, then special correspondent; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC, visiting scholar. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, School of Public Diplomacy and the Pacific Council on International Policy fellow.


Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power Is Transforming the World, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2007.

Contributor to periodicals and journals, including Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, Harper's, Economist, Atlantic Monthly, GQ, Mother Jones, U.S. News and World Report, Current History, Washington Quarterly, and the New York Times Magazine.


Born in 1976, Joshua Kurlantzick entered the fields of journalism and foreign affairs. As a writer, he has contributed to a number of periodicals and journals, including the Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, Harper's, Economist, Atlantic Monthly, GQ, Mother Jones, U.S. News and World Report, Current History, Washington Quarterly, and the New York Times Magazine. He worked as a columnist for Time magazine, and served as the foreign editor at the New Republic before becoming the periodical's special correspondent.

Academically, Kurlantzick is involved in scholarship on foreign affairs, oftentimes drawing heavily on his personal experience as a journalist. He is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC. He also serves as a School of Public Diplomacy and the Pacific Council on International Policy fellow at the University of Southern California.

Kurlantzick published his first book, Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power Is Transforming the World, in 2007. The book shows the various ways in which China uses its influence in regional and global affairs to achieve policy goals with other countries. The author also shows how mismanagement on the part of the United States has seen a number of former U.S. allies shift their allegiances to China as the Asian giant has been more receptive to addressing local concerns of those countries whereas the United States was focused more on demanding change before any assistance was given.

Norm Goldman, reviewing the book on BookPleasures.com, found that "using his personal experiences and knowledge, Kurlantzick offers readers an excellent synthesis as to how China began to court the world with its soft power." Goldman described the chapters as "well-written." Goldman concluded that "Kurlantzick should be applauded for this timely book particularly when American foreign policy has suffered several set-backs over the past few years. Although, for some more knowledgeable about the subject matter, the book is hardly terra incognita, however, for the vast majority it [is] very enlightening and certainly an eye-opener." Gordon G. Chang, writing on the Commentary Magazine Web log, questioned whether China's anti-American-influence policy stances were "merely the normal rough and tumble of great-power diplomacy? Perhaps." But Gordon points out that "Kurlantzick raises a far more pertinent question: can an authoritarian state work within the existing framework of a liberal international system? Charm Offensive is loaded with evidence that suggests a potentially disturbing answer." Gordon concluded the review of this "fine book" by stating that "Kurlantzick, at several points in Charm Offensive, scolds the United States for abandoning strategic interest in the world after the end of the cold war. His book reminds us that this is no time for America to forgo its leadership position or to accept consensus management, especially when that means empowering authoritarian states—like newly, charmingly offensive China."

T.A. Frank, writing in the Washington Monthly, noted that "what sets Kurlantzick's book apart, however, is that it makes two additional crucial points": that the Pentagon is misguidedly worried about China's weapons and not its secret influence and that the United States' poor reputation around the world is not a recent phenomenon but began at the end of the Cold War. Frank mused: "If there was one final thought that stayed with me from Kurlantzick's book, it was simply this: Doing good is different from earning goodwill." Frank concluded that "Charm Offensive isn't perfect. Kurlantzick's reporting, which took him around the globe, is perhaps a bit more exhaustive than readers like me consider riveting. But that doesn't detract from the persuasiveness of the book's case. Kurlantzick has picked up on something crucial about China today, and it's time the rest of us took notice. Meanwhile, one can only hope Charm Offensive will remind U.S. policymakers that soft power, once lost, doesn't just wait around to be reclaimed. When the United States blows through friends, shrewder rivals will happily rush to take its place."

Dan Blumenthal, writing in the Weekly Standard, called the account "an intellectually honest book that shows the undersides of China's growing influence." Blumenthal warned, however, that "for all its reporting strengths, Charm Offensive lacks analytical precision—the result, perhaps, of the amorphous concept of soft power itself. Is China's success in getting Uzbekistan to kick out the U.S. military a result of soft power? Or is it an example of traditional inducements to the Uzbek regime? Probably the latter. Kurlantzick is aware of this analytical problem and tries to resolve it by using China's, rather than Joseph Nye's, definition of soft power: any type of power other than military. But in accepting this definition Charm Offensive becomes more about China's political and economic influence—two realms of power that China is using as it grows its military—than about soft power as Nye defines it." Blumenthal concluded that "the book's greatest contribution is its systematic portrayal of China's growing global influence, and the ways in which that influence is hurting not only Washington but also international development institutions."

Peter R. Beckman, reviewing the book in America, described the account as "a measured rather than alarmist view of China's efforts." Beckman allowed that "Charm Offensive helps us imagine the growth of China's soft power and meaningful cooperation with the United States. But there are two critical, interrelated limitations in Kurlantzick's analysis. First, it lacks historical sensitivity…. Second, Kurlantzick treats the Chinese political system as a cohesive, rational decision-making unit, rather than an often fractious set of leaders and bureaucracies that advocate competing policies in an uncertain world." Beckman concluded that "history and Communist Party politics thus suggest a short life for the current charm offensive. But history is also the story of surprises. Joshua Kurlantzick and the reader might well ponder what it is about today's China and its foreign policy that would give some permanence to his argument."

Aaron L. Friedberg, writing in Commentary, noted of China's soft power diplomacy: "To what extent does all of this reflect a deliberate strategy? How well is it working? And what difference does it make to the United States? Kurlantzick wrestles with all of these questions. But perhaps inevitably, given ambiguities in the evidence and uncertainties about the future, his answers are less than definitive." Friedberg also relayed: "As to whether China's ‘charm offensive’ has been effective, Kurlantzick reports expressions of enthusiasm for the ‘Chinese model’ from strongmen like Ayatollah Khameini [sic[ and Raoul [sic[ Castro. But these are hard to take seriously. Others may wish to mimic China's mix of economic growth and political stasis, but, at least so far, its leaders have been circumspect about urging foreigners to follow in their footsteps. They appear to realize that the preconditions for their own success (including an enormous supply of low-wage workers and vast, efficient internal-security forces) are unusual, if not unique." Friedberg ultimately called Charm Offensive an "engaging and informative new book." Robert Sutter, reviewing the book in Contemporary Southeast Asia, said that "Kurlantzick musters data, analysis and a wide range of anecdotes of his personal experiences as a journalist in Southeast Asia and elsewhere to make an argument that what he calls China's charm offensive is fundamentally changing the order in Southeast Asia and arguably the world to the detriment of U.S. interests. The organization of the chapters is clear and the writing is interesting and often entertaining. The book seems designed to appeal to a large audience, impressing them with vivid examples of China's effectiveness and influence, and U.S. ineffectiveness and decline."

Christopher Freise, writing in the Melbourne Journal of Politics, pointed out that "early on, Kurlantzick makes clear that he is broadening Nye's original definition of ‘soft power’ to include all non-military means. These can range from matters of high politics to low, from issues of cultural influence to international diplomacy to international trade. While the picture that he paints concerning China's international image is a reasonably persuasive one, by including such a wide variety of tactics and strategies in his definition, he loses much intellectual and analytical coherence." Freise continued by saying that "Kurlantzick stretches this definition to incoherence, seemingly intending ‘soft power’ to mean anything and everything he says it is. While one can sense the phenomenon he is describing—the significant improvement of China's international image and the methods by which this is being achieved—at play, his definition of how and why it is occurring requires a far less nebulous handling."

Kurlantzick told CA: "My mother, who was a school principal and was really dedicated to writing, probably first got me interested in writing. I would say that my work has been influenced by years of living and working in Asia, as well as reading a range of great nonfiction writers."



America, September 24, 2007, Peter R. Beckman, review of Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power Is Transforming the World, p. 23.

Commentary, October 1, 2007, Aaron L. Friedberg, "Are We Ready for China?," p. 39.

Contemporary Southeast Asia, December, 2007, Robert Sutter, review of Charm Offensive, p. 526.

Far Eastern Economic Review, July 1, 2007, Kerry Brown, review of Charm Offensive, p. 62.

Melbourne Journal of Politics, January 1, 2007, Christopher Freise, review of Charm Offensive, p. 136.

Washington Monthly, July 1, 2007, T.A. Frank, review of Charm Offensive, p. 56.

Weekly Standard, May 28, 2007, Dan Blumenthal, "Unsoothing Scenario: Free Markets Are Not Leading to Freedom in China."


BookPleasures.com,http://www.bookpleasures.com/ (May 28, 2007), Norm Goldman, review of Charm Offensive; (May 28, 2007), Norm Goldman, author interview.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Web site,http://www.carnegieendowment.org/ (April 17, 2008), author profile.

Commentary Magazine Web log,http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/ (June 11, 2007), Gordon G. Chang, review of Charm Offensive.

Globalist,http://www.theglobalist.com/ (April 17, 2008), author profile.

Pacific Council on International Policy Web site,http://www.pacificcouncil.org/ (April 17, 2008), author profile.