I discussed Josh Kurlantzick's book on China's soft power on bloggingheads.tv. We spend some time considering what soft power means in the context of China. I sympathize with Josh in his decision to broaden the definition of soft power for his book.
Joseph Nye, the inventor of the term and the head of the CSIS Smart Power Commission with Richard Armitage, defined soft power as the ability to attract rather than coerce (soft) to get what you want (power). As I put it, when someone attractive or cool walks into a restaurant, people want to order what that person is eating. One could apply this principle to a policy menu.
Josh instead includes what Nye categorizes as coercive power, which is the more traditional understanding of power in international relations. If you don't do something, I will use force against you or stop giving you economic goodies. Josh includes aid, trade, FDI, and other more coercive tools when he applies it to China.
But I understand why Josh would want to expand the definition of soft power. First, China itself is trying to expand the definition of power--what it calls comprehensive power includes the economy, its culture, its external economic relations, etc. Second, Asian relations are increasingly economically sticky. There is a greater amount of intra-regional trade in Asia, making economics more important.
Third, China's image is vulnerable and its brand is still pretty weak. As I ask Josh, when was the last time you sought out a Chinese-branded product or tried to emulate a Chinese factory? So the economic tools act as a potential delivery system for its culture--or for its traditional soft power in the future, when people say, we want to be like China.
Although Nye says Japan has the strongest soft power in Asia, Josh was skeptical about Japan's soft power because it has made little progress in getting a permanent UN Security Council seat and in other areas. But Nye and others rank Japan as strong in soft power--having a great number of patents, giving a lot of foreign aid, and generally being seen as a good actor.
I would also add that some of the lack of progress for Japan in influencing countries has ironically been from its reluctance to use coercive power--which is probably a good thing.