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In recent years, Russia and China have poured considerable resources into arenas typically associated with “soft power,” a term coined by the American political scientist Joseph Nye and understood as the “ability to affect others by attraction and persuasion.” Either directly or through compliant surrogates, these two countries have devoted billions of dollars to increasing their global influence through media, culture, think tanks, academia and other spheres.

Despite these immense investments, however, observers — including Nye himself — have scratched their heads, wondering why these authoritarian regimes continue to suffer a deep soft-power deficit, even as they have grown more assertive internationally.

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