This text is the final of a three-part investigation of the capabilities of main East Asian powers, from a comfortable energy perspective. The primary lined China and its all-encompassing worldwide ‘attraction offensive,’ and the second handled Japan and its multifaceted international enchantment. This one will cowl what could be seen because the latecomer, South Korea, however the actuality is extra advanced than it seems, and the succesful nation could also be catching up quick, and even leapfrogging its opponents in sure domains.
Hardly a month passes and not using a new present of South Korea’s burgeoning cultural might, from successful the Oscar with the film Parasite, to the accolade of awards and praises that ‘k-pop’ teams corresponding to BTS and Blackpink are receiving internationally. And this appears to be just the start, as Korean model and vogue, TV sequence, cosmetics, and definitely meals are all getting growing consideration throughout the globe. All these developments could be investigated by way of the lens of soppy energy, the power of attraction in worldwide relations. However what does this phenomenon imply? Can South Korea be seen as the brand new ‘quintessential’ comfortable energy?
To start with, why ‘new’? To many, Japan involves thoughts when interested by a pop-culture superpower with the multi-decade lengthy (and nonetheless current) success of its anime and manga, its meals, its superior tech merchandise, and its general touristic enchantment. Absolutely, the US (US) also can come to thoughts, with its international manufacturers, Hollywood, and the (faltering) American Dream. And why ‘quintessential’? Though I do consider that comfortable energy goes properly past the only cultural sphere, because it encompasses elements of economic interactions, the idea continues to be typically understood in a comparatively slim cultural manner, which is masterfully represented by South Korea’s flourishing worldwide enchantment.
Few, if any, would deny this distinctive growth. However how do South Korea’s leaders and policymakers develop, promote, and make the most of this exceptional portfolio of attractive national features? How does it evaluate to its regional and international opponents? And crucially, is the nation’s comfortable enchantment–the non-coercive kind–as slim because it appears, or there are different ignored elements past the only cultural sphere?
To reply these questions, it’s first vital to look at what does represent South Korea’s portfolio of enticing sources, and to take action it may be useful to subdivide it into three classes; the sociocultural, the financial, and the political, though these might overlap and be mixed when advancing methods of attraction and affect.
To begin with, it’s essential to acknowledge that this success simply didn’t occur from sooner or later to a different, nevertheless it was a skillful and well-funded public-private partnership that began within the late Nineties aimed toward ‘manufacturing’ and showcasing cultural property. This collaboration mimicked related methods carried out to advertise extra tangible property, corresponding to electronics, shipbuilding, and automaking. Within the coming years, a number of leaders embraced this coverage that “prioritized cultural exports as a method of enhancing South Korea’s nationwide picture and fostering financial development.”
The so-called ‘Korean Wave’–or Hallyu in its unique language denomination–was gaining momentum, and a stream of main achievements adopted. In 2012, the rapper Psy launched the worldwide hit music “Gangnam Style”, which continues to be some of the watched YouTube movies ever and it was danced in golf equipment as a lot as in colleges. In 2018, the boy band BTS not solely was breaking data after data due to their broadly interesting sound and elegance, however they have been even appointed as special presidential envoy to the United Nations “for future generations and tradition,” and their speech was watched stay by over a million followers worldwide. On the 2020’s Oscars, the movie Parasite made historical past when it turned the primary non-English language film to win the Greatest Image award. In late 2021, the sequence Squid Sport turned a global phenomenon, despite its grotesque content material and not-so-subtle criticism of Korean society and past.
Examples of South Korea’s sociocultural appeal abound, however what in regards to the financial and political spheres? Within the financial realm, comfortable energy can originate from assist and the following goodwill that these initiatives are anticipated to foster, whereas hoping that sure values and beliefs may very well be embraced by the benefitting international locations. On this case, comfortable energy will not be the cash because the monetary transaction per se, however the surrounding halo within the type of a reputational enhance. A number of international locations present help in a number of varieties, corresponding to China and the US’s competing regimes in Africa, or Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) in East and Southeast Asia. The European Union does it too, by way of numerous types of external cooperation. Though South Korea is stepping up its efforts, its help initiatives have faced some challenges, and extra typically the nation nonetheless “lags behind rich governments within the proportion of GDP that it allocates for development aid.”
Shifting to the political realm, we are able to observe an identical scenario during which South Korea’s leaders and policymakers appear nonetheless unwilling to make the most of their cultural clout to advertise democratic beliefs or human rights, or extra typically their very own world views. In different phrases, South Korea could also be punching above its weight from a cultural perspective, however it’s taking a extra cautious method when contemplating advancing political rules and requirements. Its neighbor, Japan, has been steadily advancing democratic assistance as a part of its overseas coverage. China, intentionally or not, is exporting all types of rules and requirements by way of its Belt and Road Initiative, though it’s nonetheless unsure–and maybe too early to say–to what extent these efforts have been profitable. If something, Xi Jinping’s masterplan is creating or increasing a number of connectivity channels from which comfortable energy can originate, corresponding to by way of bodily and digital infrastructure (e.g., high-speed railways, bridges, ports, 5G networks, sensible cities), or people-to-people interactions (e.g., trade packages, traineeships, conferences, workshops). In the interim, South Korea is perhaps unable (and unwilling) to straight compete with China, and even Japan, however the New Southern Policy–launched in 2017–is perhaps a step in the correct course. Due to it, ties with ASEAN and India may very well be enhanced in areas corresponding to infrastructure and digital innovation, thus boosting its popularity as a succesful and dependable worldwide actor.
With that mentioned, comfortable energy is as a lot about growing interesting sources, as it’s about selling them to overseas audiences. The principle instrument to take action is thru public diplomacy. Governments can determine to forge partnerships with native or overseas non-public entities to plan and unfold the phrase about their achievements and initiatives, corresponding to when granting visa-free visits to worldwide followers or scholarships to the growing world.
So how does South Korea do public diplomacy? It seems, fairly properly. Talking of scholarships, the nation has carried out mobility packages such because the Global Korea Scholarship. Research present that the initiative seems to achieve success since “recipients consider[d] Korea extra positively” after their mobility packages. One other distinguished instance of public diplomacy is carefully tied to the cultural sphere, and extra particularly to the facility of Korean pop music. The group BTS not solely gave a speech on the UN however it is usually partnering with UNICEF in what has been described as celebrity diplomacy, a tangible illustration of how cultural affect is usually a power for good, past industrial success. Extra broadly, South Korea’s efforts are mentioned to embrace the precept of “networked public diplomacy,” with a heavy focus on digital media, and to be extra profitable in doing so than its Japanese counterpart in spite (or maybe as a result of) of its extra centralized community managed by few dominant actors. General, South Korea is probably not testing completely novel public diplomacy methods, nevertheless it appears able to refining and making the most of present ones.
To what extent the above assertion displays South Korea’s worldwide standing? Is the nation broadly admired and revered overseas due to its achievements and conduct? How do neighboring powers as a lot as main ones evaluate when inspecting their nationwide international enchantment? Though measuring comfortable energy is a contentious matter, the Global Soft Power Index is a exceptional try to take action by way of a cautious number of standards aimed toward assessing the facility of attraction. The index ranks every nation’s international familiarity, popularity, and affect, paired with seven classes of enticing options (Enterprise & Commerce, Governance, Worldwide Relations, Tradition & Heritage, Media & Communication, Schooling & Science, Folks & Values).
The index, first revealed in 2020, is now at its third version, and it has expanded to incorporate COVID-19 response as a further class of study. In 2020, South Korea was 14th, the US ranked 1st, whereas neighboring Japan and China have been 4th and 5th respectively. In 2021, South Korea climbed to the 11th spot, the US dropped to the 6th, China fell into the 8th, whereas Japan entered the rostrum in 2nd place. Germany was 1st. In 2022, South Korea dropped one spot to the 12th, the US regained the highest spot (1st), China regained some floor and was 4th, adopted by Japan (5th). When observing extra carefully the precise scores, South Korea climbed from 48.3 in 2020, to 51.3 in 2021, and 52.9 in 2022. General, which means the nation’s enchantment has been rising, however another international locations have carried out higher.
Nevertheless, when carefully inspecting final yr’s three primary classes of study, South Korea’s familiarity was well-above international common (7.1/10), its popularity was honest (6.5/10), however its affect was fairly low (4.7/10). Each China and Japan scored significantly increased, apart from China’s popularity (6.4). That mentioned, this could not come as a shock, as this can be a international index and each familiarity and popularity is perhaps markedly increased in circumscribed areas corresponding to Southeast Asia, however its general affect–or notion of affect–continues to be inferior to its highly effective neighbors and unlikely to develop considerably within the foreseeable future. This situation has additionally been substantiated by a survey of G-20 countries during which South Korea’s comfortable energy was nonetheless perceived as weaker than its friends, because it was nonetheless unable to transform its potential into most well-liked outcomes.
All thought-about, these could also be unfair or at the least untimely conclusions. The nation is perhaps well-aware of what could be achieved by way of comfortable energy and what can’t be, whereas additionally being conscious of its diffuse nature. A distinguished instance of what it may possibly obtain, supported by knowledge, is industrial success. As reported in Foreign Affairs:
In 2019, South Korea exported $12.3 billion in popular culture (up from a mere $189 million in 1998), together with laptop video games, musical excursions, and cosmetics. By one estimate, the variety of South Koreans employed in cultural fields grew to 644,847 in 2017—three p.c of your entire workforce. BTS alone is an financial powerhouse. In line with the Hyundai Analysis Institute, the band generates an estimated $3.5 billion per yr in financial exercise. In 2017, round 800,000 vacationers—about seven p.c of all arrivals in South Korea—visited due to their curiosity within the group.
Conversely, what is probably not achievable with the only energy of attraction, is a reunification of the Korean peninsula. Nevertheless, this doesn’t imply that North Koreans are proof against the enchantment of the ‘Korean Wave’–fairly the opposite–however media need to be consumed underground and the chance for customers is excessive. Cautious comfortable energy methods can nonetheless play an element in direction of a peaceable decision, however these ought to be paired with extra conventional diplomatic approaches.
Past these main considerations, different challenges as a lot as alternatives abound. Observers have warned South Korean leaders and policymakers in regards to the instrumentalization of this enticing wave, which has already been criticized domestically in a number of cases. Others famous that the nation’s “push to brand itself as a multicultural nation, entice overseas migrants, and mitigate its demographic challenges has had blended outcomes and revealed inequities in South Korean society.” That is in stark distinction with the precise message that ‘k-pop’ seems to advance, “a cultural mashup of languages, visible types, and dance.” On a extra constructive observe, specialists acknowledge the possibility to utilize nationwide enchantment as a normative tool to advertise values. How does this work? “By sparking an curiosity and a need of emulation in overseas audiences, it [should] foster a way of collective id, familiarity and belonging.” As in comparison with different main comfortable energy promoters, South Korea is usually perceived as unthreatening along with being ‘cool’. Therefore, its center energy standing may very well be seen as a bonus, as its conduct ought to be much less vulnerable to contradictions between phrases and actions.
To conclude, South Korea’s extraordinary ascent is unlikely to be a brief phenomenon, and it may be seen as yet another step in direction of a rebalance to Asia as a sociocultural influencer and trendsetter. That mentioned, its leaders could be more and more pushed to determine whether or not they “solely need to export entertainment” (arguably the most secure route) or in addition they need the nation to punch above its weight past the cultural (and industrial) dimension. In different phrases, does the nation need to be perceived as a quintessential-but-narrow comfortable energy or as a complete enticing influencer prepared to completely ‘journey the (k-)wave’?
In the end, the one certainty is that “South Korean popular culture has grabbed global attention”, how this potential may very well be successfully used to advance insurance policies for the (inter)nationwide and better good, stays to be decided.
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