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Public Diplomacy: A Case Study of Korean Popular Music

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In recent years, the boom of South Korean culture is being observed globally, especially through global sensation BTS, a K-pop group. As the country is the 13th largest economy in the world, Hallyu wave has reinforced South Korea’s soft power projection. The global fame of the country has risen to its current position as a consequence of its long foreign policy composure that was based on public diplomacy under Lee Myung-bak’s vision of “Global Korea”. Public Diplomacy focuses on achieving persuasive power by targeting foreign people using different channels and tools. In this respect, Republic of Korea (ROK) has been successful in spreading its language, cultural values and ideas across the world. This paper aims at highlighting significance of public diplomacy as it helps states in achieving national interests more efficiently.

Introduction:

Public diplomacy is the public management of international relations, engagement and interaction with foreign peoples. This is a long-term goal of achieving favourable relation-ships with other states by transforming perceptions and ideas of the public. In the following section, public diplomacy of South Korea is analyzed, first, through four approaches, i.e. how it understood the role of PD in achieving national interest, how it planned about conducting PD itself, how it engaged with people abroad, and finally how it advocated its public diplomacy using influence of non-state actors. South Korea, a small East Asian state, has been successful in implementing its public diplomacy. The second section of the paper focuses on the global takeover of Korean popular music. K-pop, with its indigenous linguistic and cultural elements, has truly globalized the Korean soft image. There are a number of goals that South Korea envisages to achieve through its tool of public diplomacy, among which there is varying success while the process is continued.

In order to grasp over the subject, a number of books have been consulted both related to significance of public diplomacy in the modern world and how SK has been successful in spreading its soft power through K-pop. This paper will add to it by linking all with a more contemporary scenario, and by discussing the goals of South Korea, which it could envision while conducting public diplomacy like any other state.  

Background:

Modern diplomacy emerged after WWI following the proposition that diplomacy should be conducted publically for better accountability and public scrutiny, by the then President of USA Woodrow Wilson in his famous fourteen points. It remained highly formal, institutionalized and subjected to public scrutiny. However, by the end of twentieth century, diplomacy saw a shift in its mode of conduct, goals and tools as a result of increasing globalization and emergence of network society. The importance of public opinion in shaping both domestic and foreign policy started becoming evident with the revolution in IT, communication technology and media mass coverage. Persuasion of foreign public became the key in this ‘new’ diplomacy referred as Public diplomacy. Unlike propaganda used during Cold War, public diplomacy is a two-way process where feedback is necessary. It also takes into account morality and focuses on ‘positive’ image projection of state and its policies, thus it does not necessarily promotes the negative image of the host country. Public diplomacy also differs from international lobbying in which only particular policies are targeted and the people related to it. Public diplomacy is the about the general positive change in perception of the foreign public.

Public Diplomacy:

The concept of public diplomacy emerged under the umbrella of soft power and is considered as its important instrument. According to Joseph Nye, there are two hard power forms, i.e. sticks (military) and carrots (money). The third is the soft element. He stated that now those countries are becoming more attractive in the world “whose culture and ideas are closer to prevailing international norms, and whose credibility abroad is reinforced by their values and practices” (Melissen, 2005, p. 1). This is the essence of soft power. Public diplomacy is also one of the five critical areas of smart power that focuses on the elements of both soft and hard power. Even E. H. Carr acknowledged the effectiveness of “power over opinion” for political purposes.

‘Public diplomacy’ term was coined by Edmund Gullion (American diplomat) in mid-1960s (Melissen, 2005, p. 6). According to him, flow of ideas and information is central to public diplomacy, so we can say that it is the intervention through information. It involves communication with foreign public directly, aiming at affecting their perceptions, first, and then that of their respective governments. It is a “bottom-up political mechanism” in which people or civil society has a say in government’s domestic and foreign policy-making that “will indirectly influence one’s national security and prosperity” (Trisni, 2019).

Traditionally, diplomacy was the expertise of states, but with economic globalization, relevance of non-state actors has increased. They also have goals, and resources to achieve them. Actors of public diplomacy include both state and non-state actors including individuals and business corporations. Their collaborations and partnerships are making the target achievement easier. Public diplomacy, as a foreign policy tool, has been utilized by all types of states whether they are democratic (e.g. USA) or not (e.g. China), big (e.g. India) or small (e.g. South Korea) irrespective of their ideology, political system and size. However, it has been successful and conducted mostly in democratic societies. Content of public diplomacy includes education and cultural activities, teaching languages, maintaining and building cultural centers, collaborative business associations, exchange of artists, students, scholars etc. Channels used for public diplomacy are international broadcasting, use of international electronic, print and social media (such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc.)

Stages of Public Diplomacy:

There are three stages of public diplomacy, given by M. Leonard, that are dependent on the goals of the state (Kayani, 2015, p. 53). Reactive PD involves the most short-term communication with the foreign public for instance, a press conference. Proactive PD involves the medium-term goals in which a state, for instance, gives a policy briefing. The last stage, which is goal of most states doing public diplomacy, involves long-term relationship-building with the host state. Its time period spans to a few decades as in case of South Korea where this policy orientation was adopted in 1990s and is at peak now in 2021. In relation building scenario, state has a more long-term goal which could extend to the required transformation of attitude and ideas in the next generation. Joseph Nye also gave stages of public diplomacy. He named them as: daily communication, strategic communication and lasting relationships.

South Korea’s Public Diplomacy:

South Korea is a small state in East Asia which was unknown to world before stepping into the second half of the twentieth century. In the first two decades of 21st century, however, Korean wave or what is called as “hallyu” wave has taken the whole world by storm, going against all cultural odds, spreading its own values, culture and language across the world.

Bruce Gregory gave four approaches to analyze the overall public diplomacy of a state (Kayani, 2015, p. 54). These approaches will be applied to look into this instrument of South Korea’s soft power. First is the understanding of foreign opinion and information collection with the help of different tools like survey, media etc. South Korea suffered from bitter past experience most of the twentieth century as it went through Japanese colonization and Korean War. This devastated the whole economic and social fabric of Korean society. In 1970s, South Korea went through industrialization and privatization which boosted its economy. It opened its society and economy to the external world which eased the import of foreign cultural products especially from USA. In 1990s, after stabilizing economy, interest of South Korean government shifted to society and cultural reconstruction. Last four presidencies in South Korea have made public diplomacy a major priority of their foreign policy and national strategy. A report appeared, in 1994, to the Presidential Advisory Board on Science and Technology which discussed that Korea should also build economy using cultural industry following example of America. (Paik, 2012, p. 200) At that time, Hollywood film Jurassic Park earned as much as “selling 15 million Hyundai cars” (Paik, 2012, p. 200). This led to their understanding about significance of attracting global public through public diplomacy.

Second approach is the planning which involves carrying out plans by the actors. In 1995, Culture Industry Bureau was established as a result of report submission that led to Motion Picture Promotion Law. This law imposed a quota for representation of Korean films in theaters. Becoming member of world’s top five content makers was the prime national objective of President Roh Moo-hyun (2003-2007). (Paik, 2012, p. 201) The third approach is engagement whereby actors invite and collaborate with other actors for successful execution of public diplomacy. Financial crisis of 2008 devastated the economy of South Korea among other Asian states. The then President Lee Myung-bak launched “Global Korea” slogan to bring Korea’s economy on advanced level and to achieve soft power status globally. In his February 2008 address, he said that South Korea should strive for competitive “content industry, thereby laying the foundation to become a nation strong in cultural activities.” (Hankyoreh, 2019) According to him, country’s technological strength combined with power of traditional culture would project a more “attractive Korea” across the world. He, then, went on to say that it “is the vision of a Great Korea that Lee Myung-bak’s administration will work for” (Hankyoreh, 2019).

To rebuild the economy, government acted as a stimulator, efficiency regulator, process accelerator and facility provider for the development of Korean cultural industry. It also engaged Chaebols (conglomerates in South Korea) by investing in cultural industry which acted as incentive for them to do the same. Groups like Samsung, Hyundai, Daewoo, LG etc. started entering and investing in cultural industry that not only improved the budget allocation but also the overall efficiency of associated companies in hiring talents. The government also facilitated in the expansion and advancement of ICT industry to strengthen the associated internet infrastructure. Kim Jong-deok, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, stated in favour of non-state actors’ involvement in the success of South Korean public diplomacy that this all is the “working of people” who have played role in promoting the “Korean wave outside South Korea” (Trisni, 2019, p. 39).

The influence of Korean celebrities (entertainment, sports etc.) also acted as catalyst in the propagation of K-wave across the globe. Their role in advocacy of the Korean public diplomacy has been crucial. This, ‘mutual symbiosis’, was enabled by supporting them as ambassadors for different programs and activities. Some examples include: The Wonder Girls group which was named as Korean Food Ambassador, Kim Hyun-Joong who was named as UN Ambassador for Social Welfare Program, actor Song Joong-Ki who was named as Honorary Ambassador for Korean Tourism in 2016 and actor Hyun bin who was named as Korean Defense Ambassador (Trisni, 2019, p. 37).

Currently, South Korea is one of the four Asian tigers due to its economic leap as it stands at 12th biggest economy in the world. President Moon Jae-In launched “New Southern Policy” whose priority is ‘three Ps’, i.e. people, prosperity and peace by diversifying diplomatic and political relations with East and Southeast Asian states (Anantasirikiat, 2018). One of the major policy objectives is to enhance and strengthen the public diplomacy capacity and collaboration. Lee (2011) stated that despite its small size, South Korea has left behind China and Japan when it comes to cultural success. The Twenty-first century is cultural century and SK has “already emerged as a leader” and it would continue to “lead the world” in future as well.

The term “Hallyu wave” emerged in China (Hanliu in Chinese) as appreciation and reference to K-pop culture. Korean wave, initiated by Korean dramas but propagated by Korean pop music groups, has taken the world by storm since last decade.

Global takeover of K-pop:

K-pop is the Korean popular music which comes in different genres. This industry flourished as the production companies hired aspirant musicians, dancers etc. in the form of groups, which performed internationally garnering millions of fans. Both the group culture and the music are part of Korea’s long historical cultural identity. People sang together in groups and danced to the tunes for celebration of events such as a fall harvest. There is high group consciousness in agricultural community, Buddhism and Shamanism. This collective sense has been manifested in the K-pop groups. Lee Bae-Young who was the Chief of the Presidential Council on Nation Brand, said that the Korean wave is the manifestation of Korean traditional culture. The way idol groups have assigned different roles like leader, rapper, singer, visual etc. are “inheritance” of historical “agricultural community” (KCIS, 2011, p. 1).

Korean wave has, nevertheless, adopted different foreign cultural elements as it experienced colonization and international exposure. Time period from 1960s to 1980s laid the basis for reconstruction of Korean culture, its identity development, and overall participation in the project that would lead towards modernity (Giddens, 1991). Hence, Korean wave is not truly ‘Korean’, rather it is an amalgam of Chinese Confucian values and Western culture. K-pop borrowed “the best of western culture and recreated it according to Korean tastes” (Cai, 2011). This cultural hybridization and adaptability is actually the strength of contemporary Korean culture. This very modernity amalgamated by its own cultural essence is the reason that K-pop music was welcomed internationally and has received much applause. Thus, recently K-pop has started spreading from its comfort zone, i.e. Asia to global audiences such as those in Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the Americas.

K-pop first entered in China and Japan with the groups like H.O.T, Girls’ Generation and Wonder Girls. Japanese Current events magazine AERA stated that the Korean music groups dominated the Japanese market in the same way as the British group Beatles took American market by storm in 1960s (KCIS, 2011, p. 37). It, then, went on to spread in Taiwan, Hong Kong etc. with groups like Shinhwa, Baby Vox, and NRG. The role of social media has been immense in K-pop’s expansion, first, in East Asia and then beyond. YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have been used as tools by South Korean content producers to disperse their “soft image” of Korea through K-pop. Girls’ Generation’s “GD & TOP” was watched by 390,000 people simultaneously on the YouTube Channel of SM Entertainment (Trisni, 2019, p. 199).

The entry in US market was marked by entry of Big Bang’s mini album “Tonight” that landed on No. 6 of US’ iTunes store (Trisni, 2019, p. 199). Currently, the global sensation BTS has even made historic achievement by landing among Nominees’ list of Grammys 2021 (Mitchel, 2021). The girl group BLACKPINK has also emerged among the top global pop stars like Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish (Belmis, 2021).

Middle East, which is the region mostly marked by cultural conservatism, has also opened up to the K-pop world. It has been said that there are certain values that are relatable in both Arab and Korean culture that has paved the smooth way for its entry into the region. These include respect for family bonds, implicit love stories, enduring friendship and altruism. Not only Middle East, but Africa has also embraced Korean Wave. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Morocco and Algeria are top five MENA streamers of K-pop, according to Spotify dials. (Nagy, 2020) Groups like BTS, EXO and Super Junior have held concerts in Middle Eastern countries. In 2019, KSA’s crown prince Muhammad Bin Salman (aka MBS) invited BTS to perform in Saudi Arabia and they did (BBC, 2019).

Similarly, in Europe, K-pop is emerging as mainstream. Countries like Nepal, India, Malaysia, Indonesia etc. have also greater affected by K-pop storm. Indonesia has the largest K-pop fan base in Asia (Trisni, 2019, p. 32). South America is no exception. Countries like Brazil have huge K-pop fan base.

The simultaneous effect of K-pop across the world—it’s truly global reach—started  in 2012 when PSY’s “Gangnam Stule” struck global (music) market by entering in Britain’s pop charts at number 1 position and at number 2 position in USA (Trisni, 2019, p. 32). It is, then, followed by BTS which has sold three albums at No.1 position in USA (Deboik, 2020).

BTS is the most popular music band in the world since 2018 (Suntikul, 2019). The group’s influence reflects height of Korea’s soft power by delivering universal optimistic messages of persistence, loving oneself and voicing one’s fears etc. through its music. These are the messages that transcend cultural boundaries and are relevant to most of the young people globally. They launched “Love Myself” campaign. In 2018, BTS was invited to speak at UN headquarters for a global partnership by UNICEF, Generation Unlimited (Suntikul, 2019). At UN platform, BTS leader Kim Nam-Jun aka RM stated:

“No matter who you are, where you’re from, your skin colour, gender identity: speak yourself… Find your name, find your voice, Speak Yourself.” (unicef, 2018)

They have also partnered with UNICEF for its “End Violence” Campaign (Suntikul, 2019). In November 2020, the group was invited to 75th UNGA Assembly for giving positive message to the youth across the world during COVID-19 pandemic. The leader of the BTS, RM, said: “Let’s reimagine our world… let’s dream again. Let’s dream about a future where our worlds can break out of our small rooms again.” In other words, let’s not give up in these darkest and solitary times during COVID-19. He gave the message of hope, courage and determination because no matter what happens, “life goes on”. So, “let’s live on.” (YouTube, 2020) Their invitation to global platforms like UN reflects BTS’s influence on the young minds across the world.

The group’s global soft image reflects the soft power of South Korea. BTS’s influence reflects the power and influence of “people to people diplomacy.” In 2020, it arranged first ever virtual concert named “Bang Bang Con”, which garnered 2.24 million concurrent views and 50 million views over 24 hours. (Yeo, 2021) The group members engage routinely on their social accounts and have more likes and views on their posts than even US Presidents like Obama and Trump. In April 2018, BTS’s twitter account made to the Guinness World Record for its most engagements (Suntikul, 2019). Domestically, too, BTS has contributed positively to South Korean economy. According to Hyundai Research Institute, BTS almost brings in more than 4.9 billion dollars to South Korean economy. Also, its role in enhancing tourism of country is also immense. BTS members were named as Seoul’s Honorary Tourism Ambassadors with their “Live Seoul like I do” initiative. In 2017, it was estimated that about 7% of all tourists (about 800,000 people) were motivated to visit the country due to their interest in BTS (Suntikul, 2019). In 2014, former President of Arirang TV (the only English language government-affiliated network of South Korea), Sohn Jie-Ae stated: (Hong, 2014)

“It’s not [the government] trying to fuel K-pop, but K-pop fueling Korea.”

In its report “BTS and Globalization,” World Economic Forum highlighted that despite Korean language’s absence among top 10 languages of the world, BTS has gone against all “cultural odds” as it is communicating not in English, the official global language, but in its own native language with the world.

Goals of South Korean Public Diplomacy:

Soft power projection is the main purpose of every state involved in public diplomacy. There are three variants of public diplomacy based on the goals, methods and participants involved (Gilboa, 2001). Goals of South Korean PD will be analyzed using these three variants as prisms.

Foremost is the basic variant in which the primary target is the public of mostly authoritarian regimes. The purpose is to show a soft image of the host country and to counter the recipient country’s domestic propaganda. The Goal is to provide a balanced view to the target society about country’s policies, vision etc. which can then pressurize its own government to alter its policies towards host state. In case of South Korea, this basic variant is active against North Korean regime. It wants to show its development, soft power to the North Korean public through its cultural content. Since both states have same culture, so North Korean people could influence or pressurize their government to engage in negotiations with the South Korea. In 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un came to attend Red Velvet’s concert in Pyongyang after “adjusting” his schedule (CNN, 2018). More recently, North Korea has banned foreign media including South Korean. Any person caught as smuggling or accessing foreign media can be “sentenced to a stint in a labour reeducation camp or, in the most severe cases, public execution” (BBC, 2020). Similarly, China also blocked South Korean content because of its security policy despite its huge demand among Chinese people. With China, South Korean cultural content (music, food, dramas etc.) has been more leading to a cultural rift.

Second variant is the transnational variant, which focuses on the government partnership with the corporate enterprises, individuals and groups to influence both the people and government of the other state. In case of South Korea, government-conglomerate partnership has played important role in the promotion of the Korean content globally and improvement in its quality. In 2015, Korean Development Bank (KDB) provided 100 billion won of funding to Korea Broadcasting Station (KBS) for promoting creative content (Trisni, 2019, p. 38). The promotion of Samsung, Hyundai products by K-pop groups like BTS, EXO, BLACKPINK etc. help in promotion of these businesses across the world. Transnational partnerships among corporations of different countries have also seen in this case. Recently, HYBE (whose former name was BigHit Entertainment) has merged itself with Ithaca Holdings (Scooter Braun’s media company) to enhance and streamline its music artists’ entry within US market (Soompi, 2021). Now the artists working under HYBE label include: BTS, TXT, ENHYPEN, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, CL, JBALVIN, NUEST, DAN+SHY, Nana, WATT, SEVENTEEN, GFRIEND, Zico, Lee Hyun, Black Eyed Peas, and Carly Ray Jepsen (Soompi, 2021).

Third variant is the domestic public relations variant, which focuses on using of a country’s own lobbyists and PR firms to gain support in the target country and for strengthening legitimacy and authority. This is a form of strategic public diplomacy where role gets reversed. Instead of changing government’s perceptions and policies, the aim is to prevent changing that perception and policies. If we talk about South Korea, this could be a long-term goal as it is dependent on USA for its latest defense technology and strategic alliance in the region against North Korea. In order to prevent any change in USA’s attitude towards South Korea, latter has successfully tried to gain public confidence. While direct lobbying is always there for diplomatic relations, public diplomacy has made indirect lobbying easier with more effective and successful results. It involves long-term coalition building, relation-building and grass-root level mobilization to gain public support.

Conclusion:

Korean popular music groups have made South Korea’s public diplomacy, a successful national policy. They have played role in the expansion of Korean culture, language and universal values like friendship, respect etc. Thus, their role in emanation of South Korea’s soft power is immense as the country is already on the economic roller coaster. In addition to it, SK can also achieve strategic goals by conducting public diplomacy in the longer run.

I am Rubab Nawaz, currently an undergraduate International Relations student at National Defense University Islamabad, Pakistan. I have taken several online subject and linguistic courses from international universities as well such as University of Virginia, University of London, Universiteit Leiden, Peking University etc. I have two year unpublished writing experience as well. Currently, I am part of organizing committee at ourmun.

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Diplomacy

International Relations Amid the Pandemic

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We could rest assured that COVID-19 will be defeated, sooner rather than later. The excessive angst and fear we currently feel will gradually subside, while our science will find effective antidotes so that people could look back on the pandemic years as a ghastly dream.

At the same time, it is also clear that a post-pandemic world will be quite different to the world we knew before. The argument that the world needs a massive shake-up to move to the next stage of its development has been quite popular ever since the end of the Cold War. Some prophesied that this would come as a result of a profound economic crisis, while others argued that a large-scale war may well be on the cards. As often happens, though, what turned the world on its head came as if out of nowhere. Within a short span of just a few months, the COVID-19 pandemic shed a light on all the many contradictions and setbacks of our age. It went on to outline the trajectory for economic prosperity, scientific breakthroughs and technological advancements going forward, opening up new opportunities for self-realization and fulfilment. The question pertinent today is: Who will be able to best exploit the new reality and take advantage of the opportunities that are opening up? And how?

COVID-19 has also left its mark on the current architecture of international relations.

At the turn of the century, it was mired in crisis. The end of the Cold War towards the late 20th century effectively signaled the beginning of the transition from the bipolar world order established in the wake of the Second World War to a model that had yet to be created. A bitter struggle would unfold as to what the new world order had to be, with the issue still unsettled today. A number of states, as well as non-state actors, willing to take advantage of this uncertainty in global affairs and redistribute the spheres of influence in the world is what it ultimately boils down to. In a sense, such a scenario should have come as no surprise since the contradictions between the profound changes encompassing the public domain and the rigid model of international relations established in the mid-20th century by the powers victorious in the Second World War had continued to grow in recent decades.

The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be a stern and unprecedented test of strength that has revealed the limits of the current architecture of international relations. Previous crises—be they financial turmoil, struggle against terrorism, regional conflicts or something else—were, in fact, temporary and rather limited in their implications, however severe they were. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected each and every country in the world, regardless of their political regimes and social conventions, economic prosperity and military might. The pandemic has exposed the fragility of the modern world as well as the growing risks and challenges; and if ignored, they could plunge the world into a descending spiral of self-destruction.

The pandemic continues, which means we are yet to draw a final conclusion on its consequences for the system of international relations. That being said, a number of tentative conclusions are already taking shape.

Point 1. Globalization, despite its obvious side effects, has already changed the face of our world, irreversibly making it truly interdependent. This has been said before; however, the opponents of globalization have tried—and continue to try—to downplay its consequences for modern society. As it happens, they would like to think of globalization as little more than an episode in international life. Although it has been going on for quite some time now, it is nevertheless incapable of changing the familiar landscape of the world. The pandemic has lifted the curtain on what the modern world truly looks like. Here, state borders are nothing more than an administrative and bureaucratic construct as they are powerless to prevent active communication among people, whether spiritual, scientific, informational or of any other kind. Likewise, official borders are not an obstacle to the modern security threats proliferating among states. The waves of COVID-19 have wreaked havoc on all countries. No nation has been able to escape this fate. The same will also happen time and again with other challenges unless we recognize this obvious reality to start thinking about how states should act amid the new circumstances.

Point 2. The international system withstood the initial onslaught in spite of the incessant fearmongers prophesying its impending collapse. Following a rather brief period of confusion and helplessness, the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, G20 and other global and regional organizations got their act together (albeit some better than others), taking urgent action to contain the pandemic. This proves that the system of international relations that was constructed after the Second World War still functions, although it is far from perfect or devoid of shortcomings.

In a similar vein, the fight against the pandemic has demonstrated that many international structures are increasingly out of step with the modern reality, proving incapable of mobilizing quickly enough to make a difference in our ever-changing world. This, once again, pushes to the fore the issue of a reformed United Nations system (and other international institutions), while the issue is progressively getting even more urgent. Moving forward, the international community will likely have to face challenges no less dangerous than the current pandemic. We have to be prepared for this.

Point 3. As the role of international institutions in global affairs weakens, centrifugal tendencies gain momentum, with countries—for the most part, global leaders—starting to put their national interests first. The global information war surrounding various anti-COVID-19 vaccines is a prime example of this. Not only has it seriously upset successes in the fight against the pandemic, but it has also added a new dimension to mutual distrust and rivalry. The world has effectively fallen back to the “rules” of the Cold War era, when countries with different socio-political systems were desperate to prove their superiority, with little regard for common interests such as security and development.

Pursuing such a policy today is fraught with grave consequences for every nation, since new security threats care little for borders. The recent events in Afghanistan should serve as a lesson for us all, showing that any serious regional crisis, even in a most remote corner of the world, will inevitably have global implications. Therefore, we are all facing a stark choice: either unite against these new challenges or become hostage to the various extremists and adventurers.

Point 4. Some political leaders have been quick to use the challenges of the pandemic as a pretext to strengthen the role of the state at the expense of fundamental democratic principles and binding international obligations. This may be justified or even necessitated at a time of the most acute phases of a severe crisis, when all available resources need to be mobilized to repel the threat.

However, one gets the impression that some politicians are increasingly in the groove for these extended powers and would very much like to hold onto them, using the likelihood of new crises as a justification. This line of thinking could prove to be an insurmountable obstacle to a new model of international relations to be established in accordance with the modern reality, where states would be expected to pool their efforts in the interests of global security and development.

Point 5. As always happens in times of profound crises, the international community is looking to major powers and their leadership for guidance. The future course of history in all realms of life, naturally including international relations, will hinge on what these countries choose to do, deciding whether solidarity prevails over national egoism. President Putin’s initiative to hold a meeting of the heads of state of the permanent UN Security Council members could be a good starting point to foster understanding and seek new ways of moving forward. We cannot keep putting off a frank and thorough conversation about the future world order, as the costs of new delays could be too grave for everyone to handle.

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Relevance of the Soft Power in Modern World

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In modern days, the relevance of Soft Power has increased manifolds. At times, the COIVD-19 has hooked the whole human race; this concept has further come into the limelight. The term, Soft Power was coined by the American Scientist Joseph Nye. Soft Power is the ability of a country to get what it wants through attraction rather than coercion. By tapping the tool of Soft Power, a country can earn respect and elevate its global position. Hard Power cannot be exercised exceeding a territory, and if any country follows this suit, its image is tarnished globally. However, it is Soft Power that can boost the perception and create a niche of a nation. Soft Power is regarded as the essential factor of the overall strength of a country. It can increase the adhesion and the determination of the people in a realm to shape the foreign relations of any nation. Nye held that the Soft Power arsenal would include culture, political values, and foreign policy.

After the Cold War, many nations pumped billions of dollars into Soft Power initiatives, and the US mastered this concept. The US has sailed on the waters of Soft Power by harnessing the tool of media, politics, and economic aid. The US boasts globally recognized brands and companies, Hollywood, and its quest for democratic evangelization. Through movies, the US has disseminated its culture worldwide. American movies are viewed by a massive audience worldwide. The promotion of the US culture through films is a phenomenon (culture imperialism) where the US subtly wants to dominate the world by spreading its culture. Through Hollywood films, the US has an aspiration to influence the world by using Soft Power tools. Hollywood is considered as the pioneer of fashion, and people across the globe imitate and adopt things from Hollywood to their daily life. Such cultural export lure foreign nations to fantasize about the US as a pillar of Soft Power. Educational exchange programs, earthquake relief in Japan and Haiti, famine relief in Africa stand as the best example of the US initiatives of Soft Power. Now, the American political and cultural appeal is so extensive that the majority of international institutions reflect US interests. The US, however, witnessed a drop from 1st place to 6th on the Global Soft Power Index. This wane can be attributed to the attack on the US Capitol Hill sparked by former US President Donald Trump. In addition, his dubious decisions also hold responsibilities that curtailed the US soft power image, that is, particularly the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Beijing is leaving no stone unturned to ace this area. China, rich in culture and traditional philosophy, boasts abundant sources of Soft Power. China is contemplating and exploring an innovative strategy in its rise in international politics. There have been notable elements in the Chinese diplomatic practice, including softer rhetoric, promotion of its culture abroad, economic diplomacy, and image building. Beijing, amid an ongoing pandemic, has extended vaccine help to 80 countries. Such initiative taken by China has elevated its worth globally during difficult times of the pandemic. According to the Global Soft Power index 2021, China stands in the 8th slot. China is an old civilization with a rich culture. China has stressed culture as a crucial source of Soft Power. In a bid to enhance its cultural dominance, Beijing has built many Confucius Institutes overseas. However, this has not been whole-heartedly embraced by the Chinese neighbors due to territorial disputes on the South China Sea. Moreover, International Order, dominated by the West, is wary of Beijing. China’s authoritarian political system is not welcomed in Western democracies. Therefore, China finds it hard to generate Soft Power in democracies. In recent times, Beijing has witnessed tremendous extension in its economy; thus, it focuses on harnessing economic tools to advance its Soft Power. Consequently, Beijing has driven its focus on geoeconomics to accelerate its Soft Power.

Unfortunately, Pakistan, in this sphere, finds itself in a very infirm position -securing 63rd position in the Global Soft Power Index. In comparison with Pakistan, India boasts a lot of Soft Power by achieving the 36th position in the Global Soft Power Index. Its movies, yoga, and classical and popular dance and music have uplifted the Indian soft image. In the promotion of the Indian Soft Power Image, Bollywood plays a leading role and it stretches beyond India. Bollywood has been projected as a great Soft Power tool for India. Bollywood stars are admired globally. For instance, Shahrukh Khan, known as Baadshah of Bollywood, has a fan following across the world. Through its Cinema, India has attracted the attention of the world. Indian movies have recognition in the world and helped India earn billions of dollars. However, the Modi government has curtailed the freedom of Bollywood. Filmmakers claim that their movies are victim of censorship. Moreover, the anti-Muslim narrative has triggered in India, which has tarnished the Indian image of secular country and eventually splashing the Indian Soft image. Protests of farmers, revocation of article 370 in Kashmir, and the controversial Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) have degraded the Indian Soft Power.

Pakistan is not in the tier of the countries acing the Soft Power notion. In Pakistan, expressions of Soft Power, like spiritualism, tourism, cinema, literature, cricket, and handicrafts, are untapped. Pakistan is on the list of those countries having immense tourism potential and its culture is its strength. Unfortunately, no concrete steps are taken to promote the Pakistani culture and tourism. The Pakistani movies are stuck in advancing Pakistan’s narrative worldwide due to lack of the interest of successive governments in this sphere. In addition, these movies lack suitable content, that’s why people prefer watching Bollywood or Hollywood movies. It is the job of the government to harness the expressions of Soft Power. Through movies and soap operas, we can disseminate our culture, push our narrative, and promote our tourism. Government-sponsored campaigns on electronic media can help greatly in this sphere. Apart from the role of government, this necessitates the involvement of all stakeholders, including artists, entrepreneurs, academics, policymakers, and civil society.

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Diplomacy

Planetary Drought of Leadership

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The Tokyo Olympic Games, just concluded, were a spectacular success and grateful thanks are owed to our Japanese hosts to make this event so, at a time when we were in the middle of a global pandemic. There were many doubts expressed beforehand by many people over the Games going ahead during the pandemic, but the precautionary measures put in place were well handled and not obtrusive. 

For anyone who had the opportunity to watch the Games via TV they must have been struck by the wonderful sportsmanship and friendship shown by the competitors of all nations taking part, whatever race and ethnicity. It prompted me to think and ask why the countries of the world cannot exercise some of the same degree of friendship when dealing with one another rather than push forward with agendas that are antagonistic. The world holds a number of dysfunctional states as well as oppressive dictatorships where the resident population is subjected to mental as well as physical torture. Belarus is a typical example, where the leader of the country stole the election to give himself yet another term, and quashes any dissent, with some paying the ultimate price. He has the arrogance to divert a commercial flight so that he can arrest someone who opposes him and then beats him up, before parading him in front of the cameras to say an apology, which everyone can see was forced out of him. 

The Middle East is a complex problem and has been for centuries, the home of some of the oldest civilisations and the divergent monotheistic religions, which add a complicating factor. It surprisingly has been relatively quiet for the last period. Until the next flare up.

Myanmar has also been quiet, or so it seems. The military patrols across the country, particularly in states that offer some resistance and tough guerrilla opposition. The military behave badly, continuing the practice of killing, rape and pillage if not total destruction of small communities which cannot offer any resistance. Corruption is thriving. The military government have ‘promised’ fresh elections next February, 6 months hence, but it is most unlikely that these will be ‘fair and free’. The troubled conditions will continue. It will be an issue of continuing concern for ASEAN and more widely. A recent visit for a documentary had to be carried out illegally in case the military had discovered that the local people had been welcoming and helpful. The repercussions would have been appalling.

The latest situation that has arisen is the Afghanistan blitz takeover by the Taliban, a medieval group promoting the fundamental sharia doctrine, which is out of date and treats women as ‘non-persons’. They have also harboured terrorists, one group pulling off the infamous 2001, 9/11 strike on the NY Twin Towers, which awakened the US to take strong retaliatory action in Afghanistan, and forcing the Taliban out for 20 years. Their 5-year, 1996-2001, rule of Afghanistan was brought to a close after the NY happening, when the US with Allied forces took charge and ousted them. 

But now the Taliban are back following a direct meeting with the then president Trump in 2017, no Afghan government present, and they saw him coming! Shades of North Korea. He said he would withdraw completely without proper assurances, leaving the country’s development less than half finished. President Joseph Biden completed the task of withdrawal, somewhat hasty, upsetting nearly all Americans in the process. The British were caught flat-footed and there is considerable anger expressed by MPs, not least because they realise that they no longer have the ability to resolve such issues themselves. They feel embarrassed and rightly so.

As one of the Afghan luminaries and most quoted intellectuals, prof. Djawed Sangdel, reminds us: “Afghanistan is a graveyard of empires. Even Alexander the Macedonian realised – 2,300 years ago – ‘it is easy to enter the country, but lethal when exiting it’. This especially if you do not respect domestic realities.” Indeed, the situation on the ground is chaotic.

The leader, Ashraf Ghani, of the weak ‘legal’ government has fled, not without rumours about bags full of cash, and that is one reason that the country has not progressed as well as it should, endemic corruption. Women, quite rightly, are fearful, as to what lies in store, as the Taliban’s record on treatment of them is brutal. They have promised to give emancipation within sharia law – which in their case was the combination of twisted and oversimplified Islamic teachings with the tribal nomadic pre-Islamic culture of the central Asian hights.

Looking at the country as a whole, one worries about its future; the Taliban have no track record of governing a country, particularly not one as complex as Afghanistan. They would have to greatly modify their approach to life, separate religion from state (affairs). However, there are credible doubts; once more the Northern Alliance will get together and the country will lapse into civil war. Will the Chinese see an opportunity and risk what others have failed to do? My heart goes out to the people of Afghanistan.

In reviewing the past few decades, it would seem that western led democracies, when they have engaged with a country, which is in trouble, have only entered it without full humanitarian understanding of the problems and not sought a proper sustainable solution. Inevitably it takes longer than one thinks, and there are not strong enough safeguards put in to avoid financial losses to development projects, sometimes major.

The UN has a major part to play, but one must ask if today’s remit is fit for purpose, or should they be reviewed, and the countries that make up the UN should look at and ask themselves if they are fair in what they give and expect, not just monetarily.

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