What is it?
Soft power is the ability to shape the preferences of others through the attraction of one's values, culture and policies.1 Some scholars argue that cultural globalization is a form of soft power. In the West, soft power largely relates to nation branding internationally (e.g., the export of democracy by the U.S.). In Asia, soft power is not only about nation branding, but nation building as well.2
This form of soft power is rising in Asia. 'Asianization' of the Asian region and some Western countries is happening through mechanisms such as popular culture, media, sports, language outreach and the strategic establishment of universities.
So far Asia's soft power initiatives have been more receptive in neighbouring countries due to proximity, close cultural ties, trade relations, and diaspora populations.3 However, this in itself is an important step, as some countries within Asia (e.g., Japan, South Korea) have traditionally been homogenous. Cultural globalization within Asia may assist in breaking down some cultural and social norms that discourage immigration and inter-ethnic relationships and marriage.
Why is it important?
Global 'Asianization' allows Asia to project itself in a more confident and persuasive manner and forge its own development path, rather than relying on Western-based institutions or models.4 Within the next decade, more bi-directional cultural influences can be expected between the East and the West.
Gains in soft power can lead to benefits countries outside of Asia:
- Increasing appeal of Asian-friendly countries to Asians. Asian students studying abroad may prefer countries that appear to embrace aspects of Asian culture, such as the availability of Asian foods and popular culture.
- Improving tourism or even migration flows, as these soft power strategies present glamorous aspects of a country's life.
- Enhancing understanding of Asian culture in other countries. For example, 'Hallyu' (the Korean wave arising from the increasing popularity of Korean music 'K-Pop') has done much to dispel commonly held perceptions of South Korea as 'feudal,' 'violent,' 'poor,' and 'politically unstable'.5
- Fostering an interest in learning and the spread of Asian languages.
Western countries are beginning to embrace more aspects of Asian culture. With Asia's ever-increasing economic clout, those more accepting of Asian soft power may find themselves receiving preferential treatment in some of the areas listed above (such as tourism, migration or international student flow) or may be more open to establishing relations with Asian countries than with traditional Western allies.
For example, Australia has a long history of Asian migration dating back to its gold rushes in the 1800s. Aspects of Asian culture such as food have long been prevalent throughout Australia. Its geographic proximity, combined with the long history of Asian migration and increasing receptiveness to Asian soft power such as the K-Pop phenomenon, may give it an advantage compared to other Western countries in attracting international students, or even in gaining preferential treatment in other political, trade and diplomatic areas.
How Asian countries promote aspects of their culture to Western countries may also have negative impacts on relations within the region. For example, Japan's pop culture has been embraced by Western countries, with some Asian countries viewing it negatively in the realm of Japan's relationship with the U.S. In contrast, Hallyu has become a driving cultural power changing traditional relations and perceptions between the two Koreas, the peninsula's neighbours, and the West. For example, writer Nick Desideri argues that with K-Pop's ability to blend Western sensibilities appealingly with Asian values, South Korea could paint itself as a bridge between East and West.6
- Nye, J. "Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics." Public Affairs. New York. 2004.
- Arshad, I. "The New Cultural Revolution: Chinese Soft Power at Home and Abroad." Policy Horizons Canada. March 2012 http://www.horizons.gc.ca/eng/content/new-cultural-revolution-chinese-soft-power-home-and-abroad
- Desideri, N. "Bubble Pop: An Analysis of Asian Pop Culture and Soft Power Potential." Res Publica - Journal of Undergraduate Research (Vol.18, Iss.1, Article 9). 2013. http://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1207&context=respublica