Hard Power or coercive power is often recognized as having shaped Global Politics for years. A smaller nation ought to fear a bigger nation that has an expansive army or greater economic prowess. On the other hand, soft power in politics refers to the ability to attract and co-opt rather than coerce. Soft Power is thus co-optive power. It primarily refers to shaping others’ preferences through appeal or through attraction.
Joseph S Nye Jr. was the scholar who coined the term soft power in the late 1980s. He defined it as the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion. In the context of International Relations, it emerged as one of the go-to-strategies for many. The US was among the earliest beneficiaries with the McDonaldization of the world. More recently, Asian countries have witnessed a remarkable boom in their economies thanks to the concept of soft power.
South Korea has been among the biggest beneficiaries of the same. Korean pop, or K-pop as it is more commonly known, has been at the heart of Korean soft power strategies. The Korean culture wave or ‘Hallyu’ has taken the world by storm. K-Dramas were initially meant for domestic audience but its audience soon spread to other parts of Asia and slowly captured the world. K-pop groups like EXO, BTS, Blackpink are now household names. BTS accounted for $4.65 billion (£3.5 billion) of South Korea’s GDP in 2019. EXO’s Baekhyun, who debuted as a soloist in 2019, released his second album in May 2020 and went on to become the first soloist in over 19 years to sell more than one million physical albums. In today’s digital day and age, selling over one million physical albums is a huge achievement.
The popularity of Korean music, K-Dramas and films has resulted in growth in other sectors such as food, tourism and has increased the demand for the Korean language as well. The international popularity of K-pop groups, actors and Hallyu in general, is a great example of the proliferation of Korean soft power. Soft power is at the heart of cultural diplomacy. Through deploying cultural diplomacy tools, nations and other international actors mobilize resources for forming positive opinions about their culture, people and society. The promotion of soft power through cultural diplomacy is a shared interest of both governmental and non-governmental actors as well as K-pop agencies.
K-pop groups play a big part in spreading positive associations with Korean culture worldwide, through the immediate impact of their performances on international music charts, merchandising and rise in tourism. The huge demand for K-pop merchandise in India is testimony to their growing popularity in the region. There are many sellers on Instagram and Twitter who devote their time and efforts to conducting group orders for fans in India in order to help them order albums and other merchandise from South Korea. All these cases illustrate how influential South Korean soft power strategy has been in expanding horizons for the Far East Asian nation.