Abhishek Sharma, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh
The term soft power was coined by US scholar Joseph Nye in the 1980s, which meant the ability of a country to persuade or co-opt others to do what it wants without force or coercion. It was just another way to look at the idea of influencing states in the international system. But later on, this became a massive part of Foreign Policy initiatives taken by many countries around the world. USA became the leader of the world when it came to freedom. Also heard in its National Anthem, “For the land of the free and the home of the brave.” It exported the democratic model around the world with its American exceptionalism. Likewise, India has its soft power that resides in its ‘Unity in Diversity’ motto that embodies the multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-linguistic character of societies.
Similarly, South Korea has just discovered a new soft power that it uses in a way not seen ever by any state. This new soft power is K-Pop culture. Accompanying the other South Korean soft power elements in 2020, its response to the handling of pandemic, its vocal role in disarmament processes at International Multilateral Institutions and negotiations, it’s a democratic, resilient political system. All these elements were very much part of its foreign policy, but K-Pop culture has surprisingly shot South Korean soft power prospects off the charts. Not that it was never focused upon earlier, we could see ‘Red Velvet,’ an all-female K-pop group performing in Pyongyang, North Korea, during a visit in 2018. This signifies the importance of commonality shared by both Koreas in their Popular Culture.
However, the year 2020 was the onset of a revolution that shook the western world with K-pop becoming more mainstream in the Global Music industry. For someone, it may seem from the outside that this is just the working of the private sector in South Korea, and in reality, it is. But the way South Korea has enabled conditions to help these trends, cannot be ignored. The South Korean government creates an enabling environment for these K-pop groups to expand Korean culture’s reach, be it the language, the arts, cinema, or even the local delicacies. The idols that belong to these groups are part of the strategy of a whole sum approach that encapsulates the Korean culture elements. We can’t even imagine how much priority the government gives to these K-pop groups. Previously, the South Korean Parliament passed a bill allowing the biggest K-pop groups, such as BTS, to delay their compulsory military service until 30. The same group, BTS, became the first K-pop group to be nominated for Grammy Awards.
To not forget, another significant part of the cultural outburst is the increasing influence of Korean movies in the Space of Global Arts. This year ‘Minari’, a film based on the exact name of a vegetable, which grows well in damp and watery areas, was nominated for six Oscars, out of which the actress Yuh Jung-youn won the award for the best supporting role. This is also the first academy award for a Korean actor. Last year, another widely acclaimed movie, ‘Parasite‘, won two academy awards for the Best Picture and the Best Director. What is very amusing to experts is the size of the Korean Movie Industry and how it punches above its weight on the International Cinematic Stage.
Even South Korean dramas are now increasingly viewed worldwide, and this phenomenon with the growing passion for K-Pop songs has led to a sky-rocketing number of people enrolling for Korean Language courses around the world. In the US universities, the language enrollment for Korean went up by 14% between 2013 and 2016. Similarly, India has also seen this increase, as reported by the Korean Cultural Centre India, an arm of the Korean Embassy in India, that increased the number from 300 in 2020 to 4,200 in 2021. This increase comes at an appropriate time when even the New Education Policy of India has created an enabling environment for the Korean language to prosper and expand in size.
Some people who follow the Korean Culture closely will be aware of the term “Hallyu” or the ‘Korean Wave’ of culture, and this is the tool of the soft power of South Korea. As we can see that the world moved virtually in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the popularity of Korean culture also increased. And this popularity will hold sway over many issues which the South Korean government will use as part of its soft power in the future. South Korea may not have a vast military army like other states, but it has an ARMY that is the root of Korean culture worldwide, ready to defend it anytime.
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