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The Soft Power of Online Diplomacy


The age of the state is not over. Though some have written about the power of web 2.0 to topple regimes and destroy state sovereignty, the picture is a little more complicated. The Republic of Korea in the last two decades has taken on a major cultural export campaign. Led by television dramas and pop music, the “Korean Wave,” as it’s called, has strengthened the ROK’s position as a regional power. More recently, the Republic of Korea started a comprehensive online public diplomacy campaign targeted specifically outside Korea’s ordinary sphere of influence with the goal of developing soft power abroad. Through an examination of tourism statistics, public opinion polls, and Google search trends, this paper ask the question: what if any soft power was generated by these online efforts? The results, though not immediately obvious, provide an early model for a state successfully taking on the new challenges posed by information and communication technologies to generate soft power online.

Download this article as a PDF. This paper was prepared as part of a course taught by Shanthi Kalathil at Georgetown University.


The age of the state is not over. Though some might enjoy thinking the state will succumb to the power of the Internet, “the state still matters,” Joseph Nye said in a 2010 TED Talk, “but the stage is crowded…” (Nye 2010). Not long ago, communicating at the rates and distances possible today cost fortunes only major institutions could afford. Today communication is cheap, fast, and accessible. A myriad of public voices have soap boxes that never before existed, and governments need to think creatively about how to respond to and manage the competing narratives proliferated by this new diffusion of communicative power to both state and non-state actors. Nye says that “if we’re going to deal with these two great power shifts…we’re going to have to develop a new narrative of power in which we combine hard and soft power into strategies of smart power.”

South Korea was, for a long time, overshadowed by its powerful neighbors Japan and China. But today South Korea engages with the world in an ambitious online campaign deploying both websites and social networking services to communicate to foreign audiences that it is a country both culturally and economically prepared to participate in the global economy. The Republic of Korea’s online efforts to export their culture are forms of public diplomacy that translate into soft power, as evidenced by public opinion polls, tourism, and internet search trends.

Korea since the War

The division of the Korean peninsula after WWII eventually led North Korean forces in the still unresolved Korean War. While North Korea became dictator Kim Il-sung’s Democratic people’s republic of Korea, South Korea’s government struggled to gain stability, moving from one dictator to another. It was the chaebol, sprawling conglomerate firms protected by the government, that ultimately kept Korea stable domestically so it could develop a strong middle class. Scholar John Feffer says the “state-led, export-driven” path that South Korea took “departed significantly from the capitalist norm. It was a ‘miracle’ born of a different model of economic organization.“ (Feffer, 2005) These conglomerates were no doubt supported because of who was running them—neither the state nor the chaebol were immune from corruption and mismanagement—but they were nevertheless crucial to grooming today’s Korea, and remain strong political entities. The Economist noted that Hyundai, a chaebol, “[built Korea’s] roads and then decided to build the cars to drive on them.” (Leaders: The chaebol conundrum, 2010)

In 1981 Korea was selected to host the 1988 Olympic Games. Jarol Manheim noted it was an important moment that put Korea in the international spotlight, and when the nineteen-day June Democracy Movement erupted in 1987 against president Chun Doo-hwan’s government, the eyes of the world were on Seoul awaiting a reaction.

It may or may not have been the anticipation of the Olympics that brought students into the streets in June 1987, but it was surely the anticipation of the Olympics that brought the world’s press to Seoul, Kwangju and elsewhere to cover their activities. And…the presence of the press, the negative image of South Korea it conveyed to the world, and the legitimacy it conferred on demonstrators and opposition politicians that ultimately forced the ruling party to make significant political concessions (Manheim 1990)

The Olympics were not the reason but the “deadline for a restructuring of the political system” (Manheim 1990) At 23 years, today’s Republic of Korea (ROK) is the stable product of that political change.

The ROK had high expectations for the ’88 Olympics. They hoped for a “Japanese experience” that would usher them “into the family of nations” (Manheim 1990) Where Japan’s goal for the Olympics was image repair, the ROK’s was hoping to alert the world that North Korea was still a threat, and build some global social capital to aid them in the ongoing conflict. They were hoping to achieve the kind of rise to global importance that Japan did after 1964. Korea’s peculiar relationship with Japan after WWII, both loathing for the wartime atrocities and envious of the regional and global leader, added competitive fire to the Seoul Olympics that would define the next era of Korean history. Korea’s chaebol went global after the Olympics, and Korea found consumer electronics, automobiles, and semiconductors the profitable exports of the time.

In the 2000s, Korea shifted its focus to culture, not only through restoration of its heritage, but also by actively exporting cultural products. The result was the Korean Wave, a term coined by a Chinese journalist in the early 2000s to describe the rapidly rising demand for Korean goods and culture in China. Since then the wave landed on shores everywhere from Japan to Iran. The wave acts as a form of public diplomacy. As one Korean said, “If we can give [other countries] a little more joy…and show them another side of Korea, then I can only see that as a plus for us and them” (Faiola, 2010). Korean television dramas led the meteoric rise in popularity abroad. In 2004, Japan became a “full fledged” part of the wave with 90% of Japan having some knowledge of the drama “Winter Sonata” (Hayashi & Lee, 2007). Korean dramas also enjoy normal airplay on television throughout Southeast Asia, even out doing Japan, the previous cultural leader, in places like Singapore. The peninsula also started packaging “K-drama tours,” where tourists visit Seoul to tour the set of their favorite dramas (Dator and Seo 2010; Datar 2010; Shim 2005). The Ministry of Culture and Tourism launched Arirang in 1998 as a “representative international broadcasting station, [that] strives to enhance relationships with the global community” by spreading the image of Korea through its TV and Radio programming. Today, Arirang commands an audience share of 91.9 million worldwide (Arirang, 2011).

In 2008, expanding on the success of Korean drama, the ROK started a project to globalize Korean food through the Ministry of Food, Forest, and Fisheries, with the goal of making Korean “one of the world’s most famous five” cuisines in the next ten years (Kim 2008). The government spun the project off to the private Korean Food Foundation in 2010. The foundation is running scientific experiments to prove Korean food’s fabled health value. Mr. Chung Woon-chun, the foundation’s chairman, “is currently leading [research projects] with a budget of one billion KRW¹ on the link between Korean food and its effect on patients with diabetes, hypertension, obesity, hyperlipemia,” and many other diseases (Ku 2010). More compelling than examining these efforts simply as a part of a cultural phenomenon is how these function diplomatically and make the ROK more powerful.

Online Diplomacy the Right Way, the Korean Way

Outside of Arirang, Korea’s public diplomacy since 1988 was episodic, characterized by world events like the Olympics in 1988, the World Cup in 2002, and the G20 summit in 2010. Through these events Korea was able to bring people to the Land of the Morning Calm and put itself in the mind of the world through international press coverage. These events are high-profile, but non permanent, leaving Korea without much lasting presence outside of occasional skirmishes with the North. This prompted Korea to shift its focus to stepping up efforts to embed itself in the mind of the global community.²

Part of the solution was online. The Korean Organization for Culture and Information Service (KOCIS) began operating “korea.net” in 2001 (KOCIS 2011). Despite being available in English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Japanese, the site is not translated into Korean³ which suggests the KOCIS is trying to communicate everything Korean to everywhere but Korea. The Korea Food Foundation also launched Hansik.org: The Taste of Korea, to bring their mission online. Both the KFF and KOCIS are present on the major western social media outlets including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr, and KOCIS recruits foreigners to write for the Korea Blog.

There are plenty of examples of governments bringing diplomacy online. There are fewer examples of governments doing so effectively, in part because these technologies are so new that there is not yet a clear framework for effectiveness. For example, the Voice of America, the United States’ public diplomacy engine has decades of good practices in radio behind it that shape the way their journalists approach the medium; online platforms platform are more emergent in how they should be used.

Nicholas J. Cull described the US State Department’s attempt to use Twitter abroad in Place Branding and Public Diplomacy. “The first problem the US ran into was the question of exactly how its personnel would conduct themselves on-line.” Another problem was “the fixation with ‘broadcast mode’ in US online diplomacy,” the way the US was engaging in online diplomacy was “equivalent of going into a party and shouting about one’s self and leaving,” unsavory behavior even if the US were the one “buying all the drinks.” (Cull 2011) These are not problems unique to the State Department, though, a recent Pew study showed that news organizations are using Twitter as little more than “a glorified RSS feed,” pushing only their own content out to thousands of followers (Garber 2011).

Anthony Olcott views the situation a bit differently. He sees online public diplomacy as a challenge of managing “cheap, hyper-abundant information,” and getting the state’s message out credibly above the noise of non-state actors. His “Six Vs of Information” provide a framework with which governments might approach their information management in the network economy. The “Six Vs” are: volume, velocity, vector, veracity and verifiability, and vulgarity. They do not suggest any specific policy, but offer “a starting point [for] the main challenges posed,” by a society of rich information (Olcott 2010).

Joseph Nye and Robert Keohane identify “free information,” or what “actors are willing to create and distribute without financial compensation,” as having “the most dramatic effect on the information revolution.” (Nye and Kohane 1998) It is the “persuasiveness of the free information” disseminated by various actors that translates into power. “If a state can make its power legitimate in the eyes of others,” they argue, “and establish international institutions that encourage others to define their interests in compatible ways,” it may generate soft power. With this in mind, an analysis of KOCIS’s online diplomacy efforts within Olcott’s framework reveals South Korea is doing a remarkable job at legitimizing itself in a way that translates itself into soft power around the world.

The statistics about how much data is transmitted online today is impressive, but more interesting than the volume of information available is how people select what to read and what to ignore. One way is for people to “cocoon” themselves inside the “information company of those who share their interests and assumptions.” (Olcott 2010) People use these cocoons to insulate themselves from the information they do not want. Cull called this our desire to find and rely on “someone like me.” (Cull 2011)

People also engage in something called “satisficing” where they want some information about a topic, but end up acquiring a relatively small amount to what is available. Through this process of “satisficing” Olcott argues, “people are increasingly less likely to read deeply, but rather ‘power browse,’” to make a superficial connection with the information they are combing. This kind of behavior is encouraged by things like RSS readers, Twitter, and Facebook which more easily give the option of reading a headline and moving on to the next thing. The problem for governments is developing ways to deal with voluminous information generated by non-state actors contrary to the state’s preferred narrative.

Korea’s online strategy is to make its official channels as attractive or more so than non-state actors. When KOCIS launched The Korea Blog, it took existing voices from the cocoon it was trying to infiltrate and promoted them. The information silo was foreigners who blogged about Korea, from both inside and outside of the peninsula. In 2011, the KOCIS began recruiting foreigners who were already blogging in Korea to write for The Korea Blog, the ‘web 2.0’ portion of korea.net, effectively promoting a few someone like mes from the thousands of Westerners living in Korea. KOCIS bloggers need not be in Korea, but their posts must originate on their own blog, with cross-promotion as one of the perks (Korea Blog 2011). Korea tapped into the local network of foreign bloggers, among them many English teachers expressing opinions about Korea, often loudly. By giving bloggers a higher profile venue, KOCIS is injecting itself into a community with the hope that by endorsing these foreigners, they will become influential inside their information cocoons, and outsiders or new-comers will ‘satisfice’ their need for information about Korea with content from korea.net.

Olcott’s second V is Velocity. He compares the uptake of the viral “Pants on the Ground” video from American Idol with a video of a State Department official giving a speech to illustrate the point that some artifacts are picked up quicker than others. The lesson for public diplomacy is that the state’s information may be really, informative, interesting, even engaging and still lose out to something totally ridiculous simply because of the speed at which information travels is impossible to quantify. While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how it is staying on top of information velocity, Korea is regularly producing new content. KOCIS’ official Twitter account (@koreanet) tweets 6.8 times per day including pictures, videos, and news articles. The blog produces 12-15 new posts per month. (Korea Blog 2011) Like news organizations and the US State Department, however, Korea’s Twitter accounts may have a “talking to oneself” problem. They follow about a quarter as many people as follow them, (Twitter 2011) and rarely talk to other users on the platform.

Information used to be expensive, and tended to come from straightforward sources. There were a fixed number of newspapers circulating in each city, starting a radio station required vast human and capital resources. Consequently, it was easier to appear objective while presenting a specific narrative and attributed that narrative to human behavior. It was, this is to say, easier to control a sphere of influence to create the illusion of “broad social consensus,” because of the predictable vector by which information was delivered (Olcott 2010).

In the past there were three layers of influence that directed public discourse: the spheres of deviancy, legitimate controversy, and consensus (Olcott 2010). The powers who controlled the spread of information also controlled what information populated which spheres. Today each person has the potential to be a media creator, and construct their own spheres. The chaotic vectors by which information may spread around the globe, many of them contrary to Korea’s preferred narrative, are part of Korea’s motivation to employ the available means of persuasion in an attempt at soft power.

Victor Cha and Katrin Katz demonstrated the misinformation about Korea in the United States through analysis of a poll for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. They noted that despite strong support for the continued military alliance between the US and Korea, many Americans were ignorant to basic facts about the country (Cha & Katz 2011). 40% of surveyed Americans did not know that Korea was a liberal democracy, and 71% were unaware that Korea was one of America’s top trading partners. They speculated that this accounted for why Koreans generally feel they know more about the US than vice versa (Cha & Katz 2011). Meanwhile, President Obama characterized Korea  as a nation with whom the US had an “enduring alliance,” and “a partnership of the heart, that will never be broken” (Obama 2011). Online efforts, particularly the employment of foreign bloggers to write about Korea, is a response to this relative ignorance abroad.

Not only are there more actors, spreading more information through more channels than ever before, but the actors responsible for information are increasingly careless where it counts: the facts. In the lurch of getting the scoop first, factual verification is often sacrificed by even the most reputable sources, exemplified by the news coverage of the attempted assassination of US Representative Gabriel Giffords. Three major media outlets confirmed, the representative was killed in the attacks when in fact she was still alive albeit in critical condition. NPR first reported her death at 2:15PM, per the word of “a source in the Pima County sheriff’s office,” and for at least an hour juggled conflicting reports about whether she was alive. (Memmott 2011) This is perhaps an illustration of all six of Olcott’s V’s, but “the increase in information velocity has placed even greater pressure…to get information out as quickly as possible,” while reducing the amount of energy news sources can even attempt to put into verifying information (Olcott 2010).

Foreign bloggers who teach English in South Korea are notorious for lacking a full, verified story, and the state is aware of this. Perhaps the largest goal of the Korea Blog, then, is to discredit some of the stories perpetuated by people like Jameson Lannister, who lambasts Korean culture in her post (and video) about an altercation on the subway. The altercation between an angry elderly woman and a young female is terrifically violent, but so is the energy poured into criticizing it as a product of “cultural insanity,” as a commenter put it, and a culture made up of what the author called “irrational rules and demands that are used to break people down, make them feel small, ashamed, crazy and alone” (Lannister 2010) Korea obviously does not want people abroad thinking their culture is insane, or that this kind of event is an every-day occurrence. Neither do they want people thinking that cultural norms are so difficult to parse that even their own citizens cannot understand them.

To respond to a situation like this, Korea has a few choices. An obvious one would be to hire people to hunt down blogs like this and post veracious comments trying to discredit her story. If they did that, however, they risk wasting time on commenters without credibility perceived as hired shills. Rather than risk losing more credibility on the topic of their own culture, KOCIS sought to saturate the web with positive imagery and bloggers who will adhere to the narrative it wants to promote. By giving already active bloggers a promoted venue and community within the official communication lines, they can more effectively respond to Lannister’s story as the one-off event it is. The best result the ROK can hope for is to discredit these bloggers and their stories as apocryphal.

If Lannister’s “Evil Ajumma” story is an example of blogging with a careless regard for the facts, it is an even greater artifact of vulgarity, the last of Olcott’s Vs. Vulgarity here does not mean rude or offensive language; according to Olcott the challenge governments face is the ability of ordinary people to speak ordinarily online, a classic definition of “vulgar” that derives from its Latin root for “people.” (Olcott 2010) The attention foreigners living in Korea give to events like Lannister’s Seoul Metro fight, and the language with which they describe them, are quietly contributing to an image KOCIS is working to supplant.

Korea’s aggressive online diplomacy is the early entrant into a broader attempt at building its image abroad, but the nation’s branding goes deeper than blogging and tweeting to international audiences, it also includes “greater involvement in addressing global issues like poverty or climate change” (Strouther 2009). It is no coincidence, then, that the government was so aggressive at securing the KORUS free trade agreement in 2011, won the 2018 Winter Olympics bid, and created a Peace Corps.-like organization called World Friends Korea (WFK) in 2009 that sent 2,000 Koreans abroad to volunteer. The plan was to make South Korea second only to the US in the number of global volunteers (Na 2009).

Government initiatives describe some of Korea’s public diplomacy, but a tremendous amount is done by non-state actors. Hyundai USA engaged in a kind of public diplomacy when it started the “Cash for Clunkers” program three weeks before federal funds were available. When added to existing incentives, a new Hyundai cost as low as $6,670 (Motavalli 2009). To the extent that people know they are Korean products, every LG washing machine, Samsung smartphone, or Kia automobile functions diplomatically in the same way McDonalds, Cocca-Cola, GE and Boeing represent America. As long as these companies continue to act in the state’s interest, they benefit mutually from globalization.

The Soft Power of Pop Culture

Joseph Nye defined soft power as “getting what you want through…the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals, and policies”(Nye 2004). Shashi Tharoor, in a TED Talk said that soft power is something that emerges “partly because of governance, but partly despite governance” (Tharoor 2010) India’s entertainment industry took “a certain aspect of Indian-ness and Indian culture around the globe,” and not just to people who are Indian or know about India. He tells about an illiterate woman in Senegal who travels to Dakar each week to watch her favorite Indian television program and cites an Indian soap opera being “the most popular television show in Afghan history,” despite an absence of Indian military in Afghanistan (Tharoor 2010). The show was so successful there that crime rates reportedly rose during its time slot because security personnel were too engaged with the show to do their jobs: “That’s soft power,” he said during his TED Talk, “and that is what India is developing” (Tharoor, 2010). In this context, soft power is the product of successful public diplomacy.

Certainly the anecdotal evidence presented in the popular and academic literature suggest this was true for the Korean Wave, at least in Asia. Some have written about the implications the Korean Wave had on domestic and international politics. Jim Dator and Yeongseok Seo wrote “Korea may be the first nation consciously to recognize, and…take action towards,” a “dream society of icons” where audiovisual content is more important than information and traditional goods and services (Dator & Seo 2004). Doobo Shim wrote about the power of Korean companies and dramas to shape long-standing political attitudes about the country. Finally, Hayashi and Lee discussed the limited but real extent to which the drama “Winter Sonata” translated into soft power over Japan (Hayashi & Lee 2007). The Korean Wave had an important role in shaping attitudes about Korea, but has not chilled the tensions between Japan and its one-time colony. (Hayashi & Lee, 2007) “At best,” they wrote, “the most conspicuous result of the popularity of the drama in Japan may be that an increasing number of the general public has now started to engage with South Korea as never before in the postwar period, be it in a positive or negative way” (Hayashi & Lee 2007).

Both the Washington Post and BBC noted the recent tremendous increase in tourism to Korea, especially relative to China and Japan. The BBC reports that tourism to Korea saw a 46% increase, while China and Japan rose only 10% (Datar 2011). In 2006, Japanese women were flocking to Korea to “Catch the Korean Wave” (Faiola 2010). According to the Post, “more than 6,400 female clients” had registered with an online Korean-Japanese match making service who saw its membership “skyrocket since 2004, when ‘Winter Sonata’ became the first of many hot Korean television dramas to hit Japan” (Faiola 2010). While these figures do not bespeak any policy changes, they do reflect a shift in attitudes. Shim reminded that Korean soldiers fighting against the Vietnamese Liberation Army during the Vietnam War remained a real and fresh memory for the Vietnamese. “In this respect,” Shim wrote, “Korean pop stars have contributed to improving Korea’s foreign relations.… Korean actor Jang Dong-gun and actress Kim Nam-ju enjoy such popularity in Vietnam that the Vietnamese have even labelled them their ‘national’ stars” (Shim 2006) Korea significantly eased years of tension between the two states through the soft power of pop culture.

Given how well Korea is approaching its online diplomacy strategy, it follows that these efforts should translate into a similar kind of soft power. A 2010 BBC World Service poll showed Korea’s influence around the world was relatively weak. While a little under a third of those polled in 27 countries said Korea’s influence was positive, a small plurality had no opinion one way or another. Among Asian countries, only a plurality of Indonesians viewed Korea’s influence negatively, and while most of Europe viewed Korea’s influence negatively, the Americas were mostly positive about Korea (BBC World Service 2010). The same poll from 2011 showed South Korea improve slightly from 2010, although Europe continued to view Korea’s influence negatively. In the US, the poll showed a majority of people having a favorable opinion of Korea’s influence.

The 2011 poll showed some change in attitude about Korea’s influence in the world, but not much. If anything the change lies in the number of people who had some opinion. In 2010, 62% of respondents though Korea’s influence was either positive or negative while the rest either had no opinion or gave no response. In 2011 that number increased by 6% (BBC World Service 2010; 2011). This suggests that if Korea developed any kind of soft power, it was similar to what Hayashi and Lee found in Japan, that Korea is now on the world’s agenda, recognized as having some importance or influence, whether it is positive or negative.

Another method of looking at soft power is in tourism. If a country is winning the hearts and minds of people around the world, surely people will want to visit. A comparison of numbers of American visitors between 2005 and 2010 does show an increase of 122,256, despite a general decline in American overseas tourism in the same time period (KTO 2011; ITA 2011). American visitors to Korea in the 15 years between 1995 and 2010 increased by more than a quarter of a million people. As a percentage of all overseas travel by Americans, however, visits to Korea increased by only 1% (Korea Tourism Office 2010).

Year 1995 2005 2010 Δ 95-05 Δ 05-10 Δ 95-10
US Arrivals in ROK 358,872 530,633 652,889 171,761 122,256 294,017
Total US departures 19,059,000 38,372,404 37,354,842 19,313,404 (1,017,562) 18,295,842
ROK as % of US travel 1.88% 1.38% 1.75% -0.50% 0.36% -0.14%
(Korea Tourism Office, 2010; Korea, Monthly Statistics of Tourism (1975-1996); U.S. Department of Commerce, 2010; Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, 1995)

Again, these numbers alone only tell part of the story. People are motivated to travel for more reasons than a country’s reputation. People do not exclusively travel to Bermuda because of its government’s social agenda on global warming, or what people say about the culture in blogs. Travelers to Korea also do not always visit for reasons that are easily correlated with soft power. In 2005, for example, there were 3,951 E2 Work visa holders, the majority of them being English teachers (Jambor, 2008). While there is certainly something motivating Americans to work in South Korea, the country’s reputation is not necessarily among them. Paul Jambor shows the opposite may be true,;despite a generally negative bias against foreign English teachers, the number of E-2 holders increased by an easy 5,000 in 2008 (Jambor, 2008). Thus, it is likely that a significant number of the remaining tourists are motivated by friends and family that are E-2 holders, seeing the Korea KOCIS wants them to see may happen, but it is not  always what brings them into the country.

This begs the question of how much online diplomacy, no matter how well crafted, can actually trigger soft power. Certainly the Korean efforts since the early 2000s seem not to have won the hearts and minds of many people abroad, slight increases in public perceptions of Korea’s influence notwithstanding. But maybe Korea doesn’t want the hearts and minds. After all soft power is not necessarily about winning over the people; it is about “getting what you want” (Nye 2004).

** **Perhaps Korea does not want hearts and minds, yet. Until about 20 years ago the Republic was not even a household name in some parts of the developed world. Even today the Land of the Morning Calm rarely makes global news except in the context of North Korea and high profile international events like the Olympics and the G-20 summit. With this in mind, Korea’s online diplomacy effort is more in line with a traditional goal of public diplomacy: Korea wants to talk to the world from its own perspective, and for the world to listen, and talk back.

The KOCIS website, the blog, and the KOCIS Facebook and Twitter accounts, along with the Arirang network, and the Hansik website are all broadcasting a uniquely Korean message to anyone listening. Furthermore, some evidence that Korea has managed to etch out an ongoing narrative of its own can be seen in the change in Google search trends.

In 2010 search trends in the US showed North Korea was about 30% more important than South Korea, with both countries hardly having any ranking outside of military threats and the World Cup. North Korea was even more popular the previous year, with South Korea hardly making any headlines, or capturing any search terms. Indeed since 2006, North Korea has generally surpassed the South in search importance. In the last twelve months, however, search trends in the United States have favored South Korea over the North, but not by much. Peak searches and news volume for that period, however, show that South Korea was making more headlines (Google 2011; data set limited to the last twelve months; data set limited to 2010; data set limited to 2009; all available search data).

These data suggest that South Korea’s efforts are working. If 2012 remains consistent with 2011, even more so. Whenever it gives the world another story to cover, Korea is achieves soft power simply by capturing the attention of outsiders in its own context. They are anticipating, then, that as the world shifts its focus away from North and South Korea, people’s attitudes will eventually change in the South’s favor. This would correspond well with Hayashi and Lee’s findings about the soft power conferred upon the Japanese by Winter Sonata; some of the world’s attention, good or bad, is on Korea.

The search trends, tourism statistics, and global public opinion suggest Korea achieved soft power simply by distinguishing itself on the world stage. Further research on this topic may explore the extent to which KOCIS is fostering some kind of content-based change in the way Korea is portrayed in foreign newspapers and magazines. This would be similar to Hayashi and Lee’s analysis of news coverage of the Korean Wave in Japan and Korea. Examining, for example, the content of foreign bloggers to see the extent to which Arirang and online resources are used in blog posts rather than mere observations, would reveal that these sources are being accepted inside the sphere of influence in that community. Additionally, public opinion polling around the world may eventually show a stronger correlation between public diplomacy and changing attitudes of Koreans around the world. For now, Korea’s role in the world is clearly changing, and the state is ready to participate.


  • A little under a million dollars. Back to text.
  • This is not to suggest they are not still pursuing high profile events: the 2018 Winter Olympics will be hosted in Pyeongchang, for example. Back to text.
  • Though korea.kr is a similar website, a simple, unscientific content comparison shows they are very different. Back to text.
  • References

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    ––– (data set limited to 2010) URL: http://trends.google.com/trends?q=South+Korea%2C+North+Korea&ctab=0&geo=us&geor=all&date=2010&sort=0

    ––– (data set limited to 2009) URL: http://trends.google.com/trends?q=South+Korea%2C+North+Korea&ctab=0&geo=us&geor=all&date=2009&sort=0

    ––– (all available data) URL: http://trends.google.com/trends?q=South+Korea%2C+North+Korea&ctab=0&geo=us&geor=all&date=all&sort=0

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    The Soft Power of Online Diplomacy [PDF]