Pokémon, Toyota mean Japan wields greatest soft power in Asia
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Pokémon, Toyota mean Japan wields greatest soft power in Asia

JAPAN holds the most soft power in the Asia Pacific region and is one of the most influential countries globally, according to a newly released index on public diplomacy.

The Land of the Rising Sun was named fifth in the world on the Soft Power 30 for 2018, authored by UK-based communications agency Portland, with Australia and Singapore coming in at 10th and 21st places, respectively.

Published annually since 2015, the report considered a range of factors including enterprise, culture, digital, government, engagement and education.

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Harvard professor Joseph Nye, who coined the term “soft power”, said that the Soft Power 30 provides “a good picture of how changes in policies, as well as wider emerging global trends are affecting the relative distribution of soft power and comparative ability of countries to attract others.”

For 2018, the United Kingdom came in at number one in the world, followed by France, Germany and the United States. The US again fell in the rankings as a result of the administration of President Donald Trump’s protectionist and nationalist “America first” approach to foreign policy, according to the report.

Economic development in Asia, meanwhile, translated into improved aggregate rankings for China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore between 2015 and 2018.

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, left, and European Council President Donald Tusk, right, smile after their joint press conference of Japan-EU summit at Abe’s official residence in Tokyo, Tuesday, July 17, 2018. Source: Koji Sasahara/Pool via Reuters

Japan has moved up in the rankings each year since the inaugural report, due to the fact that “Japanese culture and innovation have long been seen, heard, tasted, experienced, played, and felt around the world in its anime, manga, J-pop, cuisine, electronics, literature, design, architecture, and more,” wrote the report’s authors.

Iconic brands like Pokémon, Hello Kitty, Toyota and Sony were key to Japan’s branding overseas, they said. Its hosting of forthcoming events like the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are meanwhile further opportunities to spread its influence and engage with global audiences.

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Japan is already one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with more than 28 million visitors in 2017.

Tokyo has also invested heavily in public diplomacy including as the second largest donor to the United Nations and is “underappreciated” in terms of its soft power, said the report. Its thawing relationship with Beijing, moreover, provides “a unique opportunity to take a more active role in shaping the regional order,” it added.

“The change in the top five countries – the first time an Asian country has broken into the top five – is indicative of the unfolding shift in the global balance of power,” said Jonathan McClory, General Manager of Portland in Asia and one of the report’s authors.

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Journalists report outside a restaurant selling Trump-Kim nasi lemak, made from dry-aged U.S. beef and kimchi, in Singapore June 7, 2018. Source: Reuters/Edgar Su

Singapore has long been the regional headquarters for global tech giants and is currently chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), a position it could further leverage to bring prosperity and stability to the region, said Portland.

Its small size, however, meant its cultural influence was limited, the report’s authors said. The city-state should also continue to build upon momentum of the high profile summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un earlier this year, they noted.

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“The index also shows that small countries can still carry global influence through attraction and persuasion. Singapore is an inspiring example of how this can be done through soft power,” added McClory.

“Amidst a shifting geopolitical landscape, Singapore has real opportunities ahead to elevate its profile in international diplomacy and global affairs.”

“Public diplomacy is more important than ever given the current challenges and opportunities in global affairs,” said Jay Wang, Director of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. “Persuading people through attraction rather than force and coercion makes both moral and economic sense.”