The Hallyu Invasion

Article written by: Beatriz Costa

“With Korean pop culture continuing to sweep the world, the South Korean government must now decide how it wants to leverage its world-famous idols to generate soft power”.

Although millions of people around the world now engage with Korean culture only a few know how it became so successful. This country’s cultural growth was the result of a long-term government effort that has paid hard power dividends in the form of economic growth and greater global influence. With this newfound clout, Seoul has been given the opportunity to take a more active stand in contemporary international politics, spreading its democratic ideals alongside its increasingly ubiquitous popular culture.

From pop music acts such as the k pop group BTS to movies such as Parasite, to Squid game one of the latest cultural exports from South Korea that took the world by storm, not forgetting the Korean domination in the production of video games, Hallyu, also known as the Korean “wave” is enjoying unprecedented global success. Historically more worried about standing against Chinese and Japanese cultural domination rather than spreading its own culture abroad, South Korea has now become a global soft power juggernaut.

Now it’s important to understand how the South-Korean government wants to convert the countries powerful pop culture into true soft power.

This challenge has resulted in bringing celebrities directly into traditional diplomatic events. However, South Korean officials must be strategic and careful about how they invoke the celebrity diplomacy. At first sight this process appears to be somewhat trial and error – when observed from the outside can look a little bit reckless and random inviting celebrities to high-profile political events in hopes of attracting an audience. Yet, in the South Korean case, now that they got the visibility in big part because of their celebrities, the government needs, now, to be more deliberate in connecting celebrity influence with specific foreign policy goals.

When talking about foreign policies that are connected with pop culture and that have benefited the South Korean culture, we can bring to discussion, prior President Moon’s signature foreign policy initiative – The New Southern Policy, is ROK’s core diplomatic initiative aimed at creating prosperity and peace through comprehensive cooperation with ASEAN member states and India – has helped turn the border region into one of the largest markets for Korean pop culture.The payoff of these policies has been enormous. Only in 2019, in pop culture Korea exported 12.3$ billion, which includes computer games, musical tours, and cosmetics. Only the group BTS alone is an economic powerhouse, according to studies made by Hyundai Research Institute, the group generates an estimated $3.5 billion per year in economic activity.

But this strategy comes with risks. As South Korean pop culture has spread around the world, it has also opened new vulnerabilities that could impact Seoul’s growing soft power. In terms of support global democracy, South Korea generally prefers to stay silent when critics are being made against China regarding the Human rights violations that are being committed in its mainland, mainly because China it is its bigger trading partner, representing 25% of total South Korea’s exports. Fearing a déjà vu from 2017, when Beijing didn’t quite appreciate the fact that South Korean would be hosting a new U.S. missile defense system. Which led to at least $7.5 billion in economic losses.

South Korean has made an incredible job in growing its soft power in ways that other countries can only envy. But now has a more difficult job, that is figuring out how they can maximize the use of its soft power and the advantage that they have at the moment to achieve the country’s foreign policy aims. They also must figure out, what are their stands in the international area, only wants to export entertainment or does it also want to export democratic ideals?

Now that Seoul has the means and while has the attention of world, it’s urging that South Korea sets their foreign policies priorities – like trade promotion and development, health security, territorial dispute. For Seoul to make the most profit of this Korean Wave, it is fundamental for goals, plans and policies to be created. It is needed to exist a specific strategy and goal behind every initiative in order for the result to be concrete and bring a beneficial outcome.

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