The Republic of Korea’s Public Diplomacy as a Policy Tool of Soft Power

The aim of public diplomacy is to approach the citizens of other countries directly by means of art, knowledge, media, language, aid, and so on. It is beyond the traditional government-oriented diplomacy.

Public diplomacy is related to the concept of soft power, as introduced in “Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics” by Joseph S. Nye Jr. in 2004. Nye defines it as “the capability of a state to obtain the outcome it wants, through attraction and persuasion rather than reliance on methods of payment or coercion.” These days, the subjects and objects of diplomacy have expanded from the government-oriented actors to private ones such as non-governmental organizations. The importance of the role of the so-called ‘soft power’ assets in diplomacy has grown considerably. Soft power assets include culture, national values and brand image, while hard power assets are politics, security and economy.

Globalization, proliferation of democracy, and the advancement in communication technologies have vastly transformed the conduct of diplomacy. In this fast-changing world, the key elements of diplomatic strategy are soft power.

The Republic of Korea (ROK) designated the year 2010 as the starting point to promote public diplomacy. We established the “Korea Public Diplomacy Forum (KPDF)” a permanent civilian advisory group in the field of public diplomacy. Likewise, an ambassador for public diplomacy—to control and coordinate public diplomacy strategy— was appointed.

The ROK truly strives to enhance cultural exchanges between countries. We implemented the Mutual Cultural Exchange Project, introducing the cultures of regions that have had relatively little interaction with Korea, by holding various cultural events such as performances, exhibitions, and film festivals, to improve mutual understanding.

Additionally, the ROK has been expanding diplomatic horizons by forging meaningful networks with civic leaders, students, media and business representatives in foreign countries. As for the United States, we are striving to inform the American public about the ROK’s dynamic development and the current ROK-U.S. alliance.

The ROK has also been active in sports diplomacy, as it plans to host international athletic games such as the 2018 Winter Olympics. This is expected to bring high economic gains and enhance the nation’s brand value. Sports diplomacy helps to promote national prestige, and as a result, it is a key to improving relationships with other countries.

Lastly, we would like to mention the Korean Wave, one of the many valuable soft power assets. The Korean Wave refers to the fast growing popularity of Korean entertainment and culture. It was first driven by TV dramas followed by movies, pop music, and food. From Japan, China, and Southeast Asia to Europe and Latin America, the Korean Wave has spread as a cultural phenomenon.

Through the Korean Wave, people around the world have come to better understand Korean culture. Naturally, it has triggered widespread interest in the nation, and people-to-people exchanges have increased. The success of the Korean wave demonstrates that public diplomacy plays an important role in improving mutual understanding, which can lead to closer ties and intimacy while improving other areas, such as boosting economic and political cooperation. Of course, as in all public diplomacy activities, it must be a “two-way street” in order to bear meaningful fruit.

Nonetheless, the ground is still weak and fragile for a full-fledged implementation of public diplomacy. The ROK government needs a more effective system to carry out public diplomacy and a comprehensive strategy to pursue it.

In the meantime, the ROK will depend on its citizens, whose capabilities have dramatically increased commensurate with the economic growth and advancement of globalization, to continue to develop and diversify the methods of public diplomacy.

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