Using the Hallyu wave as an instrument of soft power, South Korea has succeeded in sweeping the world with its cultural influence
With its ubiquitous presence, it’s hard not to be exposed to South Korean media and culture. From television and movies to music, food, skin care and lifestyle, there is a growing Korean cultural influence in various industries.
Joseph Nye defines “soft power” as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It stems from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals and policies ”. By showing the world through tinted K glasses, South Korea created “Hallyu”, a Chinese word for South Korea’s cultural wave. Through it, it has tried not only to redefine, if not completely change, its international image, but also to create strategic assets that strengthen the visibility of South Korea around the world. To understand Hallyu, it is crucial to understand the history of South Korea, especially the Sixth Republic.
By showing the world through tinted K glasses, South Korea created “Hallyu”, a Chinese word for South Korea’s cultural wave.
Under the Sixth Republic
The Sixth Republic, believed to have started in 1988, saw the country transition from a series of authoritarian regimes to democratic rule. The country has opened up its economy, its press and its borders. It has also started to thaw its relations with its neighbor North Korea. However, this growth encountered an obstacle in 1997 during the Asian financial crisis, which was corrected by restructuring measures induced by a rescue plan given by the International Monetary Fund.
South Korea therefore had two mutually compatible objectives. The first, to generate income to help develop the South Korean economy, and the second, to change its image globally while building relationships with nations around the world. South Korea emerged from its isolationist cocoon in the 1990s, and Hallyu was both a solution to many of its problems and crucial to the new identity the country wanted to project.
For South Korea, Hallyu has ensured long-term viability and visibility across all sectors. The letter “K” precedes several key industries today, transforming it from a unique cultural event into a brand. South Korea is not shy about expanding the brand to other sectors, with South Korean President Moon Jae-in calling the quarantine of the COVID-19 pandemic a K-Quarantine. This means that Hallyu is not only destined for a similar fate to the many social media fads that came before and will follow, but he can also be seen as something the world will engage with for time. future. This long-term commitment is supported by Hallyu’s close ties to the government. Hallyu is a state invention and has relied and continues to rely on government support and incentives. Last year, Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has announced that it will create a Hallyu department under its supervision. However, as the Korean government tries to show its ideal image through Hallyu, it would be difficult to argue that this is only what the Korean government wants to show the world.
And perhaps that is why Hallyu has stood the test of global consumption. Usually, most cultural exports go through several levels of dilution to make them acceptable to the world. The main broadcast language changes, tastes are changed and often even names are changed to make it easier on the mind and taste buds. This was not the case with Korean exports. Instead of, the number of people learning the Korean language has increased exponentially. Even the food survived, with kimbap not to be confused with Sushi. A prime example is the introduction of 26 Korean words into the Oxford English Dictionary – including Hallyu. President Jae-in called the Korean language “Hangeul”, the “soft power” of the country in response to these additions.
South Korea emerged from its isolationist cocoon in the 1990s, and Hallyu was both a solution to many of its problems and crucial to the new identity the country wanted to project.
Today, Hallyu not only achieved his goal, but took several more steps. It is used as a weapon in North Korea, both openly, when several concerts took place in the run-up to the 2018 peace talks; and secretly, as a tool to share the South Korean way of life. Popular group BTS performed and spoke at the United Nations General Assembly, promoting the 2030 SDGs as special presidential envoys. Such an exhibition is part of the public diplomacy plan that was announced in 2017.
Reaping economic benefits
The total economic benefits of Hallyu are difficult to estimate, as they include both the income that comes directly from Hallyu and its indirect impact and the related effect on other industries such as tourism, or an increase in tourism. sales of products promoted by Hallyu stars. .
A korean foundation study showed that the direct impact of Hallyu doubled from 2016 to 2019 and continues to increase, as does the indirect value (exports of consumer goods and tourism). The South Korean economy has benefited from the Hallyu and will continue to do so in the years to come.
As the Korean government tries to show its ideal image through Hallyu, it would be hard to argue that this is only what the Korean government wants to show the world.
The “BTS effect,” used to sum up the effect that Bangtan Sonyeondan (BTS, the first K-Pop group) had, can be easily used to understand Hallyu’s impact on the Korean economy. Forbes estimated that BTS’s contribution to South Korea’s GDP was greater than that of the GDP of Fiji, Maldives and Togo taken individually. A study by the Hyundai Research Institute In 2018, BTS’s direct economic value per year was estimated at US $ 3.54 billion and its indirect impact at US $ 1.26 billion. In 10 years, the economic impact is expected to exceed that of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics held in 2018, with almost zero investment compared to the Olympics. Additionally, one in 13 foreign tourists visit South Korea because of the BTS. The Seoul City Administration has credited BTS with reviving its tourism industry after a drop in Chinese tourism caused by the installation of the THAAD system.
Hallyu and his various aspects have become so popular today that their worldwide fan network (or Army, as BTS Fanclub is called) often leads to action and activism, although some groups themselves remain apolitical. During the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 in the United States, Fan hashtags have taken racist surveillance networks by storm, shared information and awareness, and collectively donated over US $ 1 million. Chilean government blamed ongoing protests and civil unrest on international K-Pop fans, given their role in questioning the dead, evoking human rights violations and criticizing silences. K-Pop is also now used by the United Nations and other refugee agencies as a conversation starter among Syrian refugees in Algeria.
The Seoul City Administration has credited BTS with reviving its tourism industry after a drop in Chinese tourism caused by the installation of the THAAD system.
However, while Hallyu has played a role in changing South Korea’s image, it cannot and should not be seen as a quick fix to a diplomatic image. For example, this will not erase the fact that the country is at war with its neighbor Korea DPR. As a country with military conscription, men between the ages of 18 and 28 must serve in the military. With several K-pop stars in this age group, there is a conflict between the country’s primary focus and global identity. Although an age extension has been made possible, full exemption would lead to a slippery slope for the rest of South Korean society.
In addition, it presents Korean society as it is. Like other countries, South Korea also faces asymmetric growth, with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Daily life in Korean society is the backdrop for K-Dramas such as’Squid games‘(which includes references to actual crackdowns on democratic protests) and movies like’Parasite‘who engage deeply with the class inequalities and income disparities.
In a article for the Belfer Center at Harvard in 2009, Joseph Nye spoke of the potential of South Korean soft power. South Korea was slowly emerging as an important intermediate power for a nation that had been “so weak” in geography. For Nye, “South Korea has the resources to produce soft power, and its soft power is not a prisoner of the geographic limitations which have constrained its hard power throughout its history,” emphasizing Korean culture as one of its many resources for gaining soft power. Twelve years later, Hallyu is perhaps the most successful of the various resources used by South Korea to reinvent itself.