Soft power and foreign policy: A link and some thoughts

March 16, 2010

Article reprint in Dawn on Pakistan’s global image, and reflections on the utility of soft power.


Why does Pakistan have such a negative image in the outside world, in contrast with other countries who face the same challenges?

Michael Kugelman, Pakistan’s image problem,, March 15, 2010.

The article revisits the importance of soft power, a theme my posts have touched on in the past.

A different instance: South Korea has a strong presence in this southern Indian city of Chennai. Several South Korean companies have large factories here and South Korean products have a large market. Recently, one of them sponsored a Women’s International Film Festival that showcased—not just Indian or Korean films—films made by and about women from around the world. The festival was organized by a cultural centre, set up three years ago in Chennai to promote language learning and cultural exchange.

Now it’s safe to say that on an average Tamilians and Koreans have little apart from rice and fish in common! But Korean corporates have large corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes, run by local managers, that have taken them into the community which buys their products. Well, so do lots of others, what’s interesting is that they have shown a willingness to step beyond traditional charitable and developmental objectives to invest in setting up this cultural centre—along with a Chennai corporate! States could learn a lesson or two from this! Through creative programming, this centre has put South Korea on the cultural map—ergo, cultural and political consciousness—of India in ways that fifty years of state-sponsored diplomacy did not.

The festival closed with a concert featuring music composed and/or performed by women. The performers were from Chennai. The music was European or American. The sponsors were Korean. Now, that’s soft power at work. Sri Lanka does not have a parallel presence in the largest city across the water from its shores, and that’s hardly exceptional. It’s not about resources; it’s about vision. Those who get that, get more value for money in international relations, than those who do not.

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