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Can Thailand learn from South Korea’s expanding soft power?

For many years, South Korea has been projecting its soft power on the global stage, mainly through the successful export of its teledramas, the increasingly popular K-pop music, Korean movies, and lately the Netflix show “Squid Game”.

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The spillover from the South Korean entertainment business surge has even benefited Thailand. Thai singer Lalisa Manobal, born in the northeastern province of Buriram, recently launched her first single album. She is now a member of the South Korean girl group “Blackpink” formed by YG Entertainment.

Lalisa’s popularity has sparked great interest in Thailand’s potential soft power. The government has pledged to support the private sector’s efforts in that direction.

What exactly is soft power?

“Those who talk about soft power may not be understanding it correctly,” says Vimut Vanitcharoenthum, an economist at Chulalongkorn Business School.

The introduction to the book “Soft Power: The Means To Success In World Politics”, written by Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye, says that the author coined the term “soft power” in the late 1980s.

“It is now used frequently, and often incorrectly, by political leaders, editorial writers, and academics around the world.

So what is soft power? Soft power lies in the ability to attract and persuade. Whereas hard power — the ability to coerce — grows out of a country’s military or economic might, soft power arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals and policies.

Vimut Vanitcharoenthum, an economist at Chulalongkorn Business School.

“Hard power remains crucial in a world of states trying to guard their independence and of non-state groups willing to turn to violence,” the introduction to the book lays out, adding “… (it) is soft power that will help us deal with critical global issues that require multilateral cooperation among states.”

South Korea started to seriously build its soft power in the 1990s, inspired by the Hollywood movie “Jurassic Park”, which made as much money as Korean industrial giant Hyundai did from the export of cars, says Vimut. The South Korean government then provided massive subsidies to its entertainment industry.

It was well planned and it took time for the Korean entertainment industry to export its related soft power services.

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