A new report from the British Council investigates how and why ‘soft power’ is becoming more important in international relations – and why countries such as China, Korea and Brazil are making huge investments in it.
Written by John Holden of the think tank Demos, key findings from Influence and Attraction: Culture and the Race for Soft Power in the 21st Century include:
- The role of culture and ‘people power’ in international politics is growing hugely
- New players like China, Thailand, Korea and Brazil are coming onto the scene with huge investment in soft power – China has opened more than 300 overseas cultural institutes in less than ten years; the UK has opened 196 in the past 80 years
- In spite of its size, the UK is still a world leader in soft power thanks to successes like the Olympics – but it will lose standing in the world unless it can compete with the emerging soft power superpowers
- Big cities like London are bypassing national politics and becoming globally influential in their own right
- Art and culture is playing a big role in social change around the world – from street art in Libya to singing and dancing in Taksim Square
- The changing face of media has created an explosion in international peer-to-peer contact – so Governments have less and less influence over their country’s international relations
- The UK and other Western countries will need more culturally confident and aware citizens in order to prosper in the 21st century.
Commenting on the report, British Council Chief Executive Martin Davidson said:
"The UK is a soft power superpower, and this report shows that status is built on a strong model, great cultural assets and decades of international engagement by the British Council, our universities and arts and cultural bodies.
"But soft power is getting harder to wield and it's more competitive out there. Governments can't control soft power, but they can create the conditions through sustained investment and support of cultural institutions - and many are doing that, especially emerging powers like China.
"The cultural relations dividend is more trade, more prosperity and more global opportunity which is a lasting return on that investment. The UK is doing well, but this report shows we can't be complacent."