The competition for influence is getting ever fiercer with both friendly rivals and hostile competitors investing in and innovating how they build trust and attractiveness internationally. 

The aims of cultural relations, as drivers of international development, peacebuilding, and bridges of communication during difficult times in international relations, are more important than ever.

But what cultural relations approaches are countries implementing? What policies, institutions and activities are in play?

We commissioned ICR Research to undertake research focussing on understanding the current status and competitive space of cultural relations and soft power. This included how the UK compares to analogues in each country of operation in terms of foreign ministry activities, educational and cultural institutions as well as international broadcasting operations. 

This new report based on their research considers the soft power and cultural relations policies, approaches and institutions of Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Qatar, Russia, South Korea, Turkey, UAE, UK, USA and the EU. It builds on our previous research and report: Soft power and cultural relations in a time of crisis

The analysis shows that all countries in this survey believe that culture plays an important role in foreign policy and international engagement.

The overwhelming policy priorities for countries’ soft power and cultural relations activities are support for foreign policy and economic growth followed by the need to face global challenges, promote values such as human rights, democracy, or harmony.

There is a range of institutional types involved, but Embassies and statutory arm’s length bodies remain the preferred models, although they often work in partnership with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and (less often) with the private sector.

The geographical distribution of countries’ overseas locations is global, and is dominated by historical patterns, with most locations in Europe and the Americas, though there are significant numbers of locations in Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and the Middle East and North Africa. The USA is by far the most popular country. The research also identified that domestic engagement is emerging as having the same importance for countries as geopolitical influence.

Some key findings around areas of activity include:

  • education is by far the commonest area of activity, and engagement through education operates at all levels from elementary through to academic exchange
  • arts and culture is also universally seen as central 
  • language learning is less common and serves a variety of purposes including enabling access to study and the preservation of diasporas’ cultural ties to their country of origin
  • the provision of information and diaspora engagement are central to the activities of many countries. 
  • development is less common.

Find out more by downloading a pdf of the report below.

Lead report authors: Stuart MacDonald FRSA and Dr Andrew Murray, ICR Research Ltd.