Japan’s soft diplomacy phenomenon is portrayed through “Pop Culture Diplomacy.” The Japanese government’s program uses anime (animated cartoons) and manga (a comic style) to achieve a foreign policy goal. The use of pop culture as a diplomatic strategy stands in appealing, warm, and humane opposition to the threat of military power. While reliance on pop culture as a means of soft diplomacy and nation branding has significant potential for international relations, nations must be cautious in developing these practices. Recent initiatives in Japan, Britain, Turkey and the United States reveal the possible benefits and pitfalls of soft diplomacy and nation branding through popular culture.

Soft Power

Joseph Nye Jr, a political scientist during the 1980s, defined soft power as a country’s ability to influence others without resorting to coercive pressure. When put into practice, it entails a process where countries project their values, ideals, and culture across borders to foster goodwill and strengthen partnerships. The concept of soft power was first used in 1990 by the American Political Scientist Joseph Nye. In his article, Nye focuses on how America will rebuild the hegemonic power of the unipolar world after the Cold War. The debate has been shaped around ‘how power has changed in international relations. Countries must constantly renew themselves in the global competition.

Countries have developed tools and strategies to help them outperform their competitors in global competition. The country’s soft powers and brand are the most important tools. Positive images of the countries attract investment, tourism, and security. The country brand has evolved into an essential soft power tool in this context. The countries’ brand values and soft powers directly impact one another. Countries with a high brand value also have effective soft power. A country’s soft power is primarily based on three factors: its culture (in places where it is appealing to others), its political values (when they are upheld at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority.)

Soft Power Diplomacy

Soft diplomacy is one of those words with a hazy definition that you recognise when you see it. Typically, it refers to attempts to engage directly with the public in indirect ways; it’s diplomacy’s soft power equivalent in that the goal isn’t so much to accomplish a specific substantive task as it is to try and change the fundamental basis on which a diplomatic relationship exists between countries. In and of itself, diplomacy evolves from the IR theory of Liberalism, which promotes cooperation among state actors for the peaceful resolution of conflicting issues in a win-win situation. As a big fan of Joseph Nye’s work on liberalism and soft power, I can say that soft diplomacy is based on the same idea.

Soft diplomacy is a process of mutual empowerment in which no direct goal-oriented action is taken, but efforts are channelled indirectly to achieve the goal. There is some debate about whether the affected state actors will directly participate. I believe that state actors are involved in some cases, and some indirect state actors engage in soft diplomacy.

European Union Soft Power Diplomacy

The EU is a leading intergovernmental organisation, and its success inspires non-member states to join the European integration project. The EU’s “soft power” stems from its willingness to offer a seat at the decision-making table, built on this promising foundation. This attractiveness ensures peace and security among European states, and the EU enlargement process strengthens the EU’s position on a global scale. As a result, the EU’s soft power benefits its member countries and the EU itself. This attractiveness ensures peace and security among European states, and the EU enlargement process strengthens the EU’s position on a global scale. Thus, the EU’s soft power benefits both its member countries and the EU itself. Soft power is being used by rising powers such as Russia, China, and India. Soft power and public diplomacy are lacking in developing countries.

Examples of Soft Power Diplomacy:


From the Gangnam style dance moves to the crazed fans of Korean pop groups like BTS, Twice, Black Pink, and the Oscar-winning film Parasite, as well as a large following of soft romance in Korean dramas. Korea is the new entertainment industry leader, in addition to establishing a foothold in the cosmetics and fashion industries, which have taken the world by storm.


India’s long history, culture, and civilisation is the most significant factor. These have drawn intellectuals and ordinary people from all over the world to India. So many brilliant minds from all over the world would not be working as Indologists if they were not attractive. Being in a strategic location and a global powerhouse of Asia, India also exercises soft power diplomacy through its vast diaspora, IT and pharmaceutical industries, and a foreign policy that values its neighbours.


China is one of the most powerful nations in terms of soft power diplomacy, from a global economic powerhouse to a centre of rich culture and traditions. China is a land that has it all, including our favourite Pandas, who are one of the key Chinese soft power diplomacy instruments.


Germany wields considerable influence and soft power in public policy, foreign relations, and international affairs. (Not afraid to criticise Russia or even support Iran for the JCPOA.) Germany is also a major contributor to global donations to international organisations and the most influential advocate for environmental protection, conservation, and sustainable development.


Soft Power is about winning people’s hearts and minds at its most basic. As a result, a people-centred approach is required. Governments cannot do much more than facilitating the process in this regard. Even if the concept of Soft Power is imprecise, Joseph Nye did well to highlight this important aspect of countries’ foreign policies. There is no country today that does not value this factor. Academics and intellectuals can be crucial in this endeavour.



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Writer by Eric Muhia, International Studies and Diplomacy Graduate Student.

21 March 2022, Kenya

Category: Diplomacy

Reference: EM210322D    

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