While China looms as a major strategic and economic force, the public diplomacy response by its Asian neighbours through their publicly funded news media is largely indirect, muted or, at best, subtle.
There is no ‘Asian model’ when it comes to deploying news media as a public diplomacy tool in India, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. The balance between media and other cultural sources of soft power is very much determined by historical and cultural legacies, alongside economic and international aspirations.
Where soft power is achieved through the media, it is by serendipity as much as by design. Despite many Asian countries devoting considerable resources to their public broadcasters, only a minority of players tie this to their strategic approaches to public diplomacy.
From propaganda to persuasion
‘Public diplomacy’, a term often credited to former US diplomat Edmund Gullion, was coined in the 1960s to differentiate between government information services and the pejorative term ‘propaganda’. But it was the writings of American political analyst Joseph Nye in the early 1990s that turned it into a widely used shorthand term to describe the promotion of a country’s national interest by influencing foreign public opinion.
In a post-Cold War world, public diplomacy and its reliance on co-optive or soft power to convince others to ‘want what you want’ 1Joseph S. Nye, Jr, ‘Soft power’, Foreign Policy, no. 80, (Autumn 1990), pp. 153–171. became a favoured foreign policy tool.
Soft power can be the outcome of an effective public diplomacy strategy that draws on activities and themes to improve a country’s international image. These can include cultural events; scholarships and exchanges; sporting fixtures; and the use of news media, most notably government-funded broadcasting, including internet and social media and, less commonly, print media.
The use of publicly funded news media is often a default element in a country’s public diplomacy strategy, taking the form of international broadcasters such as Voice of America (VOA), the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) World Service, Russia Today and Voice of China. And while originally such broadcasters mostly relied on shortwave radio, broadcasting now employs a range of platforms, including the internet and social media, exponentially expanding broadcasters’ potential reach to a global audience.
However, heavy-handed use of the media for public diplomacy can raise questions about credibility and reliability that elicit a degree of cynicism reminiscent of how propaganda was largely viewed during the Second World War, negating its usefulness as a public diplomacy tool. As Nye warned in the early 2000s, ‘If the content of a country’s culture, values and policies are not attractive, public diplomacy that broadcasts them cannot produce soft power. It may produce just the opposite.’ 2Ibid, p 95.
While the soft power/public diplomacy conceptual framework comes largely out of the American post-Cold War experience, the way public diplomacy is implemented by different countries usually reflects different understandings of soft power. This is particularly evident among Asian players.
China’s investments in external broadcasting are believed to be enormous, making it one of the world’s largest global broadcasters, as discussed in detail elsewhere in this report. But secrecy persists about how much China spends on its Voice of China conglomerate, with estimates of up to USD 11 billion 3David Shambaugh, ‘China’s soft power push’, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2015, Open. as the cumulative investment. Voice of China’s international reach is extensive, with its international television network claiming that its channels are available in more than 160 countries and regions. 4China Global Television Network, Open (accessed 19 January 2021).
This chapter examines how India, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Taiwan and Singapore have used – or failed to use – their national news media to remain culturally competitive in light of Beijing’s burgeoning influence. How central are the news media in reinforcing the soft power of some of Asia’s top economies in response to China’s expansive soft power tactics?
A look at each of these cases reveals a rich variety in how the media is used in public diplomacy, ranging from the supporting role it plays in promoting the Korean arts to the undermining effect of Singapore’s strict media laws. A brief look at North Korea provides a stark contrast to the public diplomacy efforts in the other Asian countries examined. In all cases, national approaches to soft power and the use of the media is very much determined by their historical and cultural legacies, alongside their economic and international aspirations.
India – Bollywood and batsmen beat broadcasting
‘India has soft power in abundance’ was the view of The Economist in a 2013 report that highlighted what the magazine described as India’s ‘striking lack of what might be called a strategic culture’. 5‘Know your own strength’, The Economist, 30 March 2013, Open. India’s vibrant news media provide a good case study of a soft-power resource going begging precisely because of this absence of strategic consideration.
It could be argued that India has been in the soft power projection business for some 5,000 years, starting with the export of Buddhist teaching to China. Spurious or not, this claim does embody several key aspects of India’s self-projection: it is wide-ranging with spiritual and temporal aspects; it is for the most part quite successful in terms of generating a positive image; and it is not driven by the state even though the government intermittently tries to control the process.
Positive images of India as seen by people in other countries draw on a range of contemporary cultural phenomena – for example, cooking, cinema, cricket and yoga – whereas almost anything the state is directly involved in is more likely to evoke negative images – poverty, gender-based violence, religious intolerance.
What role do news media of all kinds play in maintaining this equilibrium and how do they fit with other forms of cultural outreach? And to what extent is India’s international standing the result of, or even influenced by, a strategic use by government of its media? The answers differ according to which media or platform is considered.
At independence in 1947, India had in place a radio broadcasting infrastructure – All India Radio (AIR). Similar to the British model, it was a national broadcaster with both a nationwide domestic service and an international service. Domestically, AIR remains an important news provider because the Indian government has never relaxed its ban on private radio stations broadcasting news bulletins unless they choose to use AIR’s bulletins. Internationally, AIR External Services broadcasts in 27 languages, of which 12 are Indian and a further 10 are mainly spoken in neighbouring countries. 6All India Radio, ‘External Services Division’, Open (accessed 5 March 2021).
AIR still relies heavily on traditional shortwave despite attempts by AIR’s parent body, Prasar Bharati, to shut down the bulk of these transmitters in 2016 and then again in 2019. 7Sobhana K. Nair, ‘AIR may have to power off short wave transmissions’, The Hindu, 6 June 2019, Open. No large-scale international survey seems to have been published that might provide evidence for audience numbers or impact. AIR prefers to emphasise reach over actual usage. 8All India Radio, ‘Research and Development’, Prasar Bharati website, Open (accessed 5 March 2021).
Television in India began in 1959 as a subsidiary activity of AIR. It was not until 1976 that the television service was spun off and renamed Doordashan. Both AIR and Doordashan sit under the Prasar Bharati umbrella. Much like AIR, Doordashan shares the problems of being underfunded and underdeveloped.
In contrast to the highly regulated radio sector, television in India moved rapidly in the 1990s from government monopoly to apparent free-for-all. In 1991, as part of a swathe of economic reforms, the Indian government licensed private television stations. In 2013, more than 180 news channels 9Daya Kishan Tussu (2013), Communicating India’s Soft Power: Buddha to Bollywood (New York: Palgrave Macmillan). were operating. In all, there are about 900 channels. 10BBC News, ‘India profile – Media’, BBC website, Open (accessed 5 March 2021). In contrast to radio, private television stations were allowed to produce their own news bulletins.
Commercial stations very quickly realised they could boost earnings by marketing themselves to the huge Indian diaspora, providing a way for Indians overseas to keep in touch with some aspects of what is going on in India. But this approach is unlikely to attract a non-Indian audience. Despite the relaunch of Doordarshan’s international English-language news channel, DD India, and its fifth place among India’s English-language news channels, Doordarshan continues to have little international impact. Although the current government shows less indifference towards news media’s power compared with previous governments, Prasar Bharati’s Chief Executive Officer, Shashi Vempati, is on record lamenting the state’s inconsistent focus on soft power to date.
Meanwhile, India’s print media market is by some distance the world’s largest: more than 17,000 newspapers with a cumulative circulation of more than 400 million readers. 11Ibid. See references. All newspapers are privately owned and motivated by commercial domestic and diaspora markets, not by India’s image abroad.
Vempati is confident that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a ‘big believer’ in soft power. 12‘Needed: A contemporary public broadcaster to relate to the India story’, Swarajya, 7 June 2017, Open. However, Indian public diplomacy’s history of poor funding and complacent leadership leaves much need for difficult reform. To make matters harder, much of private media is owned by politicians, especially supporters of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP’s Hindu-supremacist ideology sits awkwardly with the common soft power image of India as a democratic fusion of many cultures. 13Bidisha Biwas and Anish Goel, ‘Narendra Modi’s soft-power diplomatic efforts abroad are being undone by hardline politics at home’, Scroll-In, 11 May 2020, Open.
The world’s largest democracy is not following the Chinese playbook in which all resources are harnessed to play a role in a strategically driven and forceful projection of the nation and its interests. Yet India’s lack of strategic focus on its ‘abundant’ soft power may not be all too bad. Given the lukewarm perception of Indian government-led initiatives internationally, it may be more successful deploying its cultural influence through means other than its media – for instance its vibrant film, food and cricket industries.
Japan – Tradition trumps strategy
For Japan, with its Second World War legacy of limited military strength, soft power has long been vital to make up for its hard power deficiencies. Some of that soft power has been derived from the popularity of its unique traditional culture and its recent modern reinvention, as exemplified by the ‘Cool Japan’ tourism campaign.
But its soft power also has a strong geopolitical motivation. Japan’s response to China’s signature foreign policy strategy – the Belt and Road Initiative – has been the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) initiative, which was first raised as an idea in 2007 by then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and translated into a concrete ambition in 2016. Its aim, not dissimilar to the Belt and Road Initiative, is to support development, investment and security across the Indo-Pacific.
FOIP, among other things, provides a firm public diplomacy platform to strengthen relations in the region. In its recent annual reports, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) sets out in detail its two-pronged public diplomacy strategy. While one aspect of the strategy deals largely with culture, sports and tourism, the second – strategic communications – is about Japan’s use of traditional and new media to promote public understanding of Japan’s contributions to peace, stability and prosperity. Significantly, MOFA received a USD 500 million 14Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2015), Diplomatic Blue Book 2015 (Toyko: Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Section 4, p. 281, Open. increase in its budget for strategic communications over 2014 and 2015.
Much of the strategic communications’ media focus is passive feeding of the traditional news media with daily press conferences, interviews, articles and speeches. Its overseas missions are also actively engaging host countries’ media on Japan’s position. Social media is used to communicate directly with an interested public, as well as to post videos about Japan’s foreign policy.
What is missing in the strategy is reference to Japan’s international public broadcaster, NHK World, although the broadcaster itself stresses its public diplomacy role in its corporate profile. 15Nippion Hoso Kyokai, ‘NHK corporate profile, 2020–2021’, NHK website, Open.
Operating under the parent Japanese public broadcaster, Nippon Hoso Kyokain, NHK World runs two international television services: NHK World-Japan TV, which targets non-Japanese audiences in English; and NHK World Premium, which serves Japan’s diaspora. Its radio services, NHK World Radio Japan, broadcast in 17 languages. 16Nippion Hoso Kyokai ‘Corporate overview’, NHK website, Open (accessed 19 January 2021). Similar to MOFA’s public diplomacy budget increase, NHK’s international services received increases in funding: by 2018, they were receiving 4.4% of NHK’s total budget. 17Nippion Hoso Kyokai, ‘NHK corporate profile, 2020–2021’. Some have viewed this increase as a response to China’s expansive broadcasting efforts. 18Australian Broadcasting Commission, ‘Submission to the Department of Communications review into broadcasting services into Asia and the Pacific’, August 2018, p. 6, Open. A month before China announced that it would merge CCTV (China Central Television), China Radio International and China National Radio to become Voice of China, NHK World TV was rebranded as NHK World-Japan.
As for the effectiveness of government-funded broadcasting in meeting public diplomacy goals, it is a well-recognised principle that credibility and impartiality are critical to reinforce trustworthiness and so contribute to soft power. 19Annmaree O’Keeffe and Alex Oliver, ‘International broadcasting and its contribution to public diplomacy’, Lowy Institute for International Policy, 9 September 2010, Open. While not impugning the trustworthiness of Japan’s international media, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index notes that Japanese ‘journalists find it hard to fully play their role as democracy’s watchdog because of the influence of tradition and business interests.’ 20Reporters Without Borders, ‘Japan: Tradition and business interests’, Open (accessed 11 July 2021). Journalists complain about a climate of mistrust towards them after Shinzo Abe became prime minister again in 2012 with reporters’ clubs – kisha – discriminating against freelancers and foreign reporters.
Ranked 22nd out of 100 in RSF’s index in 2012, by 2021 Japan had dropped to 67th position out of 180 countries. There can be little doubt that this culture of media restraint influences NHK World as its operations are overseen by a chief executive officer and a board of governors appointed by the prime minister and its budget is approved by the Diet.
With a public diplomacy strategy that is closely aligned to its foreign policy goals as laid out in the FOIP initiative, it is evident that Japan has dedicated considerable budget and bandwidth to its international soft power. However, even with budget increases for its strategic communications, the influence of Japan’s public broadcaster remains hamstrung as long as traditional structures in business and politics remain in place.
South Korea – Waving to the world
In 2019, the South Korean film Parasite made American movie industry history by becoming the first non-English-language film to win an Oscar for best film, a milestone for the Hallyu (‘Korean wave’) phenomenon, which has become the accidental mainspring of South Korea’s public diplomacy efforts. In addition to remarkable influence through its ‘K-pop’ industry, Hallyu has shot South Korean popular culture to prominence in the recent decade, contributing around USD 9.5 billion to the South Korean economy in 2018. 21Park Jin-hai, ‘Hallyu export earned $9.5 billion in 2018’, The Korea Times, Open.
While Hallyu was not a South Korean government creation, it has been a gift for leveraging the government’s public diplomacy strategy. With a strategic vision to ‘fascinate the world with Korea’s charm’, 22Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea, ‘Public diplomacy of Korea’, Open (accessed 20 January 2021). there is little wonder that cultural diplomacy is accorded the most attention and resources within the government’s three-pronged strategy of cultural diplomacy, knowledge diplomacy and ‘public diplomacy on policy’.
It is only in this last area where there is any reference to the news media, and even here the media is only one of several channels for enhancing understanding and trust among the general foreign public and opinion leaders. The fact that South Korea has two government-funded international public broadcasters does not rate any mention. Yet one of the broadcasters, Arirang, was created in response to Hallyu as a way to spread South Korean culture in English, broadcasting initially to foreign residents and tourists in South Korea, and then expanding to international audiences.
The second broadcaster, Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) World TV is also aimed at international audiences outside South Korea, but is mainly broadcast in Korean with foreign language subtitles. There are also three separate services targeting markets in Japan, Indonesia and the Americas. Within the same stable, KBS runs an international radio service that broadcasts news and information in 11 languages. 23Korean Broadcasting System World Radio, ‘About us’, Open (accessed 20 January 2021).
Not surprisingly, Arirang and KBS World are in fierce competition as both aim to reach similar international audiences. Yet it is difficult to find any evidence of an overarching strategic plan guiding the work and direction of these two government-funded news outlets that might align with Korea’s public diplomacy objectives.
That is not to say that the dissemination value of broadcasting has not been recognised, at least in passing. In the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ 2015 Diplomatic White Paper, there is a brief mention of the value of cooperating with KBS and Arirang in hosting Hallyu events ‘such as K-Pop and K-Food World Festival, the Quiz on Korea and video contests’. 24Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2015), 2015 Diplomatic White Paper (Seoul: Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Part 5, Chapter 3, Open.
All this suggests that South Korea’s primary use of news media to promote soft power is the high level of press freedom it affords, where the media plays a key role in promoting its creative arts industry internationally.
North Korea – Hermitically sealed from news media
Discussion of South Korea prompts a look across the 38th parallel into North Korea. In what appears to be a contradiction in terms, North Korea is perhaps most attuned of any Asian country to the soft power potential of news media. For this reason, it has gone to extreme lengths to block television and radio broadcasts and print media from going into and out of its territory.
For the past seven years, coinciding with the rise to power of Kim Jong-Un, North Korea has been ranked either last or second last out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index. North Korea’s public diplomacy strategy, if it can indeed be called this, is aimed at its own people and is not benign. The 2013 United Nations Commission of Inquiry into North Korean Human Rights, headed by Australian Justice Michael Kirby, found that North Korea had claimed ‘an absolute information monopoly’ and that propaganda was used to ‘incite nationalistic hatred towards official enemies of the State: Japan, the United States of America, and the Republic of Korea, and their nationals.’ 25United Nations Human Rights Council (2014), Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (New York: United Nations), Open.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) holds the monopoly over news dissemination within the country. However, with its own website and Facebook page accessible internationally, its audience is not limited to North Korea, making it one of the few sources about developments in the hermetic nation.
The internet and social media are ferociously controlled, with only a tightly regulated intranet available to a limited few inside country. There are also different categories of mobile phones – those which North Korean residents use and those provided to foreign visitors. They are not interoperable.
As a sealed nation, North Korea is naturally a magnet for public diplomacy efforts by external countries, notably South Korea, but also the American broadcasters VOA and Radio Free Asia (RFA), which have recently been joined by the BBC World Service. However, no audience research can be carried out by these organisations and it is likely that they have limited chance of getting through to North Koreans.
Taiwan – A diplomatic underdog
For Taiwan, effective soft power is fundamental as the democracy of 23 million people lingers in China’s shadow and remains politically isolated. With only 14 diplomatic allies left and a lack of memberships in major international organisations, including the United Nations, public diplomacy has been key to Taiwan’s international engagement. And this soft power has only grown in importance as competition between China and the United States grows, and countries continue to switch their diplomatic recognition away from Taiwan to China.
With growing international awareness of its economic prowess, cultural attractions and open society, Taiwan has the potential to turn its exclusion from official diplomacy into an advantage, providing a viable counternarrative to China’s.
The New Southbound Policy (NSP), launched by President Tsai Ing-wen in 2017 and seen by some as a response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, aims to integrate Taiwan with the region and boost its soft power through cultural, educational, technological, agricultural and economic cooperation. The policy aims to strengthen Taiwan’s relationships with the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; six states in South Asia; as well as with Australia and New Zealand.
The NSP, with its focus on people-to-people links, overtly employs a range of public diplomacy mechanisms. However, official documents on the policy do not identify a specific role for the media, despite the NSP website featuring the work of its public international broadcaster, Radio Taiwan International (RTI).
RTI, which streams online and broadcasts news and programs in 13 languages 26Radio Taiwan International, ‘Intro to RTI’, Open (accessed 20 January 2021). to the rest of the world, is largely focused on mainland China and the Chinese diaspora. It finds its largest audience through its Mandarin service. While it is officially tasked to disseminate news and information about Taiwan, former RTI chief executive Shao Li-chung maintained in a 2017 interview that it had never been restricted in how it did that. 27Lee Shan Wei (translated by Robert Green), ‘Radio Taiwan International – A voice for the times’, New Southbound Policy Portal (originally published on Taiwan Panorama), Open (accessed 3 November 2020). Taiwan’s ranking in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index – 43rd out of 180 countries 28Reporters Without Borders, 2021 World Press Freedom Index, Open. – is a positive reflection of Taiwan’s free media.
The source of much of RTI’s news is Taiwan’s national Central News Agency (CAN). CAN’s legislated role includes promoting an understanding of Taiwan in the international community. That mission is currently being extended to RTI and CAN’s two television stable mates. In early 2018, Taiwan’s public broadcasting architecture was reviewed by the Ministry of Culture with a view to amalgamating the four services into one organisation to improve the dissemination of translated Taiwanese content to the international market.
Draft legislation was introduced into parliament towards the end of 2018 but, to date, no decision has emerged. In July 2020, a new culture minister announced that one of the television services was rolling out an international online platform in 2021, suggesting that his predecessor’s ambitions for a consolidated broadcasting structure may have been set aside. What remains, however, is the vision for a publicly funded broadcaster reinforced with additional funding.
Despite the absence of a clear public statement about how Taiwan’s public broadcasters contribute to the country’s soft power, ongoing ministerial engagement and an internationally competitive budget for these services suggests strong support for this approach.
Singapore – Free market but repressed media
The historic summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in 2018 in Singapore may not have achieved the geo-strategic results sought by either leader. However, for the summit host, it was an example of how the city-state was able to leverage the global news platforms – traditional and digital – that shone the spotlight on this event. As a Straits Times opinion piece noted, Singapore became the most searched term on Google during the summit. 29Alan Chong, ‘The razzmatazz of public diplomacy’, The Straits Times, 22 June 2018, Open.
The small, resource-poor island that broke away from Malaya in 1965 has transformed itself into one of the world’s most powerful financial centres, maintained by a corruption-free and efficient administration and a strong regulatory and legal framework. Singapore has benefited from the soft power this brings. Its reputation as an incorruptible country stands unsullied – it has consistently ranked in the top five of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
Despite this, Singapore’s soft power projection has been hobbled by the government’s rigid control over the media landscape. The country ranks just 160th out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index. 30Reporters Without Borders, 2021 World Press Freedom Index. Control of the media can also be seen in the way the public broadcasting services are arranged. MediaCorp is the privatised media and entertainment group that is the national public television and radio broadcaster, making it the largest media business in Singapore. Although it is the public broadcaster, it is run as, and by, a private corporation. It boasts of reaching 98% of Singaporeans in four languages. 31Mediacorp, ‘Who we are’, Open (accessed 20 January 2021).
While 1994 saw the brief appearance of Radio Singapore International, it was shelved by 2008, with MediaCorp’s television arm Central News Asia growing its audience base across the region instead. MediaCorp claims Central News Asia reaches more than 81 million households in 29 countries and territories in Asia, the Middle East and Australia. 32Ibid. See references.
Singapore’s case is an unusual one, where the lack of media freedom and the questionable impartiality of its broadcaster mean news media may be a liability to its public diplomacy overseas rather than an asset.
Home to four of the world’s five most populous countries, Asia is for many non-Asian broadcasters a strategic priority. Here a view to the American and British broadcasters – considered among the most established and mature worldwide – is insightful.
In the United States, the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) manages all five international public broadcasters. They are unique among Western broadcasters because government legislation explicitly obliges them to align with United States foreign policy objectives.
Two of the broadcasters – VOA and RFA – have language services that broadcast into various parts of Asia. VOA has four South Asian language services – Bengali, Dari, Pashto and Urdu. Since its Hindi service was closed in 2008, VOA has focused on the sub-region’s Muslim-majority countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. 33Voice of America, ‘VOA News, Lang’, Open (accessed 5 March 2021). Notably, India is not a priority. VOA’s coverage of East and Southeast Asia is more complete with 10 languages.
RFA operates in nine 34Radio Free Asia (homepage), Open (accessed 5 March 2021). of these languages but, compared to VOA, it broadcasts in the languages of countries seen as antipathetic to the United States. Given the efforts to block RFA broadcasts by several target Asian countries, there is presumably concern on their part that RFA may have some influence on their citizens. This is particularly true for Uighur, the one language that RFA has that is absent from VOA’s list. RFA’s Uighur service is the only non-Chinese station broadcasting in the language spoken by much of the population of China’s western province, Xinjiang. The Economist reported in 2019 that one-fifth of recent exiles had been regular listeners before leaving Xinjiang, 35‘To suppress news of Xinjiang’s gulag, China threatens Uighurs abroad’, The Economist, 24 October 2019, Open. and 6 of the 12 journalists in RFA’s Uighur service have a total of 40 family members in detention.
Britain’s international broadcaster, the BBC World Service, is widely recognised as the world’s most credible and independent broadcaster, contributing significantly to the United Kingdom’s soft power. It is because of this standing that the British government’s strategic defence and security review 36Her Majesty’s Government, ‘National security strategy and strategic defence and security review 2015: A secure and prosperous United Kingdom’, November 2015, Open. in 2015 gave the BBC World Service an extra GBP 85 million (USD 118 million) a year for five years, much of which went into launching services in 11 new languages – 5 of them in Asia. Four of the five were languages with significant numbers of speakers in India, giving the BBC services in all South Asian languages spoken by more than 40 million people. 37Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujarati.
Room for strategic improvement in Asia’s news media
This rapid tour d’horizon allows us to draw some tentative conclusions.
First, there is no ‘Asian model’ when it comes to the use of news media for public diplomacy – the differences in approach are stark. Although some Asian countries devote considerable resources to their public broadcasters, most do not effectively tie this to their strategic approach (if any) to public diplomacy.
Taiwan, arguably most immediately affected by Beijing’s regional presence, has demonstrated the greatest resolve to utilise the full strategic potential of its news media in the absence of other traditional pathways. In cases where cultural influence is already well established internationally, notably in India and South Korea, there is a spectrum of indifference towards news media’s usefulness for public diplomacy. Finally, Singapore and Japan demonstrate that stringent regulation of the media and traditional structures may impede the ability of journalism to play a positive role in a country’s soft power, and may even negatively affect its image abroad.
The lack of overt strategic direction in many countries makes less obvious the extent to which soft power deployment is conditioned by the regional hegemon, China.
Further, without systematic efforts to quantify the effects overseas of publicly funded news media, public media organisations in some countries will simply continue to exist, unquestioned but increasingly irrelevant to government policy. It is likely that where the values claimed for public media differ from the values practised, the money spent is largely wasted.
Finally, where positive soft power is achieved, it is as much by serendipity as by design. When it comes to Singapore’s success as a financial hub, India’s cultural attractions and South Korea’s Hallyu exports, news media plays a supporting role rather than being a driver that has been strategically deployed.
Joseph S. Nye, Jr, ‘Soft power’, Foreign Policy, no. 80, (Autumn 1990), pp. 153–171.
Ibid, p 95.
David Shambaugh, ‘China’s soft power push’, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2015, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2015-06-16/chinas-soft-power-push.
China Global Television Network, https://www.cgtn.com/about-us (accessed 19 January 2021).
‘Know your own strength’, The Economist, 30 March 2013, https://www.economist.com/briefing/2013/03/30/know-your-own-strength.
All India Radio, ‘External Services Division’, https://prasarbharati.gov.in/all-india-radio-2/#1588510976607-42400654-b585 (accessed 5 March 2021).
Sobhana K. Nair, ‘AIR may have to power off short wave transmissions’, The Hindu, 6 June 2019, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/air-may-have-to-power-off-short-wave-transmissions/article27584333.ece.
All India Radio, ‘Research and Development’, Prasar Bharati website, https://prasarbharati.gov.in/all-india-radio-2/#1594410016803-1b8e2c30-8949 (accessed 5 March 2021).
Daya Kishan Tussu (2013), Communicating India’s Soft Power: Buddha to Bollywood (New York: Palgrave Macmillan).
BBC News, ‘India profile – Media’, BBC website, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-12557390 (accessed 5 March 2021).
‘Needed: A contemporary public broadcaster to relate to the India story’, Swarajya, 7 June 2017, https://swarajyamag.com/ideas/needed-a-contemporary-public-broadcaster-to-relate-to-the-india-story.
Bidisha Biwas and Anish Goel, ‘Narendra Modi’s soft-power diplomatic efforts abroad are being undone by hardline politics at home’, Scroll-In, 11 May 2020, https://scroll.in/article/961333/narendra-modis-soft-power-diplomatic-efforts-abroad-are-being-undone-by-hardline-politics-at-home.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2015), Diplomatic Blue Book 2015 (Toyko: Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Section 4, p. 281, https://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000177726.pdf.
Nippion Hoso Kyokai, ‘NHK corporate profile, 2020–2021’, NHK website, https://www.nhk.or.jp/corporateinfo/english/publication/pdf/corporate_profile.pdf.
Nippion Hoso Kyokai ‘Corporate overview’, NHK website, https://www.nhk.or.jp/corporateinfo/english/corporate/index.html (accessed 19 January 2021).
Nippion Hoso Kyokai, ‘NHK corporate profile, 2020–2021’.
Australian Broadcasting Commission, ‘Submission to the Department of Communications review into broadcasting services into Asia and the Pacific’, August 2018, p. 6, https://www.communications.gov.au/sites/default/files/submissions/abc_0.pdf.
Annmaree O’Keeffe and Alex Oliver, ‘International broadcasting and its contribution to public diplomacy’, Lowy Institute for International Policy, 9 September 2010, https://archive.lowyinstitute.org/publications/international-broadcasting-and-its-contribution-public-diplomacy.
Reporters Without Borders, ‘Japan: Tradition and business interests’, https://rsf.org/en/japan (accessed 11 July 2021).
Park Jin-hai, ‘Hallyu export earned $9.5 billion in 2018’, The Korea Times, https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/art/2020/02/732_268277.html.
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Korean Broadcasting System World Radio, ‘About us’, http://world.kbs.co.kr/service/about_us.htm?lang=e (accessed 20 January 2021).
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2015), 2015 Diplomatic White Paper (Seoul: Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Part 5, Chapter 3, https://www.mofa.go.kr/eng/brd/m_5684/list.do?page=1&srchFr=&srchTo=&srchWord=&srchTp=&multi_itm_seq=0&itm_seq_1=0&itm_seq_2=0&company_cd=&company_nm=&titleNm=.
United Nations Human Rights Council (2014), Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (New York: United Nations), https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIDPRK/Pages/ReportoftheCommissionofInquiryDPRK.aspx.
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