Parasite, Squid Game, BTS: from critically acclaimed films and Netflix series to K-pop idols, the astonishing global success of Hallyu, the 'Korean wave' of cultural production, has been widely hailed as a boon to the country's 'soft power'. Entitled 'In Hallyu We Trust? Revisiting 'Soft Power' in the New World Order of Cultural Production", the Asia Forum 2023, the IZO together with the research project CEDITRAA and the research initiative ConTrust convened an outstanding group of international scholars for two days to critically examine these links between countries' international cultural appeal and their political power. This year's Asia Forum, the second after an extended hiatus due to Covid, was organised in an expanded format, consisting of a high-level public lecture and a two-day academic workshop
The Asia Forum workshop consisted of four parts. Beginning with a theory-driven discussion on the concept of soft power, its added value and limitations, Gary Rawnsley and Benjamin Tallis reflected on soft power and the cultural implications of current political affairs. Song Hwee Lim presented an exciting link between soft power and geopolitics, using films and documentaries to illustrate geopolitical dynamics in Ukraine, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Michael Keane concluded the theoretical framework session with a review of soft power, focusing on its application and appropriation in the case of China and East Asia as a whole.
The second part focused specifically on Hallyu and its connection to South Korean soft power. Dal Yong Jin presented the emergence of Korean digital soft power and how the Korean government turns its cultural exports into diplomatic branding. Sangjoon Lee reviewed the history and transformation of the Korean film industry since the 1990s and the reasons for its success. Mark R. Plaice reflected on Korean soft power and the impact of Korean studies education. The session ended with a panel hosted by Cornelia Storz titled “Can the “Soft Power" Concept Explain the Global Success of Korean Culture and its Impact?".
The third part of the workshop broadened the perspective by looking at the soft power policies of other East Asian states. Nissim Otmazgin discussed Japan's long history of soft power and the extent and effort of utilising such assets in Japanese cultural and foreign policy. Looking at the case of Taiwan, Ting-ying Lin discussed the newly established institution TAICCA and how the Tsai government rebranded Taiwanese national values through the creative industries. Paola Voci critically dissected the inner workings of "soft power" policies and their ambiguous connection to official and marginalised cultural products, looking in particular at China's soft power as a "cracked game". Ying Zhu compared the emerging K-pop industry to China's declining soft power. Finally, Keun Lee presented his findings on the transformation of the Korean film industry, in which market liberalisation, the state and key actors played a pivotal role in revolutionising the industry.
In the spirit of the CEDITRAA project's transregional outlook, we also invited scholars to review Hallyu in its applications and implications for African countries in the concluding session. Olusola Ogunnubi discussed Nigeria's potential to become a regional cultural hub exercising cultural soft power in Africa. Suweon Kim analysed potential opportunities in South Africa that have been neglected by Korean companies. She proposed a South African-South Korean solidarity in the light of cultural empathy, collective pride, and exclusion. Usaku Wammanda considered the impact of the K-drama concept on Nigerian culture, which extends our previous soft power discourses. A final panel chaired by Vinzenz Hediger entitled "Soft Power: Core Element, Complement or Compensation?" concluded our two-day conference.
In addition, the public lecture on “Korean Film and Television – Competitiveness and Future Prospects" by film producer and CEO of Realies Pictures Dong Yeon Won attracted a large audience to Goethe University's Renate-von-Metzler-Saal in the evening of 6 July. Moderated by Prof. Yonson Ahn of IZO, the lecture and discussion with Mr Won provided first-hand insights into practical aspects and success factors in the world of Korean film and TV series production.
We would like to thank all participants who came to Frankfurt for contributing to a lively, critical and fruitful debate that will surely continue in various follow-up formats.