Australia has risen on the global rankings of soft power, bumping off Russia to claim tenth place, while China and the United States slid down in the wake of the CCP virus pandemic, an index has revealed.
Soft power, according to Harvard University Professor Joseph Nye, who coined the term, is a nation’s ability to influence the international arena through “attraction and persuasion” rather than “coercion.”
Additionally, soft power determines people’s travel destinations, spending habits on consumer goods, and where they send their kids to study, Melissa Conley Tyler, from the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute, told Sydney Morning Herald.
Australia rejoined the top 10 after ceding the position to Russia last year.
The report, by Brand Finance’s Global Soft Power Index, revealed that Australia’s successful handling of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, was a key factor to its return to the top 10, along with its reputation as a famous tourist destination, and the reputation of its people’s generosity.
That said, Brand Finance CEO David Haigh told Sydney Morning Herald that Australia’s overall score was possibly “hampered” by the strict lockdowns—which occurred mostly in Victoria—and the unpredictable internal border closures.
“It’s also likely that Australia’s strict border controls and quarantine measures elevated negative perceptions, despite being effective in managing the spread of the virus, [and] sparked criticism about the restriction of movement,” Haigh said.
Commenting on China, he said it is coping with a “torrent of bad press” for its virus mismanagement, its suppression of human rights, environmental pollution, and “open conflict with nations such as Australia.”
However, he believed China’s soft power in developing countries will be unaffected.
Germany replaced the United States as the number one soft power “superpower” for its international relations, trade, and governance, according to the report.
“Stability, steadiness, and accountability are the German virtues, which seem to pay off in the Global Soft power Index 2021,” Ulf-Brün Drechsel, managing director of Brand Finance Germany, said.
Sitting at number 2, Japan became the only Asian country to make it into the top 5, being praised for its stable economy, high-quality products, and leading-edge technology.
While Japan’s embrace of automation and AI are believed to be driving its future growth potential, its slowing economy and ageing population remain a looming threat, according to the report.
The UK, despite having the highest COVID-19 death rate in Europe, secured its position at the third spot, closely followed by Canada and Switzerland.
The United States fell from the top spot to fifth, while China dropped from fifth place to eighth.
A year of political turmoil and widespread virus outbreaks are responsible for America’s sharp ranking drop, making it the fastest falling nation in the soft power index.
The wave of Black Live Matter protests, the “turbulent” election, and high COVID-19 infection rates are believed to have dented America’s reputation and influence as a “safe and secure” nation, the report said.
The report also noted that although China’s influence has been boosted through the “hard cash and soft influence” of the Belt and Road Initiative, the impact of COVID-19 has turned Western countries’ attitude towards China “markedly negative.”
“Despite providing much of the world’s personal protection equipment, it is accused of politicising exports and boasting,” George Yeo, former minister of foreign affairs of Singapore, said.
“Even though China is the most important supplier of vaccines to the developing world, its vaccines are denigrated as being less advanced and effective,” he said, “The current western antipathy towards China has deep causes, which the pandemic has made worse.”
New Zealand boasted the fastest growth in the index, climbing from 22 to 16. Although failing to claim a spot in the top 10, it was crowned as the nation with the most effective handling of the pandemic.
The index said that a country’s soft power depends on five criteria including familiarity, reputation, influence, response to COVID-19 and the seven “soft power pillars.”
The pillars are listed as business and trade, culture and heritage, media and communication, education and science, people and values, governance and international relations.
Brand Finance’s Global Soft Power Index is recognised as the world’s most comprehensive research study on perceptions of nation brands. Its research draws from a survey of 75,000 respondents from 105 countries.