By Troy Stangarone
With K-Pop finally making its global breakout with Psy’s international smash hit Gangnam Style, one might have expected there to be a residual effect on how people around the world see South Korea. However, a recent poll by the BBC on global views of 16 countries and the EU found South Korea as only the world’s 10th most influential country.
On the whole, the overall ranking as the 10th most influential country is impressive, but what is surprising is that despite Psy’s success and the positive press from South Korea electing its first female president, South Korea saw those with mostly positive views of it drop by a percentage and those with mostly negative views rise by 4 percent, the same rise in negative views as North Korea.
Interestingly the country whose influence is viewed most favorably internationally is Germany. In recent years Germany has been criticized for its handling of the euro crisis, specifically its slow moves towards providing aid to the countries hardest hit by the crisis. However, Germany scores extremely well among its European partners, with the exception of Greece which has been hit hardest by the crisis, and in countries such as South Korea and Indonesia.
In contrast, South Korea receives mixed reviews from countries in its region. The tensions over the last year between South Korea and Japan help to explain the poor perception of South Korea in Japan, but Indonesia is the only Asian country surveyed in which a majority has a positive view of South Korea’s influence. Perhaps more disconcerting, is that India’s views of South Korea are similar to that of Japan.
Globally, South Korea’s influence is viewed positively on average by 35 percent of those in the survey, while 31 percent view it negatively. South Koreans viewed themselves most positively, but this is not completely unique as Canadians, Indians, French, Brazilians, and Russians also viewed their influence in the world most favorably, while only Canadians viewed the influence of the United States more favorably than Americans.
Of the countries surveyed, only in Ghana and Indonesia is South Korea’s influence seen favorably by more than 50 percent of the public. In Europe, South Korea is most favorably viewed in Spain, where 43 percent view its influence in a positive manner. However, Germans do not reciprocate South Korea’s extremely favorable views of Berlin’s role, with Seoul scoring worse with Germans than the Japanese. This is especially interesting because, while South Korea’s favorability rating in Japan is only 19 percent, only 28 percent of Japanese view South Korea negatively. The majority of the population falls into the categories choosing neutral, depends, or not answering. In contrast, 65 percent of Germans have a negative view of South Korea’s influence in the world.
North Korea may play a small role in the decline in perceptions of South Korea. The survey took place from December, 2012 to April, 2013, the prime period of the current crisis with North Korea.
However, the results do provide interesting feedback for South Korea’s recent efforts at national branding and enhancing its soft power influence abroad. While these efforts, and a stronger move into public diplomacy, are relatively new, the results of the BBC’s survey show that despite the success of the Korean Wave in Asia, mixed views of South Korea still exist. At the same time, significant efforts may be needed to improve South Korea’s image in other regions of the world, such as Europe where Korean popular culture are less well known.
Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade for the Korea Economic Institute. The views expressed here are his own.
Photo from Korea.net’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.
 The BBC survey took place in 25 countries worldwide.
 Spain and Greece were the only two countries hit by the crisis in the Eurozone to be surveyed.