2019 Global Soft Power Ranking
post date : 2020.03.31
Portland Communications, a British consulting company, have been releasing The Soft Power 30: A Global Ranking of Soft Power every year since 2015, ranking the international influence of countries based on objective data in six categories (enterprise, culture, digital, government, engagement, and education) and polling data from 25 countries
The top five countries in the 2019 ranking are: 1. France (2 in 2018), 2. The UK (1), 3. Germany (3), 4. Sweden (8), and 5. The US (4). In eighth, Japan (5 in 2018) is the only Asian nation in the top ten, but with its lowest ranking yet.
France was ranked in first place despite the yellow vests movement, thanks to President Emmanuel Macron demonstrating leadership in diplomacy and international contributions. France also performed well in the Culture category, with strong cultural icons such as the Louvre (art), the Cannes Film Festival (film), and the Tour de France (sports).
The UK managed to drop to only second place even with Brexit. Like France, they performed well in “culture” with theatres and museums (art), Ed Sheeran (music), and Harry Potter (film), as well as multiple various universities giving them a high ranking in “education” and new businesses expanding overseas helping in the Digital category.
Germany improved its rankings in the Engagement and Government categories, and maintained its position in third place. Chancellor Angela Merkel has significant influence, and German citizens place high trust in the government. Germany also performs well in the Enterprise category, thanks to factors such as its automobile industry playing a leading role in Europe and worldwide.
Sweden improved its ranking significantly, coming in at fourth place as the first Nordic country to join the top five. With its focus on gender equality and active efforts to deal with climate change, the country performed well in the Government category. Sweden is a world leader when it comes to rapid responses to global issues. With brands known throughout the world such as H&M, Ikea, Spotify, and Skype, it also did well in the Enterprise category.
The US continued its annual decline, to fifth place. Low government trust, tariffs, and a lack of contributing to solving climate change are possible factors. The country maintained its lead in the categories of Culture (Disney), Education (world leader in number of famous universities and international students), and Digital (famous companies such as Google, Amazon, Uber, and Netflix).
Japan, despite ranking fifth in 2018, dropped down to eighth. Likely factors are worsening relations with South Korea and its internationally criticized resumption of commercial whaling. The country’s ranking rose in the categories Digital, Enterprise, and Culture. The Rugby World Cup 2019 and 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games are opportunities to improve global perceptions.
As trends from the past five years of data, the report suggested: 1) The “leadership effect” has a significant impact on soft power, 2) Europe continues to retain its soft power, 3) American soft power is declining, 4) British soft power stays strong despite Brexit, and 5) The soft power of Asian countries is growing. For future ranking trends, post-Brexit Europe, the US-China trade war, and the 2020 US presidential election are mentioned as key factors.
 Strong leadership was a positive factor for the European countries in the top five
Table. Ranking by category (last year’s ranking in parentheses)
France, in first place, was also first in Engagement for the third year in a row. In 2019 in particular, President Macron’s foreign policy and active approach to solving international issues was well regarded. Domestically, the yellow vest (gilets jaunes) movement led to societal and political instability, but Macron listened to the concerns of the populace and worked to implement economic growth and political stability. He is also showed initiative on climate change and Iran as the chair of the G7 Biarritz Summit, demonstrating an active approach to solving international issues. Macron’s leadership is thought to be why France achieved its highest ranking in the five years of polling data.
There were also changes in the rankings of the countries in second place and below. In second, the UK dropped from sixth to tenth in polling data, influenced by Brexit, but its traditional Culture and Education continued to be a major factor in the UK’s soft power. Germany, in third, maintained its stable overall ranking over the past five years, ranging from second to fourth. The country performed well in the categories of Engagement and Government, thanks to domestic and international support for the vast influence wielded in Europe by Chancellor Angela Merkel. As she will be leaving her post in 2021, it is hoped Germany will continue to demonstrate leadership both domestically and abroad under a new leader. In fourth, Sweden is the first Nordic country to make it into the top five. Sweden’s governance model and its initiatives on climate change and gender equality are respected around the world. In particular, the actions of young environmental activist Ms. Greta Thunberg have received attention from around the world, increasing people’s awareness of climate change.
The US, in fifth, has come in first every year in the categories Digital, Education, and Culture, but its results in Government and the polling data had a major impact on its overall ranking. This is due to President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy which he has been following since his election, and his rejection of multilateralism. His passive stance towards dealing with climate change has also led to increasing criticism. As China shows no indication of withdrawing from its battle for supremacy with the US, if the US does not change its policies going forward it may lose even more of its international influence.
 Japan has to work on gender equality and international issues
Japan continued to perform relatively well in Engagement, having been regarded as demonstrating initiative in global trade conflicts during the G20 Summit which it hosted for the first time. Through international competitions including the Rugby World Cup 2019 and 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, Japan demonstrated a greater presence in the field of sports, and achieved its highest rank in Culture yet. However, it dropped significantly in the polling data, from third to seventh. Its low rankings in Government and the polling data were significantly influenced by the #KuToo movement protesting workplace regulations requiring women to wear high heels, the worsening of Japan-South Korea relations, and the resumption of commercial whaling. Solving gender inequality and dealing with international issues will be the keys to Japan expanding its international influence in the future.
 Soft power shifting to being based on initiatives to solve global issues
Europe has dominated the top ten every year thanks to its world-class cultural resources, and in 2019 four of the top five countries were European. This year, leadership in international society had a particularly strong impact on the rankings, with President Macron’s leadership skills being well-regarded around the world, and so France came in first overall. The US, which used to lead the world, has been spreading the risk of protectionism throughout international society with its “America First” policy. However, efforts to solve global issues will likely become a major factor in determining countries’ influence, in addition to areas such as culture, art, and sports. For 2019, countries aside from Japan in Asia say some upwards movement, with South Korea achieving its highest rank yet of nineteenth, while China and Singapore maintained their rankings. Although both Singapore (21) and China (27) ranked low overall, there was not much difference between them and Japan in the categories of Digital, Enterprise, and Culture. Looking at recent geopolitical trends, these three countries will continue to make an impression in their areas of expertise, although they are unlikely to surpass Europe and the US overnight. In order to expand its international influence, aside from cultural aspects, Japan should work on initiatives to solve global issues.