British Council explores the growth of ‘soft power superpowers’ 7 Dec 2018

The British Council has published a new report ‘Soft Power Superpowers’ which looks at the spread of cultural institutes across the globe as a growing number of countries invest as a way of cementing global influence. The report also features an interactive ‘heat map’, making it easy to see which countries are investing in which parts of the world – for instance Brazil’s attention to Africa and the cultural presence of China in the US. Significant trends include:  

  • China’s Confucius Institutes have grown from 320 to 507 in the past five years alone, giving it by far the largest number of cultural centres of any country.
  • France is second with 219 Institut Français centres, down ten from 2013, and the UK is third with 177 British Council offices down from 196.
  • Meanwhile Russia’s Russkiy Mir Foundation has more than doubled in five years from 82 to 171 outposts. Russia is also investing generously in its broadcasters, with Russia Today gaining traction for its news through social media and YouTube where it was the first TV news channel to reach one billion views.
  • In general, while Western Europe cultural offices have been stable or in decline, Asian and Latin American countries in the study are investing.
  • There are signs that the US brand has ‘taken some knocks’ in the last few years, with cuts to cultural budgets and a 3% decline in international students from 2016 – 17, but the report points to huge investment in aid and education by both the state and private philanthropists and concludes that ‘there is a difference between the Twitter echoverse and a longer term loss of position’.
  • Despite this competition, the UK is the world’s leading soft power superpower in 2018 and ‘in a very real sense the gold standard against which others measure themselves.’ Nevertheless the report argues that it may not retain this position as ‘the Eurasian Century’ progresses, and that Germany and France are currently leading the way for the international liberal order as the UK is preoccupied with Brexit. However, if it can achieve an ‘open Brexit’ and through arts, creative industries, humanitarian aid and education continue to project itself as a liberal, democratic country upholding a ‘rules based international system’ it will still have considerable advantages.

  British Council