August 17, 2021

From Ethnic Nationalism to Social Media: How North Korea Leverages Its Soft Power Abroad

By Jason Bartlett

While highly unlikely to attain the global success of South Korean pop culture, North Korea continues to find creative ways to soften its negative image abroad through propaganda. This raises concerns of a global disinformation campaign, as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently instructed the country’s propagandists to improve overseas messaging efforts, signaling a vested national interest in strengthening the country’s soft power.

North Korea is not ignorant to the financial success and global impact of South Korean pop culture. Often referred to as the Hallyu (한류/韓流) or “Korean Wave” in English, South Korea has profited tremendously from streamlining Korean dramas and pop music to a global audience, a trend that started in the late 1990s during the Asian financial crisis. According to a 2019 study by The Korea Foundation, the overseas market for the South Korean pop culture industry doubled from $5.7 billion in 2015 to $10 billion in 2019, indicating a steady increase in global consumption of South Korean media and drawing a stark comparison to the North Korean economy.

North Korea continues to find creative ways to soften its negative image abroad through propaganda

The Bank of Korea estimated North Korea’s GDP at approximately $28.7 billion (32.9 trillion Korean won) in 2019, meaning that the Hallyu’s overseas market alone generated funds equal to around 35 percent of North Korea’s GDP that year. Although this number doesn’t include revenue Pyongyang obtained from illicit sanctions evasion tactics such as cyber-enabled financial crime, it accurately depicts the disparity between the licit economies of North and South Korea. It was only a matter of time until Pyongyang began to craft its own version of Hallyu, but with a North Korean twist” the Choryu (조류/朝流). Whereas the Hal in Hallyu refers to South Korea in the South’s dialect of the Korean language, Cho in Choryu refers to Choson, the name of North Korea in its respective dialect.

Read the full article from The Diplomat.

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