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US tops global soft power ranking

A ranking of global soft power produced by Facebook and global PR/comms agency, Portland Communications, has placed the US at the top of the table because of its strength in higher education, cultural production and technological innovation – areas in which the report says it stands “head and shoulders above the rest of the world”.

The US leads the rest of the world in its soft power capital, says a new report

US-based technology and digital brands including Google, Facebook and Twitter in people's everyday lives have bolstered the US's global standing

The second edition of the Soft Power 30 ranks 30 countries based on digital diplomacy, a 10,500 person poll, and objective metrics including education, enterprise and culture. The US scored 77.96, knocking last year’s first place finisher, the UK (with 75.97 points), to second place.

Germany ranked third with 72.60 points, Canada, with 72.53 points, was fourth and France ranked fifth with 72.14.

“The US topping the table is not a huge surprise when considering the vast soft power resources that America generates,” the report says. It argues that soft power plays a vital role in foreign policy and cooperation among trans-national networks.

It praises US universities as “among the best in the world” and credits Hollywood films for “helping to create a feeling of familiarity even for people who have never set foot on US soil”.

The dominance of US-based technology and digital brands including Google, Facebook and Twitter in people’s everyday lives around the world have also bolstered the US’s global standing.

The US also tops the education index

“Silicon Valley itself has become synonymous with technology, innovation, and creativity,” it notes. “Such is the power of the brand that tech clusters around the world have appropriated the name, whether ‘Silicon Allee in Berlin, ‘Silicon Roundabout’ in London, or Bangalore taking on the whole name as the ‘Silicon Valley of India’.”

The US also tops the education index with 85.99 points, above the UK with 62.29 points and Canada with 60.58 points. The metrics used to rank countries focused mostly on higher education institutions and their ability to attract international students and contribute to academic research and publishing.

It draws on statistics from the World Bank, UNESCO, QS World University Rankings and this year included average OECD PISA scores to benchmark the quality of secondary education.

Countries rounding out the top five of the education index look much the same as those in the overall rankings with the exception of Australia which jumped from 11th in 2015 to fourth this year. “Australia’s impressive performance proves that the country remains a highly attractive and desirable destination for international students,” the report states.

After Australia, Germany ranked fifth with 56.64 points.

The global survey of 10,500 people in 25 countries asked them to rate countries based on seven different categories including friendliness, liveability, foreign policy and cuisine.

The report also assesses data from the Facebook pages of national leaders and foreign ministries, both followers and levels of international engagement.

The UK and Germany both fell in the overall rankings this year compared to 2015 results reflecting the impact of geo-political and economic events on soft power.

“Current challenges including imbalanced economic growth, the refugee crisis, growing nationalist movements, and the impact of a possible Brexit are likely weighing on the continent’s collective soft power,” the report says.

Meanwhile the US’s foreign policy last year negatively affected its ratings in the public survey but this year Obama’s efforts to strengthen international ties in his final term push has benefitted the US’s reputation overseas.

The Iran nuclear deal, the re-establishment of diplomatic ties with Cuba, the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, improved relations with Vietnam, and the progress of the Trans- Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations are all moves the report argues “point to a more multi- lateral foreign policy approach and a commitment to soft power”.

“The impact of a possible Brexit is likely weighing on Europe’s collective soft power”

The study also spotlights countries just out of the top 30 rankings including India, which placed 34th mostly due to the “charisma and appeal” of Prime Minster Narendra Modi whose digital diplomacy through social media interaction “puts many countries to shame” according to the study.

However, with low enrolment figures for tertiary education, a small number of international students and no universities in a global top 200, it scores lowest on the education index. “Investment in education would not only lead to better domestic outcomes, but boost India’s soft power too,” the report notes.

Commenting on the small changes compared to last year’s table,  the report’s author, Jonathan McClory, conceded that the nature of soft power metrics mean the rankings probably won’t fluctuate year on year.

“If you did see massive swings for something like this, then you’d have to wonder what’s going on with the methodology,” he told The PIE News, adding that “the value and framework is breaking it down by categories”.

He also noted the fall of European countries down the table and rise of Asian countries including Japan (now above Switzerland in 7th place) China (up two spots to 28th) and Singapore (up to 19th from 21st).

“Could the fall of Europe and the rise of Asia be the start of a trend?” he asked.

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