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The Power of Cultural Diplomacy: The Case of South Korea and the UK

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King Charles III of the United Kingdom celebrated 140 years of diplomatic relations by inviting South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and First Lady Kim Keon Hee.[1] King Charles made an unexpected reference to South Korean popular culture during a state visit to Buckingham Palace on November 22, 2023.[2] Distinguished guests, including Hallyu (Korean Wave) and Blackpink, were at the center of the ceremonies.

Charles’ welcome speech included references to BTS and the cult Netflix series Squid Game. In his banquet speech, the King praised the ability of South Korean culture to captivate people in the context of public diplomacy. The King’s speech also mentioned South Korea’s strategic role as a ” stronghold of democracy, human rights and freedom”.[3]

One of the important tools of South Korea’s public diplomacy is K-pop. As stated in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 Korean Diplomatic White Paper, Hallyu is an important part of Korea’s public diplomacy, including K-pop. The Korean Wave has expanded with the popularity of Korean movies and the spread of K-Pop music worldwide. With the expansion of Korean pop culture, South Korea’s national brand has been elevated and the importance of promoting the Korean Wave as a vital part of public diplomacy policy has emerged.

King Charles, along with the President and First Lady of South Korea, awarded Blackpink an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).[4] According to a report from The Royal Family, King Charles said that the K-pop group was presented with the decoration for its role as an advocate at the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow.[5] Recognizing the fact that K-pop has become a global phenomenon, the Seoul Government is using it effectively to promote Korea to foreigners. Due to its worldwide popularity, K-pop has been positively received in many countries around the world.

The popularity of K-pop has helped to make Korea more recognizable worldwide, especially among young people. K-pop has contributed to promoting Korea’s tourism in many ways, such as making music videos to promote Korea or becoming an honorary ambassador for a particular department or sector. However, artists who are globally recognized as “Korean promotional ambassadors” are promoted to “global goodwill ambassadors”, as seen in the case of the United Nations. K-pop has also contributed to the economy of the Republic of Korea, helping to promote Korean tourism and export sectors in particular. The popularity of K-pop and its contribution to the Republic of Korea has made it one of the most valuable tools of the country’s public diplomacy.

Following this visit, Yoon Suk Yeol held talks with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, focusing on trade, technology and defense. The defense agreement envisages the two countries’ navies working together to enforce United Nations (UN) sanctions to prevent smuggling and limit North Korea’s nuclear weapons ambitions. UK and Korean officials have formally launched talks on an “updated free trade agreement”, with existing agreements largely reflecting arrangements in place before the UK left the European Union.[6]

Since leaving the EU in 2020, the UK has entered into trade negotiations with a number of countries, but has only reached agreements with Australia and New Zealand. The UK is also a member of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), an Asia-Pacific trade bloc that includes Japan and 10 other countries.[7]

The state visit of King Charles II, inviting South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and First Lady Kim Keon Hee to the UK, not only celebrated 140 years of diplomatic relations, but also highlighted South Korean popular culture, especially K-pop. This visit is an impressive example of Korea’s public diplomacy.

Güney Kore popüler kültürünün, özellikle K-pop’un, Kore’nin ulusal markasını yükseltmekte ne kadar etkili olduğunu görmekteyiz. Kral Charles’ın ziyafet konuşmasında yaptığı atıflar ve onursal ödüllerin Blackpink’e verilmesi, Güney Kore’nin kültürel etkisini ve popülerliğini vurgulamıştır.  K-pop’un küresel bir fenomen haline gelmesi, Güney Kore’nin genç nesiller arasında daha tanınır and strengthened its national brand at the global level.

As one of the important tools of South Korea’s public diplomacy, K-pop is not only a tool for cultural interaction but also makes tangible contributions in the economic and trade spheres. K-pop’s role in revitalizing Korean tourism and export sectors enhances South Korea’s economic power in the international arena.

The agreements reached during Yoon Suk Yeol’s meetings with Rishi Sunak on trade, technology and defense are expected to further strengthen strategic ties. This reflects South Korea’s steps towards becoming a more effective actor in the international arena, not only in the cultural but also in the economic and defense fields.

In conclusion, South Korean President Yoon’s visit to the UK strengthened Korea’s public diplomacy, ranging from cultural interaction to strategic cooperation. This is an important example of the use of culture as a powerful diplomatic tool.


[1] “Key Moments From King Charles’ State Welcome for South Korea”, TIME, https://time.com/6338761/king-charles-speech-south-korea-banquet-highlights/, (Erişim Tarihi: 27.11.2023).

[2] “King Charles Deploys K-Pop At South Korea State Banquet”, BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-67492559, (Erişim Tarihi: 27.11.2023).

[3] Aynı yer.

[4] “King Presents Mbes To K-Pop Stars Blackpink”, BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-67495892, (Erişim Tarihi: 27.11.2023).

[5] “Key Moments From King Charles’ State Welcome for South Korea”, TIME, https://time.com/6338761/king-charles-speech-south-korea-banquet-highlights/, (Erişim Tarihi: 27.11.2023).

[6] “King Charles Welcomes South Korea’s President with Banquet”, VOA, https://www.voanews.com/a/king-charles-welcomes-south-korea-s-president-with-banquet/7365410.html, (Erişim Tarihi: 27.11.2023).

[7] Aynı yer.

Zeynep Çağla ERİN
Zeynep Çağla ERİN
Zeynep Çağla Erin, 2020 yılında Yalova Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden "Feminist Perspective of Turkish Modernization” başlıklı bitirme teziyle ve 2020 yılında da İstanbul Üniversitesi Açık Öğretim Fakültesi Sosyoloji bölümünden mezun olmuştur. 2023 yılında Yalova Üniversitesi Lisansüstü Eğitim Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim dalında "Güney Kore'nin Dış Politika Kimliği: Küreselleşme, Milliyetçilik ve Kültürel Kamu Diplomasisi Üzerine Eleştirel Yaklaşımlar” başlıklı yüksek lisans tezini tamamlayarak mezun olmuştur. Şu an Kocaeli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim dalında doktora eğitimine devam etmektedir. ANKASAM stajyeri olarak çalışan Erin'in başlıca ilgi alanları; Asya-Pasifik, Uluslararası İlişkiler'de Eleştirel Teoriler ve Kamu Diplomasisi'dir. Erin iyi derecede İngilizce ve başlangıç seviyesi Korece bilmektedir.