Seoul Journal of Economics - Vol. 33 , No. 4

[ Article ]
Seoul Journal of Economics - Vol. 33, No. 4, pp. 601-626
Abbreviation: SJE
ISSN: 1225-0279 (Print)
Print publication date 30 Nov 2020
Received 08 Oct 2020 Accepted 08 Oct 2020
DOI: https://doi.org/10.22904/sje.2020.33.4.005

South Korea’s Soft Power in the Era of the Covid-19 Pandemic : An Analysis of the Expert Survey in Europe
Seo-Young Cho ; Eric J. Ballbach ; Daniela Claus-Kim ; Hyun Gyung Kim ; Eun-Jeung Lee ; Jaemin Shim
Seo-Young Cho, Corresponding Autor, Free University of Berlin (FU-Berlin), Institute of Korean Studies (IKS), KDI School-FU-IKS Korea-Europe Program, Otto-von-Simson-Str. 11, 14195 Berlin, Germany, Tel: +49 30 838 56894 (scho@zedat.fu-berlin.de)
Eric J. Ballbach, Free University of Berlin (FU-Berlin), Institute of Korean Studies (IKS)
Daniela Claus-Kim, Free University of Berlin (FU-Berlin), Institute of Korean Studies (IKS)
Hyun Gyung Kim, Free University of Berlin (FU-Berlin), Institute of Korean Studies (IKS)
Eun-Jeung Lee, Free University of Berlin (FU-Berlin), Institute of Korean Studies (IKS)
Jaemin Shim, Hong Kong Baptist University, Department of Political Science

Funding Information ▼

JEL Classification: C83, H12, I18


Since the recent outbreak of the Covid-19, South Korea has demonstrated successful pandemic management that can be exemplary to other countries. This paper analyzes how South Korea’s responses to the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the perceptions of the country in Europe. Through a survey conducted with Korea experts in 16 European countries, this paper documents the positive recognition of South Korea’s pandemic management by the European public. Part of the positive appraisal can be attributed to South Korea’s extensive testing, high technology, and the culture of wearing a face mask, while the opinions were more mixed regarding its comprehensive tracking and tracing strategy due to privacy concerns. Furthermore, the findings of the survey show that Europeans’ overall perception of South Korea has improved together with its Covid-19 management. This evidence suggests that the country’s success in pandemic management can be an instrument of public diplomacy to enhance its soft power, for which the government of South Korea currently invests considerable efforts.

Keywords: Covid-19, South Korea, Expert survey, Public perceptions, Pandemic management, Soft power, Public diplomacy


We are grateful to the KDI School of Public Policy and Management for providing financial support. We also thank the Korea experts who participated in the survey.

1. Ayhan, Kadir. Korea’s Public Diplomacy. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea and Hangang Network for Academic and Cultural Exchanges: Seoul, 2016.
2. BBC. Coronavirus: South Korea Reports Lowest Number of New Cases in Four Weeks. (March 23, 2020), London.
3. Die Tageszeitung (TAZ). Coronavirus in Südkorea: Virus versus Rechtsstaat. (February 27, 2020), Berlin.
4. Die Tageszeitung (TAZ). Wahlen in Südkorea – Vorbild für die USA. (April 21, 2020), Berlin.
5. Die Zeit. Atemschutzmasken: Im Angesicht des Virus. (April 02, 2020), Hamburg.
6. Diplomat. A Democratic Response to Coronavirus: Lessons from South Korea. (March 30, 2020), Tokyo.
7. Deutsche Welle (DW) News. World in Progress: South Korea's Approach to Dealing with Coronavirus. (March 18, 2020), Bonn.
8. Handelblatt. Was Deutschland im Kampf gegen das Coronavirus von Südkorea und Taiwan lernen kann. (March 15, 2020), Duesseldorf.
9. Hankook Ilbo. ‘대한민국 국민인 게 자랑스럽다’ 12%p 늘어난 80%. 코로나 대응이 긍정 영향. (May 15, 2020), Seoul.
10. McClory, Jonathan. The Soft Power 30–A Global Ranking of Soft Power 2019. Washington, Portland, 2019.
11. Ministry of Health and Welfare of the Republic of Korea. Covid-19 Statistics (http://ncov.mohw.go.kr/bdBoardList_Real.do/) (retrieved on 19. May. 2020).
12. Rodger, Joseph Lee and W. Alan Nicewander. Thirteen Ways to Look at the Correlation Coefficient. The American Statistician 42 (1988): 59-66.
13. Süddeutsche Zeitung. Interview am Morgen: Corona in Südkorea. (April 23, 2020), Munich.
14. The Guardian. South Korea Took Rapid, Intrusive Measures against Covid-19: and They Worked. (March 20, 2020), London.