China’s soft power got punked in Pyeongchang


Congratulations to our South Korean friends for putting on a dazzling and oh-so-creative opening ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics last Friday. If any benighted soul still harbored doubts as to which Korea stands at the civilized world’s forefront, Pyeongchang entombed those doubts.

In fact, congratulations for one-upping not just North Korea but a certain giant country that lies to Korea’s north across the Yalu River — a country that, once upon a time, sought to project the image of a nation that was not just venerable but beneficent. That country hosted the Olympics a decade ago in a capital city that rhymes with aging.

The 2008 Olympics constituted part of a charm offensive that country was carrying on to burnish its soft power — in other words, to cast itself as a responsible great Asian power that no one need fear. Alas, those days are long gone. It was all a sham. That country junked its soft-power offensive years ago, turning to intimidation and coercion.

Better to overawe than comfort and conciliate smaller neighbors, it seems.

Pyeongchang reminds us what soft power is truly about. It’s about the power to attract, not the power to bully. It’s about having an attractive culture and society and living by one’s principles rather than putting everyone on about one’s intentions. South Korea has outdone China that northern country despite the mismatch in size and resources.