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1 Japan (up from 3)

From the g20 and Rugby World Cup in 2019 to hosting the Summer Olympics in 2020, Japanese hospitality is in the limelight – and you can read all about it in this issue.

2 Sweden (up from 7 in 2018)

The country has an ambitious refugee programme, accepting more people per capita than any other EU nation – even if integration remains an issue. It has cemented its reputation as a power for good in the climate-change debate and the likes of Ikea are proving to be proactive when it comes to the issue of sustainability.

3 Germany (down from 2)

The sensible grown-up on the international scene. Its carmakers stalled but are on the up and “Made in Germany” continues to resonate. Not to mention the fact that every entrepreneur wants to move to Berlin.

4 France (down from 1)

The gilets jaunes protests were a PR nightmare and Emmanuel Macron ruffled EU feathers by delaying membership for the Balkans – but that only goes so far in reducing a soft-power brand ever dominant in culture, couture and comestibles.

5 Canada (down from 4)

The shine has come off Justin Trudeau but Canada’s soft-power brand remains as strong as ever. It has a still-rising star in Chrystia Freeland and the country’s “salad bowl” approach to integration is proving more enlightened than its divided “melting pot” neighbour to the south.

6 New Zealand (up from 11)

Deserves a solid rise in the global ranks for its openness, environmental prowess and sporting ambition – and leading the conversation on how to respond to domestic terrorism. Bravo, Jacinda.

7 Switzerland (down from 5)

It’s hard to knock its enduring brand recognition and reassuring presence on the global stage. It’s also a holiday mecca, a watch-making marvel and a UN hub.

8 The UK (down from 6)

Brexit, obviously. But the UK’s cultural brand and dedication to development spending keep it high on the list.

9 The US (unchanged)

Brand America still sells (despite that president), while the nation’s top mayors, as well as Hollywood and Silicon Valley, remain key to innovation and culture.

10 Australia (down from 8)

Does Australia still deserve to be in the top 10? Climate and immigration policy says no but sport staples and its way of life say yes.

11 Spain (up from 13)

A challenging year for Catalonia but a strong year for culture and its role in Europe’s refugee crisis. And don’t forget Money Heist: the most watched non-English Netflix series ever.

12 Portugal (down from 10)

Continues to put the financial crisis in the rear-view mirror, with a growing reputation as a technology and start-up hub.

13 Italy (down from 12)

Divisive politics doesn’t help but the world can’t seem to get enough of its food, fashion, football – need we go on?

14 Denmark (unchanged)

Acquitted itself well when thrust into the crosshairs of Donald Trump over Greenland, plus Nordic noir TV culture and the city-shaping work of Jan Gehl.

15 China (up from 19)

From Belt and Road to Confucius Institutes, there’s more Chinese soft power to reckon with. But Hong Kong and Uighur treatment still hurts.

16 Ireland (up from 22) Leo Varadkar has helped to modernise Ireland and the country has stepped up its global embassy staff in preparation for a possible no-deal Brexit.

17 South Korea (down from 15)

Caught navigating some tricky diplomacy with North Korea and Japan but K-pop and kimchi count for something.

18 Netherlands (down from 16)

Remains a hub for businesses and gains from Brexit. Its embassy programmes pushing start-ups around the world are a solid selling point.

19 Finland (down from 17)

The only foreign minister from a Green party has given Finland a role to play in the biggest issue on the global stage.

20 Norway (down from 18)

A reliance on oil is tricky issue in the current climate but, in fairness, Norway is investing in art, culture and biennales to soften that image.

21 Belgium (down from 20)

The headquarters of the EU and Nato are a quiet soft-power tool but has Belgium really profited from it?

22 India (up from 24)

Does India deserve more? Certainly finding its voice but its handling of Kashmir has not won it too many friends.

23 Austria (unchanged)

The use of music and culture as a soft-power brand keep this small Alpine nation on the list.

24 UAE (new entry)

A new entrant, the uae is hosting an expo in 2020 and has helped pay for dozens of countries to put up a pavilion. That has to count for something.

25 Nigeria (new entry)

The African continent gained an entrant and Nigeria was the leading choice for its fashion, ever-popular afrobeats and Nollywood.


The panel:

Yossi Mekelberg
Professor of international relations, Regent’s University

Yassmin Abdel-Magied
Sudanese-Australian writer and broadcaster

Quentin Peel
Associate fellow, Europe programme, Chatham House

Christopher Cermak
Affairs editor, Monocle

Andrew Mueller
Host, Monocle 24’s Foreign Desk

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