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10

Ukraine
Russian aggression has been a testing ground for this young democracy with an indomitable spirit .

In 2019, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, made the shortlist of monocle’s Soft Power Awards. While this comedian-turned-leader was untested at the time, our nomination proved prescient. Zelensky became a global icon in 2022. His leadership and refusal to abandon Kyiv as Russia invaded helped to strengthen the resolve of his people to defend their nation – and of the international community to provide support.

But Ukraine’s soft power doesn’t stem from its president alone. Diplomats, parliamentarians, mayors and cultural figures also play their part. Zelensky appears on video screens at many major global gatherings but the on-the-ground presence of other officials, despite the 24 hours that it takes to travel from Kyiv out of the country, makes a tremendous difference too. The Ukraine House at locations such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, as well as embassy events in capitals around the world, not only help to keep the war in the public eye but are building Ukraine’s soft-power presence for years to come. Then there’s culture: a central goal this year has been to portray Ukraine’s heritage as distinct from that of Russia. Literary figures, artists and others have been catapulted onto the global scene, led by Ukraine’s 2022 Eurovision Song Contest winners Kalush Orchestra.

Ukraine remains a relatively young democracy. Leaders, including Zelensky, can be tempted to centralise power and undermine checks and balances. As aid floods in, there have been calls for more international oversight, highlighting scepticism about Ukraine’s notoriously high levels of corruption. Nor does Ukraine measure up in some of our traditional metrics of soft power (such as universities, multinational companies and foreign aid). Yet it would be impossible to leave this resilient nation off the rankings after this most tumultuous year, though Ukrainians surely wish that it wasn’t a consequence of a brutal war.

In numbers:
Embassies abroad: 84
Olympic medals at Tokyo 2020: 19

Good: Ukraine is winning the PR war. Though the circumstances are tragic, it’s clear that Kyiv was ready for its moment in the international limelight.

Bad: Ukraine’s democracy has been tested but it remains breakable. The country will need to avoid any semblance of sliding into autocracy as it enters a second year of war.


Keys to the kingdom
Saudi journalist Ahmed Al Omran on his country’s long road to rehabilitation.

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As Mohammed bin Salman began his rise to prominence in 2017, the young prince was largely welcomed with open arms. The planned reforms that he announced, from diversifying the economy to easing social restrictions such as the ban on women driving, had long been demanded by both the West and activists at home. Saudi youth celebrated the return of cinemas and the prince toured the world to entice foreign investors to bring their money and expertise to the kingdom.

His early foreign policy misadventures, such as the war in Yemen, were dismissed as the slips of an inexperienced leader. Even the arrest of hundreds of senior government officials at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh in a purported anti-corruption drive was seen as a necessary measure for a country seeking to transform. The Arab world’s largest economy had been stagnant for decades and if shock therapy was what was needed to wake up this sleeping giant, so be it.

The embrace of mbs came to a screeching halt in October 2018 after Saudi government agents killed US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. The murder changed perceptions overnight and the world began to pay more attention to the reality that even as the country was becoming socially and culturally more open, it had become far more politically oppressive.

The pandemic offered an opportunity for a reset. Saudi Arabia hosted the g20 summit (albeit remotely) and ended its dispute with Qatar. The kingdom embraced a fragile truce in Yemen and Western leaders including Joe Biden visited the country after concluding that the 37- year-old mbs would be in power for decades to come. Domestic reforms continued, with the economy growing at its fastest pace in 10 years and an overhaul of the judiciary in which secular laws were introduced. 

But it remains to be seen whether the Saudi attempt to project soft power through investment, tourism and global events will help the kingdom to change its image. Erratic foreign policy might have been tamed but many are still being imprisoned for transgressions as minor as posting critical tweets. Rehabilitating the kingdom’s reputation still has a long way to go.


11

Spain
With popular destinations at home and big hitters in culture, Spain remains a serial charmer .

Last June, Madrid hosted a pivotal Nato summit at which members resolved to transform and strengthen the military alliance. Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, recently seems to be raising a more assertive voice at every key European debate; at the summit, he showed the world just why Spain’s soft-power war chest is best wielded on home turf. Good food, warm weather and friendly faces have always been a persuasive recipe for charming hearts and minds but powerful politicians weren’t the only ones getting their fill this year. Spain’s tourism industry has almost returned to its pre-pandemic heights, with last September’s visitor numbers up 66 per cent year on year. In uncertain times, popular destinations such as Mallorca, Barcelona, Madrid, Ibiza and Valencia, which was the 2022 World Design Capital, are being embraced again like reliable, fun-loving friends.

While the country is busy wooing visitors at home, some standout exports have been making waves abroad. Last March flamenco-inspired songstress Rosalía dropped her latest album, Motomami, and went on tour, reminding audiences that Spain often strikes the right tone between trends and tradition. Celebrity chef and activist José Andrés was the subject of Disney documentary We Feed People, directed by Ron Howard, following his endeavours to supply meals to crisis-hit areas. As Rafael Nadal enters the twilight of his tennis career, 19-year-old sensation Carlos Alcaraz won the US Open, becoming the youngest male winner of a Grand Slam tournament. All eyes are now on Spain’s World Cup squad in Qatar to see whether it can repeat 2010’s success. And though it lasted just a few minutes, actor Úrsula Corberó’s charismatic appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in the US shows how getting a Hollywood agent (and a role in a popular Netflix show) can do wonders for your country’s reputation.

In numbers:
Visa-free travel: to 191 countries
World Heritage Sites: 49

Good: After decades of Eurovision disappointment, Spanish singer Chanel came a respectable third place in 2022. Fewer ballads and more bangers, por favor!

Bad: While Javier Bardem’s new film The Good Boss received international acclaim, Spanish cinema disappointingly seemed to pack fewer punches this year.


12

Norway
A major player in global peace-making despite its small size and a driver of the green transition .

Ever since Norway facilitated the Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestine in 1992 and 1993, the country has retained a high profile in the sphere of international peace-making. It continued in that vein in January 2022, hosting talks with the Taliban regime that pushed for improved human rights and access to schools for girls in Afghanistan. The country’s reputation as a neutral facilitator might run into trouble in future years, however, as Russia blames a collective West, represented by Nato, for provoking its illegal war in Ukraine. A founding member of the military alliance, which currently has Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg at its helm, it might no longer be regarded as an entirely neutral party by certain countries. 

In a smart soft-power move to counter the current hard-power challenges facing the world, Norway will increase its number of diplomats in Bucharest, Kyiv and Vilnius (where the embassy will also cover Belarus), as well as at its EU mission in Brussels. The country is still a liberal, egalitarian state that scores highly in global quality-of-life rankings and has also emerged as a key driver for the transition to a greener future. Successive governments have tried to decrease the harmful effects of Norway’s sizeable oil and gas output by taxing carbon emissions. The country also allocates as much as €285m a year to fighting global deforestation.

Meanwhile, Norway continues to press forward on the cultural front, with two major openings this year: the Munch museum, located just 10 minutes by foot from Oslo Central Station, and the new National Museum building in Vestbanen, billed as the largest museum in the Nordics, which houses the state’s public collection of art, architecture and design objects. Both are well worth a visit.

In numbers:
Years until pledged carbon neutrality: 8
Visa-free travel: to 188 countries

Good: Norway has been effectively refocusing its diplomatic efforts in areas considered crucial to protecting liberal interests from Russian aggression.

Bad: The government’s failure to set out a timeline for phasing out the oil and gas industry seriously dents Norway’s otherwise exemplary green credentials.


13

Portugal
The sun-soaked nation continues to capitalise on its reputation as a consummate host.

Portugal has long been winning friends with its sunny approach to statecraft. Smart visa programmes, investment opportunities, progressive politics and a healthy dose of vitamin D (Lisbon enjoys more than 300 days of sun a year on average) make this European nation attractive for those seeking to put down roots. Over the past year there was a 5.6 per cent increase in the number of foreigners moving here. Portugal’s buzzy capital is well served by air connections to both sides of the Atlantic, along with direct routes to Brazil and Africa. This, paired with Portugal’s commitment to the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, has cemented its relationship with nations across the Lusophone world.

Portugal knows how to be a good host. Its hospitality industry has grown into one that is proud of its national heritage and hoteliers continue to see the appeal of a place that is blessed with natural beauty and culture. In November the country took home 12 World Travel Awards. So it’s unsurprising that international players keep choosing Portugal to host their flagship events. In autumn 2022 the Websummit technology conference brought a record 71,000 attendees to Lisbon, while blockbuster productions such as House of the Dragon and the latest Fast & Furious film have been shot here. Meanwhile, the country’s national drink vinho verde (“green wine”) is finally catching on abroad.

That said, brand Portugal could do with a refresh. A newly announced deal between Portugal, Spain and France to build a gas pipeline to carry hydrogen and other gases could be a game changer as the energy crisis deepens, enlarging the country’s role in helping the continent achieve energy independence. There are ongoing issues with flagship air carrier Tap, as well as slow innovation and investment in national railway CP, so infrastructure needs to be at the top of the government’s list in 2023.

In numbers:
Foreign-aid budget: €380m
World Heritage Sites: 17

Good: Portugal consistently ranks in the top 10 of the Global Peace Index. This year’s position at number six is a testament to its smart politics and quality of life.

Bad: Portugal shouldn’t let those from abroad dictate the cost of living. It’s great that Lisbon is buzzing with recent arrivals but locals need to be able to afford to live there too.


14

Canada
Despite the reputational damage of the Freedom Convoy, the country retains its cultural reach .

Canada’s sense of its soft power and perceptions of the country abroad were shaken at the beginning of 2022 when thousands of right-wing protesters imposed a three-week blockade of its capital city, Ottawa, to demonstrate against coronavirus restrictions and the government of the Liberal prime minister, Justin Trudeau. The so-called “Freedom Convoy” inspired copycat convoys around the world – not a trend that any nation would hope to be responsible for setting. As in other countries that have suffered upheavals fuelled by conspiracy theories, several domestic politicians have dispiritingly pandered to the demonstrators’ less palatable views in an attempt to turn the country’s focus inwards. Canada’s newly elected Conservative party leader, Pierre Polievre, who is widely regarded as a potential future prime minister, has already stated that he would ban government officials from attending the World Economic Forum in Davos if he comes to power.

Beyond politics, however, Canada has enjoyed some significant successes. In March, Toronto’s De Havilland Aircraft of Canada announced an update to its distinctive yellow-and-red CL-series line of water bomber planes, existing fleets of which were deployed across Europe this summer to fight wildfires. Elsewhere, Canada continued to expand its role as a major international production hub for television and film. Among the companies that have expanded their presence there are Amazon and Netflix, with new production and administrative outposts in Toronto and Vancouver. 

In sport, Canada has achieved success beyond the winter sports that it has traditionally been known for. The men’s football team’s qualification for Qatar 2022 marks its first appearance at a World Cup since 1986, boosting the sport’s popularity at home, which will be in the spotlight in 2026 when Canada will host the tournament alongside the US and Mexico.

In numbers:
Embassies abroad: 145
Olympic medals at Tokyo 2020: 24

Good: Thanks, in part, to a refreshingly progressive immigration policy, Canada is a young and diverse nation, with all of the dynamism that brings.

Bad: In recent years the country – long known as the US’s milder-mannered neighbour – has begun to import some of America’s divisive culture wars.


15

Greece
The nation’s bounceback from economic malaise continues with its tourism industry booming .

Greece’s tourist figures for 2022 are on course to surpass those of 2019, which was itself a record year, with 34 million people expected to visit this sun-kissed country of 10 million and spend at least €18bn. The holiday season seems to last longer here: by the end of November, 2019’s air-ticket numbers had already been smashed. But mass tourism isn’t all euros and roses. The resulting huge demand for rooms and rapid expansion of Airbnb have contributed to a rise in property prices of more than 40 per cent in the past four years, squeezing the purchasing power of the local population.

Athens continued its renaissance from a somewhat down-at-heel port to a flourishing cultural centre with the renovation of its National Gallery in 2021. This year the Parthenon “Fagan fragment” from Palermo was permanently returned to the Acropolis Museum. After years of economic malaise, Operation Rebrand is in full gear in the Greek capital, which in three years’ time will have its first skyscraper: the “green” Riviera Tower that will loom 200 metres above the sea in Hellinikon. And there’s also good news for the capital’s commuters: the Athens Metro will soon be expanded with the new Line 4.

But Greece’s economic recovery is taking place in a challenging geopolitical environment. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has escalated his bellicose rhetoric in the eastern Mediterranean, even questioning the sovereignty of Greek islands such as Samos, which has seen flyovers by Turkish military aircraft on several occasions this year. In response, Greece has focused on diplomacy, signing a defence pact with France in September 2021 and upgrading its role within Nato by transforming the northern port of Alexandroupoli into a strategic hub for the transfer of troops and weapons systems to the east.

In numbers:
World Heritage Sites: 18
Embassies abroad: 83 

Good: Greece has always been a tourist hot spot but in recent years its cities, beaches and mountains have proved increasingly irresistible to travellers.

Bad: A wiretapping scandal stained the image of the Greek government and forced its prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, to make changes to its intelligence service. 


16

Sweden
Long a beacon of progressivism, the Nordic nation has abruptly shifted rightwards .

The largest of the Scandinavian countries has for decades been considered a stable and peaceful nation with sensible, decidedly moderate governance at its core. This year, however, Sweden lurched to the political right with a new conservative-led coalition that is dependent on the far-right Sweden Democrats, a party that the mainstream had previously shunned as a result of its neo-Nazi past.

The new government ran on a ticket to crack down on violent gang crime, which has risen rapidly in recent years, further denting Sweden’s reputation as a peaceful, open democracy. Its choice to scrap the stand-alone Ministry of the Environment and incorporate its responsibilities into the Ministry of Energy, Business and Industry has also raised eyebrows. After all, Sweden was the first country to pass an environmental protection act in 1967 and is home to one of the world’s best-known environmentalists, Greta Thunberg, who presciently warned during the election campaign in September that the climate crisis was being “more or less ignored” and “reduced to an issue about energy”.

Despite this apparent shift in priorities, several Swedish industry giants are continuing to press ahead with their green agendas. Volvo and electric-vehicle battery giant Northvolt have announced ambitious plans for several sites to produce power packs for both personal and commercial cars. 

Culturally, the nation of about 10.5 million people hasn’t stopped punching above its weight. Perhaps most notably, 2022 saw the return of musical behemoths Abba – at least, virtually – with their digital “Abba-tars” performing at the purpose-built Abba Arena in London. Less visible but entirely real is Swedish hit-maker Max Martin, who in the past year produced and wrote smash hits for major international artists such as The Weeknd, Lizzo and Måneskin.

In numbers:
Visa-free travel: to 190 countries
Entries in top 100 of QS World University Rankings: 2

Good: In the past decade, Sweden has taken steps to gear the economy towards a green future and is now ranked third in the EU’s Eco-Innovation Index.

Bad: A coalition that is dependent on parliamentary support from a far-right party with an ugly neo-Nazi past does not augur future stability for the country. 


17

Finland
As neighbouring Russia rattles its sabre, Finland is punching above its weight as a diplomatic force.

The tumultuous twin challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine have left Finland in a stronger position. Under the steady leadership of its young, female prime minister, Sanna Marin, who has quickly established herself as a soft power icon in her own right since assuming power in 2019, the country adopted a business-friendly lockdown policy that focused on keeping society open and businesses running, while managing to achieve one of the lowest infection and fatality rates in the West. 

When Russia invaded Ukraine, the country resolutely abandoned its long-standing policy of neutrality and moved towards Nato membership. At the same time, its skilful diplomats negotiated defence pacts with the UK and US, sending a clear signal to Russia. For a small Nordic nation, Finland’s network of embassies and consulates is surprisingly vast, with recent openings in Dakar in Senegal and Doha in Qatar. 

Despite often topping international rankings in terms of education, happiness and foreign aid, Finland doesn’t shout about its successes. Indeed, Finns still seem convinced that diligently getting on with things is all that it takes to win over hearts and minds around the world. The country could learn a thing or two about bricks-and-mortar soft power along the lines of the Goethe-Institut or Institut Français.

That said, Finland is not without its global icons. Brands such as design company Iittala and Marimekko, which specialises in textiles, clothing and home furnishings, are expanding in North America and Asia, while Santa Claus and pop-cultural characters such as the Moomins are attracting an increasing number of tourists to the country. Still, Finland needs to do more to promote its creative sector abroad, as all too often talented young Finnish designers are overshadowed by heritage names such as Alvar Aalto.

In numbers:
Years until pledged carbon neutrality: 13
Visa-free travel: to 191 countries

Good: Finland’s outsized diplomatic prowess and the goodwill that it enjoys overseas have allowed it to navigate the Ukraine crisis with skill and speed.

Bad: Despite a fertile and distinctive creative scene, the country has so far proved less effective than its Nordic neighbours at selling its culture abroad. 


18

Mexico
Soaring tourism numbers have helped the nation overcome its poor record on crime and coronavirus.

Mexico’s reputation soured in the 1980s and 1990s when its economy buckled and its capital became notorious for sprawl, air pollution and crime – but the country has since enjoyed a renaissance. Chefs such as Pati Jinich and film directors including Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu have helped the country to restore the prestige that it once enjoyed through cultural luminaries Diego Rivera, Luis Barragán, Frida Kahlo, Octavio Paz and others. In 2021 the country welcomed 31.9 million foreign tourists, up from 22.7 million in 2011. Mexico has had great success in promoting its cuisine abroad; tequila exports more than doubled from 164 million litres in 2011 to 339 million litres in 2021.

That this success has come at a time when violent crime has been at historic highs and the country has suffered one of the world’s highest coronavirus death rates is a testament to the appeal of Mexico’s good-time image. Its president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (“Amlo”), made the decision to keep businesses open and place no restrictions on foreign tourism during the pandemic, helping his country become a haven for digital nomads and sun-seekers. His laissez-faire “prohibiting is prohibited” policymaking helped to burnish Mexico’s credentials abroad but came at a high cost for the country’s residents – officially, Mexico City tallied more than 43,000 coronavirus deaths but the true toll is likely to be as many as three times higher.

Amlo has embraced huge infrastructure projects, such as a $20bn (€19.3bn) train service in southern Mexico. He has struggled, however, to deal with violent crime or catalyse economic growth and job creation. For now, Mexico’s celebrities and chefs are helping to preserve the respect and interest that the country has earned over the past decade. But if it wants to maintain this reputation, it will need to direct tourist revenue into solving its endemic problems.

In numbers:
World Heritage Sites: 33
Embassies abroad: 67

Good: Mexico’s vibrant culture and raucous hospitality have made it one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations of the past 10 years.

Bad: The country still suffers from endemic violent crime on a scale that makes many of its regions resemble warzones. Action is needed.


Raising the stakes
How Romania’s tourism authorities turned from Dracula’s henchmen into vampire slayers.

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In the 1970s the Romanian tourism authorities noticed that devotees of Bram Stoker’s Dracula were travelling to Transylvania – but when they arrived, many were disappointed to find nothing at all related to the novel. While Dracula’s fictional castle is located in the Carpathian Mountains, there is little connection between the book and the real Transylvania. Stoker never visited it and had a sketchy grasp of its history. 

The country’s government wasn’t going to let this get in the way of lucrative tourism. It began to promote a Dracula visitor experience centred on two castles. The first was the magnificent Bran Castle, on a site whose fortification dates back to 1212. It was once believed that a Wallachian leader best known as Vlad the Impaler (but also as Dracula) spent time there, perhaps as a prisoner. There is now a consensus among historians that he never set foot in it. 

The second castle, Castel Hotel Dracula, is on a site whose fortification dates back to 1983. It was built by the tourist board after communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu ordered its construction during a hunting trip in the region. Ceausescu, who had been taunted with chants of “Dracula!” on a visit to the US in 1978, apparently didn’t realise what he was signing off on. The hotel attempted to recreate the vampire’s castle precisely as Stoker’s novel describes it but the result is underwhelming. 

The relationship between Romania and its biggest, fakest cultural export has long been fraught. As one research paper put it, the country has been forced to choose between “the historical truth” and “the economic benefits derived from the capitalisation of a foreign myth”. Romania’s current tourism strategy seeks to drive a stake through the heart of the Dracula question. A proposed theme park devoted to the vampire was torpedoed in 2005 and there is a moratorium on the development of further related facilities. But the rationale for this isn’t a concern over the inauthenticity of Stoker’s Dracula. Instead, a national report expresses anxiety that such gauche attractions could alienate the “superior categories” of tourists that the country seeks to court. 


19

Australia
After the lost years of pandemic-related isolation, a change in leadership is reversing its fortunes .

The past couple of years have not been a golden age of Australian soft power. During the coronavirus pandemic, the country walled itself off from the world, even to the extent of locking out thousands of its own citizens. Its government of this period was led by Scott Morrison, a prime minister who seemed to be exactly the sort of provincial dullard who would have been much happier in, say, the 1950s, when neither Australia nor the international community gave each other much thought. 

Both of those things have changed. Australia is once again open for business, though tourists are not yet stampeding back. Arrivals for the year that ended in August 2022 were still down 81 per cent on the last pre-pandemic year. And the country has a new government that does not appear to regard the rest of the planet as a baffling nuisance. Its current prime minister, Anthony Albanese, and new foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, are representative of how Australia prefers to see itself in its more liberal phases. Albanese is an Italian-Irish-Australian from working-class inner Sydney, while Wong is a gay woman who was born in Malaysia. While no politician should be judged on their biography, both project a more open-minded attitude abroad.

The country’s most potent soft-power assets, however, have always been its top-flight sportspeople. Members of the current generation have been notably more willing than their predecessors to speak up about social issues from their lofty platform. Prior to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Australia’s national team, the Socceroos, caused a commendable fuss with a video criticising the host’s record on labour relations and lgbt rights. Most of the world has positive notions of Australia and few hold grudges. There is work to do to make up lost ground but that seems easily achievable. 

In numbers:
Olympic medals at Tokyo 2020: 46
Top-100 companies based on market capitalisation: 2

Good: Australia has wisely decided to significantly increase foreign aid in the Pacific. It should be a regional leader, especially as China takes a closer interest.

Bad: Qantas, Australia’s best-known global brand and flag carrier, has conspicuously struggled to recover from the disruptions of the pandemic.


20

The Netherlands
The world’s unofficial capital of international justice now serves as Europe’s steadying force .

The importance of having a steady hand at the heart of Europe is not to be underestimated and the departure of Germany’s Angela Merkel in 2021 left a void. Step forward Mark Rutte, the EU’s second-longest-serving leader and a familiar face in European diplomacy. While domestic politics in the Netherlands was dogged by months of messy coalition building in 2021, Dutch politicians managed to get their act together and form a government by Christmas, handing Rutte a fourth term in time for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Though southern Europe is wary of Rutte’s frugality, the authority that he brings to the foreign-policy table is widely appreciated.

As host to the International Criminal Court (icc), the International Court of Justice and the Nobel-winning Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, all situated in The Hague, the Netherlands can claim to be the global capital of international justice. After long-running concerns about the icc, its new chief prosecutor, Karim AA Khan, is proving a more effective public face than his media-shy predecessor and events in Ukraine have highlighted the need to hold countries to account. Domestically, however, problems with organised crime continue; heir-apparent Princess Catharina-Amalia was recently forced to move out of her student accommodation after threats were made against her.

But the nation’s cultural exports are thriving, with an insatiable appetite for Van Gogh leading to an explosion of immersive exhibitions across the world. The Dutch also continue to be the go-to architects when it comes to global statement projects, despite a rare blip with London’s Marble Arch Mound in 2021, designed by Rotterdam-based mvrdv. In recent years, Dutch firms have found a niche in floating architecture designed to adapt to rising sea levels, neatly marrying their expertise in water management and modern design at a time when cities are clamouring for climate-proof solutions. 

In numbers:
Foreign-aid budget: €4.8bn 
Visa-free travel: to 190 countries 

Good: The Netherlands has a reputation as an excellent place for both tourists and businesspeople to visit, in large part due to the famed hospitality of its people.

Bad: Tolerance can have negative consequences. The country’s famously permissive society has contributed to an alarming rise in organised crime.


Honourable mentions
Five countries that have impressed and have potential – but also hurdles to overcome.

Turkey
Ankara’s attempt to position itself as a third power between East and West is a shrewd diplomatic move. Its success was evident in Turkey’s hosting of negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. The country has also become a tourist hot spot, with Istanbul the gleaming jewel in its crown. But the rise of the country’s autocratic president, Recep Tayyip Ergodan, has tempered its considerable gains.


Morocco
Rabat has quietly become a serious soft-power force in Africa, using its expertise in chemical engineering to great effect by making 550,000 tonnes of phosphate-based fertiliser available to farmers across the continent as prices soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Like Turkey, the country’s appeal to international visitors continues to grow but a question mark lingers over its annexation of Western Sahara.


Thailand
With the decline of Hong Kong as a regional hub and Singapore still subject to some coronavirus restrictions, now is Bangkok’s moment to assert its regional primacy. Despite infrastructure and traffic issues, the Thai capital offers plenty of fun and culture; as such, it’s a perfect representative of the nation at large. Those aspects of Thai culture that have received traction abroad, notably its cuisine, are well loved. But closer to home, problems of corruption and inequality persist.


Brazil
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s election as president has put the ball back in Brazil’s court after years of the country slipping down (and eventually off) the Soft Power Survey. Its readmittance is not guaranteed, as much will depend on how the president handles his first months in office. But even the mention of this country’s name used to be enough to elicit a smile, so it should be able to earn back the world’s affection.


New Zealand
Once described as a potential “moral superpower”, New Zealand chose the path of isolation, shutting itself off from the world for more than two years, making it almost impossible to get in or out. As such, the things that had brought it kudos and goodwill – a progressive immigration system, tourism and investment – withered and died. After reopening its borders in July, the country will be hoping that all three of those things will pick up again soon. 

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