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Maybe it was the moment Pope Francis shunned the traditional red cape trimmed with ermine for a simple white cassock. Perhaps it was the story of how he rang his old newspaper seller in Buenos Aires to tell him he wouldn’t be coming along to pick up his daily paper anymore because he had this new job in Rome. Or it could have been the countless tales of everyday niceness – there really is no other word – that have so far defined Francis’s papacy.

Maybe it was all these things. Over the past nine months the overarching story about the modern-day Catholic Church has changed from one dominated by sex-abuse scandals to one about how lovely the new Pope is. This is what soft power does: it makes a Jewish atheist like me think better of the Catholic Church.

Leaders can do this; witness the way so many people changed their view of the US once Barack Obama took over from George W Bush. Footballers can do it too. And chefs. And film stars. And artists and musicians and a type of cake and a university professor and an airline and an author and a beach and a new museum director and a friendly diplomat and a breathtaking piece of music. Soft power is all these things and more.

This is the fourth year monocle has carried out its Soft Power Survey in conjunction with the London-based think tank the Institute for Government. Each time we’ve refined the metrics a little: this time around, sport gets a category all of its own. Footballers playing abroad in the top leagues, major events screened around the globe, the competitors and teams that stand out from the crowd – all of these have an impact on how a country is viewed.

The fundamentals, though, remain the same. Nations are increasingly trying to get what they want through attraction rather than coercion: who does it best? Britain, the US and France have all claimed pole position in the past. This year there is a new winner. The big question is whether the new number one can live up to the title. Britain’s ascent to the top spot last year crystalised the country’s strengths. Since then, the halo has slipped a little, with confusing messages from government about whether foreigners are welcome and a sense in foreign ministries around the world that the UK is retreating within itself. It remains a country with enormous soft power though, from the bbc to museums.

It can still host a decent sporting event too. Last May Europe’s biggest football match, the Champions League final, took place at London’s Wembley stadium. No British players were on the pitch though. Two giants from a different country battled it out: Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Tens of thousands of German fans descended on London for the weekend, creating a festival atmosphere rarely seen in the UK at a football match. Both on and off the pitch there was only one winner: Germany.

A hard year for soft power

By Jonathan McClory, Institute for Government

When the number-crunching for this year’s index began it did so under the long shadow of an annus horribilis for soft power. Perhaps the Olympic glow of 2012 provides too stark a contrast but a quick survey of the diplomatic deadlocks, shambolic domestic politics, civil unrest, idle summits and strained relations shows 2013 was a year to forget.

There was a long queue of states lining up to squander their soft power. Turkey, which has done well in tracking up our rankings since our inaugural edition, fell several places as the international community watched a heavy-handed response to protests over Gezi park. The pitched street battles led international audiences – particularly in the West – to reappraise what had been a uniformly rosy image of the country.

The advances of another emerging power have also been checked by widespread social unrest – and at the worst possible time. Brand Brazil has been on the ascent in recent years with the country reaching a peak of 17th in our survey last year. However, preparations for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics were tempered by the civil unrest that boiled over in June. The optimism that has dominated the narrative of Brazil’s rise in recent years gave way to public anger over corruption, growing inequality and questionable government spending priorities. Abroad this has made more people pause and question what Brazil has to say. At least those nations appear to understand the concept of soft power. While Russian leaders have been making public overtures to soft power of late, the government’s actions haven’t matched the talk. From aggressively bullying its neighbours to join a Russian-driven Eurasian Customs Union to banning “homosexual propaganda” and the arrest of Greenpeace’s Arctic 30, Russia continues to keep an iron fist in its velvet glove. Vladimir Putin hoped that hosting the Winter Olympics and the football World Cup would prove Russia is once again a global power but the run-up to both events has been overshadowed by rows over homophobia and racism.

The past 12 months have also been a disaster for US soft power. The federal sequester continues to chip away at the US’s ability to project power – both hard and soft. The government shutdown in October had the world’s leaders, media, and publics agape at the nation’s ability to self-harm. Abroad, the administration’s policies in the Middle East have managed to anger every player in the region. But the biggest blow of the year has come from the Edward Snowden affair. The revelations have sparked condemnation from allies and gifted less-friendly governments a propaganda bonanza.

Despite the setbacks of this year there have been some notable soft-power successes. The EU, more a soft-power institution than hard, has managed to build stronger ties with Ukraine and Moldova through association and trade agreements – trumping Russia’s coercive countermeasures. Following in the footsteps of the EU, the Asean group of nations are finalising implementation plans for a Southeast Asian single market for 2015. Power with other actors is becoming as important as power over them – and Asean’s integration illustrates that the future of global influence rests in these multilateral networks.

A third major soft-power victory this year, the signing of the Arms Trade Treaty by the UN General Assembly, was won through the combined efforts of a coalition of state and non-state actors. In what will no doubt come to serve as a textbook case on the exercise of soft power, a new international norm limiting arms sales – with rules to back it up – is being established. In short, it was soft power checking hard.

As ever, our rankings are meant to serve as a reminder to foreign-policy makers of the importance of understanding the soft-power resources at their disposal. For some, this year’s results should serve as a warning of how ephemeral soft power can be when not looked after. The past 12 months may have lacked a deft touch but future success in international affairs belongs to those that have soft power – and know how to use it.

01- Germany

The circumstances of Germany’s political history and present-day diplomacy have combined to make it the most robust of soft-power practitioners. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the leadership of Angela Merkel: recently re-elected for a third term, she is lauded at home for keeping her country’s nose clean yet maintaining a vital position in the EU and further afield. What’s her secret?

Angela Merkel may be generally painted as a stern taskmaster but it seems she has a softer side – or the country she leads does, at least. Germany’s rise to the top of the monocle/IfG Soft Power Survey should not come as a surprise though. While becoming increasingly civilian – only two years ago Germany did away with conscription – the country is traditionally excellent at pursuing its ideas, values and aims using diplomatic, cultural, and economic tools.

Germany knows how to pull the strings at inter-governmental bodies such as the European Commission. It spreads its values via a worldwide network of Goethe-Instituts and Deutsche Welle, its multilingual television and radio station. Its companies – not just the famous ones such as Porsche and bmw but even its mid-sized “hidden champions” – innovate and manufacture products that are coveted worldwide.

So what can other countries learn from Germany? Probably not much since most of its soft power has historical and cultural roots specific to the nation. “Due to its 20th-century history Germany has lost most of its ‘hard power’: military capacity and legitimacy,” says Wolfgang Jamann, secretary general and chairman of Deutsche Welthungerhilfe, one of the country‘s major ngos. “Economic power became a reasonable substitute. But also a strong civil society emerged from the 1960s and 1970s protest movements and from an increasing consensus-orientation in German society.” Welthungerhilfe thinks this is an effective basis for influencing international policy agendas but is not always utilised well enough.

Perhaps Germany’s strength is more to do with others’ weaknesses. “To some extent Germany appears stronger because others – such as the US, Russia, Italy, France and the UK – have lost their soft power and by implication the prestige they enjoyed,” says Helmut Anheier, dean of the Hertie School of Governance think tank.

Germany remains in the background when things get tough, Anheier argues. “It dodges the hard decisions and hides behind the US, UK and France – see Libya or Syria. So German soft power shines while others do the dirty work.” Demands that the gentle teutonic giant should take on more international responsibility have been heard more frequently recently – not least in the British press. Jamann is not so sure. “In a G-Zero world – where there is no single superpower – global progress is not so much a question of leadership but of strategic alliances.” Germany should keep making the most of strong existing alliances like the EU and look for new ones with emerging economies to move global agendas. Anheier adds that being a soft power does not mean being liked. “Talk to people in Athens,” he says.

But Anheier agrees that Germany has little appetite for hard power: “It is pacifist country at heart. Hence its major investments in soft power approaches – few countries spend more on cultural diplomacy and promotion.” Indeed, numerous agencies such as the Franco-German Youth Office and the German/French programme Arte have worked at building personal and cultural ties between Germany and its neighbours for years.

“German soft power rests on the longer term,” says Anheier. “It is a patient approach that does not rely on party politics and the issues of the day.” This fits Angela Merkel’s wait-and-see style of government rather nicely. Being a cunning diplomat rather than a tough governess has helped her get re-elected with record figures. Germany’s apparent reluctance to lead has been a winning strategy at home.

It works elsewhere, too. Germany is, understandably, wary about projecting a dominant image abroad. But by quietly doing the simple things well, it’s a country that has become a global power the rest of us can feel comfortable with.

02- UK

A close runner-up but the UK has lost its golden glow of last year

A year ago, basking in the post-Olympic glow of a successful Games, the UK was riding high. The economy was still screwed but at least the former empire had finally seemed to have worked out what it stood for and thrown a decent party, too.

It may have been pipped at the post this time around but the UK’s brilliant museums and art galleries, impressive record of hosting sporting events and the work of the British Council still enable this “small island no one listens to” (© V. Putin) to punch above its weight. Alas, the country’s relationship with the rest of Europe and the ongoing effect of bbc cuts could affect its soft power in next year’s rankings.

03- USA

Errors of judgement and a reluctance to lead have put the US on the back foot

It doesn’t matter how many of your films are seen around the world, how many foreign students dream of walking on your campuses or how many medals you win at the Olympics: if you can’t keep your government open, the rest of the world will wonder what’s going on. The US’s global leadership score shot up in 2009 but the rock-star appeal of Barack Obama has long been waning and the “suicide caucus” within the Republican party seems determined to demolish whatever is left.

It’s not just the failure to lead in the Middle East – that would be next to impossible even for a mighty and moral US – it’s the absence of any sort of leadership on the other big issues of the day, such as climate change. As Xenia Dormandy points out on page 124, the US is no longer sure it wants to be the world’s policeman. As our rankings suggest, we’re all beginning to notice.

04- France

Considerable artistic and retail flair aside, the French still need to raise their game

“Western nation sends forces to a Muslim country” is not a story that tends to end well. Judging by the French flags that greeted François Hollande when he arrived in the Malian city of Timbuktu, his move may be the exception. The bumbling Hollande fails to win many points for France elsewhere, though.

And yet luxury retail and art remains at a level that most countries can only dream of – something that helps attract more than 83 million tourists a year – more than any other nation. With 226 Alliance Françaises, only China can boast more cultural institutions (and France’s are far more successful).

France 24 and rfi both provide an alternative to the Anglophone-dominated international news agenda and, as monocle discovered when we went to this year’s Francophone Games, the motherland’s link to the French-speaking world remains strong.

05- Japan

Shrewd economic action and a successful Olympic bid have given Japan new belief

There are two main reasons Tokyo has broken into the top five for the first time: Shinzo Abe and the Olympic Games. Both are surprises. Abe’s first stint as prime minister in 2006 lasted less than a year – he was one of six PMs in six years as Japan’s political elite careered from one crisis to another. Second time around he is a different beast. “Abenomics” has begun to turn the Japanese economy around. As well as garnering good international press coverage, Abe has given Japan a renewed sense of possibility.

After the Fukushima disaster in 2011, the idea of a Tokyo Olympics also seemed pretty remote. But the city was helped by the failings of its opponents (Turkey had its riots, Madrid the financial crash) and an impressive bid team. Hosting the 2020 Games also gives the country something big to aim for over the coming years.

06- Sweden

A model many look to but too few actually copy, Sweden still demands high regard

Once again, Sweden is the leading Nordic nation and the only one in the top 10. It may not lead the medal tables at the Olympics or make blockbuster films but it scores highly on the boring stuff: good governance, education, gender equality.

This is a country that shames its European neighbours when it comes to the thorny issue of asylum, something that Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt discusses on page 56. As last spring’s riots in Husby show, issues surrounding integration remain but Sweden’s stance is something of which it can be proud. The country’s star footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic – the son of a Bosnian Muslim and a Croatian Catholic – would agree.

07- Australia

There’s every danger Australia’s soft power will diminish as it resists change

Where Sweden excels, Australia is less impressive. An island nation where the vast majority of the inhabitants are descended from boat people appears to have a problem with anyone else following in their footsteps. The government has also proved conservative in denying the link between global warming and climate change and coming out against gay marriage.

On the plus side, Australia benefits from world-class cities and a general reputation for happiness that shouldn’t be underestimated. It also does symbols well. The Sydney Opera House, now 40 years old, is instantly recognisable – and a bold and brilliant piece of architecture too. Australia is one of those countries that every young person wants to visit: it has a charm and vibrancy that cannot just be boiled down to beaches and nightlife.

It wouldn’t hurt to have another Kylie (even were such a thing possible), while its sporting achievements aren’t quite as impressive these days – the less said about the cricket and the swimming team’s performance in London, the better.

08- Switzerland

Turbulent times make theaa Swiss reputation for diplomacy a substantial draw

Stick a Swiss flag on something practical and watch the sales rocket. Whether it is watches or fridge freezers, the words “Made in Switzerland” have resonance across the world.

Diplomacy (well, hosting it) is still something the Swiss excel at. In recent months it has been hard to move in Geneva without bumping into a delegation attending peace talks on Syria or nuclear talks with Iran.

For a country with just eight million people, Switzerland can also lay claim to two of Europe’s more impressive cities – places that many foreigners are happy to call home.

Sport may not be their forte and one would struggle to name a famous Swiss actor but, while Switzerland may not produce many great artists, quite a few of their works end up there somehow. Plus, there’s the chocolate.

09- Canada

It has all the right moves but Canada needs to put them in the right order

Canadian-made trains race across Europe, Canadian actors star in Hollywood blockbusters, Canadian singers pepper the international charts. Is it time to take Canada more seriously? Perhaps. Some longstanding problems remain. Its media may have global ambition but it has had little success – when was the last time you scoured the front page of The Globe and Mail?

Then there’s BlackBerry, a mobile giant that threatens to go the same way as Nokia – a brand that we’ll have to explain to our kids unless it can quickly refocus. And let us not forget Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, possibly the first chief of a major international city to feel compelled to explain he does not smoke crack.

Canada has a foreign ministry that understands the importance of soft power – it’s just not entirely clear if they’ve worked out what their strengths are yet.

10- Italy

Free from Berlusconi, Italy has the spirit and culture to become a soft superpower

Congratulations, Silvio Berlusconi. By leaving politics in disgrace you have almost single-handedly lifted Italy into the top 10 for the first time. Under the rule of Italy’s most famous man, the country had become a joke and, in the end, broke. Finances are still fragile and politics volatile but the situation is undoubtedly better than it was 12 months ago.

Italy is the only country that can challenge France when it comes to the triumvirate of food, art and culture. Italy arguably has the upper hand in sport and it also lays claim to an unrivalled fashion industry.

While he’s not Italian and, technically, lives in a different country, a little of Pope Francis’s glow has had an impact on Italy. It says everything about how Italy’s image has changed that Francis, not Berlusconi, is now the country’s biggest personality.

11- Denmark

Their sports may not travel well but Danish TV and design are ubiquitous

A separate category for sport has hurt Denmark. The few it excels at are not exactly the most popular in other parts of the world. (When was the last time you sat down to watch a handball game?) Elsewhere though it remains strong, punching above its weight for a country of just five and a half million.

Its superb, state-funded television and radio are its biggest assets, while it continues to have an outsized impact on the design world. The country’s perceived happiness is also a strength, though, as Michael Booth argues on page 128, this might not necessarily be accurate anymore. The Danes shouldn’t be too disheartened at 11th place in this survey – their capital, Copenhagen, regained top spot this year in our other major index of quality of life. And, of course, we shouldn’t forget about all those little plastic blocks and their role in early childhood development.

12- Spain

Economic gloom has done little to dull Spain’s cultural vibrancy

Spain’s gradual slide down the table has been reversed this year. Despite Madrid’s failure to win the right to host the 2020 Olympic Games, sport is something at which the Spanish excel, particularly when it comes to football. The Spanish government would like to claim the economy is picking up too, though it’s likely the 56 per cent of young Spaniards without a job would disagree.

Yet Spain’s major cities, Madrid and Barcelona, feel in a healthier state than they did a year ago and the tourism business remains strong, with the country’s cultural attractions an enormous draw. At this year’s Frieze Masters in London, it seemed as if every gallery boasted at least one work by Picasso or Miró – a reminder to ascendant cultural potentates that soft power is not always about the here and now.

Watch for airline Vueling to start changing perceptions about discount air travel as well – anything that can improve the sector is an example of soft power at its democratic best.

13- Netherlands

The Dutch are still old masters at civilised city living

An abdication has historically been a cause for alarm rather than celebration. Yet the civilised way in which the Dutch monarchy handled the changing of the guard between Queen Beatrix and her son, King Willem-Alexander, showed both the royal family and the nation they nominally lead in an impressive light.

Amsterdam is a city on the rise, something epitomised by the reopening of the Rijksmuseum earlier this year (see issue 62), while The Hague is cleverly taking advantage of its position as home to so many peace institutions.

The country’s liberal reputation has taken a knock in recent years as Pim Fortuyn then Geert Wilders banged a populist anti-migrant drum, but it is still a nation that pioneered gay marriage, the legalisation of soft drugs and cycle-friendly cities.

14- South Korea

Innovation and industry remain South Korea’s calling card

No one is doing Gangnam Style anymore. South Korea threatened to break into the top 10 last time around, an achievement for which a gentleman called Psy was almost entirely responsible. That it has dropped back to its 2012 position should be no cause for alarm.

The biggest South Korean companies continue to make an international impact and Seoul is a capital city that, traffic problems aside, impresses the 11 million tourists and countless business travellers who use Incheon airport every year. Down in Busan they still build big boats too – the world’s biggest, bought by Maersk this year, have “Made in Korea” stamped on the hull.

One unheralded strength is South Korea’s museums and art galleries, which attract more than nine million visitors a year.

15- Norway

Exporting diplomacy puts Norway at the centre of the global stage

A small team of diplomats can do wonders for a country’s soft power. Norway’s peace and reconciliation unit is working on at least 20 different peace processes and negotiations around the world, giving the small Nordic country outsized influence in the diplomatic sphere (see issue 67). Its military is doing something similar. With an emphasis in its officer training programme on brains rather than brawn, Norway has created a fighting force better suited to Nato missions and UN peacekeeping operations than most other western armed forces.

Steady oil revenues help – this is not a country that fears recession. That’s also enabled Norway to take the lead in humanitarian work. The Norwegian Refugee Council performs sterling aid and development work in some of the world’s most difficult conflicts.

16- Austria

Unbeatable on art and tradition, Austria lacks the human factor

Heritage plays its part in Austria’s soft power. There is the popular cultural history, from Mozart and opera to architecture – few capital city centres can claim to be a Unesco World Heritage site. Then there is the care with which Austria’s craft industries have kept to their traditions, employing apprentices and taking pride in the “Made in Austria” label.

The Red Bull brand, somewhat less traditional, has also boosted Austria’s standing. Whether it’s unbridled success in Formula One, a well-worked association with extreme sports or simply the drink itself, it has become a global brand in a very short time.

Austria is short on living icons though. Felix Baumgartner, the space jumper (sponsored by Red Bull, naturally), briefly threatened to shine but his star has waned over the last 12 months.

17- Singapore

It can maintain its influence, but Singapore needs to diversify

The city state bursts into the top 20, thanks to its strong economy, openness to business and impressive but staid airline. Singapore is unlikely to produce global cultural icons or, for that matter, great sporting champions – in that arena, it’s in the unfortunate position at the moment of being best known as a suspected centre for match-fixing in football. But if Singapore plays to its strengths it can rise higher.

The tiny nation’s big challenges remain the same as ever. It needs migrants, both rich and poor, to invigorate it economically and culturally, yet has trouble on both counts. Hong Kong often seems a more attractive place to live for the wealthy, while in Singapore tensions between poorer new arrivals and locals can make it a tough place for economic migrants to settle.

18- Finland

Finnish design keeps the country on the international radar

While Helsinki regularly beats Stockholm and Oslo in monocle’s Quality of Life survey, Finland is always fourth out of four in the Nordic Soft Power mini league. But compared to the rest of the world, the Finns do pretty well.

Thanks mainly to its capital city, Finland has carved out a niche as a global design leader, while Nokia’s slow demise has not dimmed the country’s capacity to innovate when it comes to technology. Finnair has taken advantage of its geographical position to turn Helsinki airport into a major hub and in Martti Ahtisaari they possess an elder statesman with a degree of clout.

Despite the claims of other Nordic nations, Finland also has the seasonally specific but globally omnipresent big man in the red suit (see issue 68).

19- Brazil

Domestic woes abound but Brazil is still the face of the south

Brazil’s seemingly inexorable rise has stuttered somewhat this year. The riots that lit up more than 100 cities provoked increased concerns over the capacity of the country to deal with the upcoming World Cup in 2014 and the anxiety was topped off by a slowing economy.

That World Cup still offers Brazil its best chance of bolstering its soft power. They will need to make sure they are able to show off far more than sun, samba and soccer though. Get it right and Brazil’s global image could change substantially. For Brazilians, getting it wrong doesn’t bear thinking of.

Its diplomats, despite a couple of stumbles this year, remain the most impressive in the south and, through links with other middle-tier nations, Brazil has become a voice that the US and the EU would be foolish to ignore.

20- China

As its reach grows in Africa, China’s star rises in Europe

In the media battle of the autocratic superpowers, Russia may make the most headlines but China has made the most progress. Xinhua has ousted Reuters as the wire service of choice for many of Africa’s biggest newspapers, while cctv has cunningly bought credibility by hiring the best local television journalists.

Xi Jinping has, so far, focused more on using soft power at home than abroad – the recent high-profile crackdown on corruption is aimed at a domestic audience. But the astonishing rise in the number of Confucius Institutes – China has about as many cultural institutes as Britain and Germany put together – shows its determination in exporting its culture, promoting its languages and asserting its power (see page 76).

21- New Zealand

The nation’s remote location means it still has a long way to go

No change for New Zealand, much to the frustration of those of us who would like to see it rise. Distance is a problem but at least Air New Zealand has a far better reputation than its neighbour Australia’s flag carrier. A recent campaign to attract more European migrants to open businesses suggests New Zealand’s government is aware it needs to up its game. The country heads to the polls in 2014: a focus on how New Zealand sells itself to the rest of the world would be most welcome.

22- Belgium

The centre of European bureaucracy just needs to be loved

Being home to the capital of Europe is a blessing and a curse. It is a seat of power that almost a thousand foreign correspondents call home. The problem is that most of the stories they file don’t show the Belgian capital in the best light: ask a Greek, Italian, Spaniard or Portuguese what comes to mind on the mention of “Brussels”.

Nor is the nation helped by its apparent reluctance to be united. The traditional staples of beer and chocolate help though, as might its promising young football team at the World Cup.

23- Ireland

The Irish pop up everywhere – except for Ireland, it seems

Another nation whose strength is double-edged. The Irish diaspora has long been Dublin’s greatest PR machine but it would be nice if so many young Irish men and women didn’t see their future abroad. Emigration has risen as the financial crisis has taken its toll. The Irish government may believe a corner has been turned – we’ll only know if that’s true when significant numbers of the diaspora come home. St Patrick’s Day celebrations with endless supplies of Guinness will still take place pretty much everywhere.

24- Mexico

More soft-power ambassadors needed to spread the word

A young, modernising president can do wonders for a nation’s brand. Enrique Peña Nieto’s problem is that it will take more than a set of reforms to transform Mexico’s image. Tourism is key: those that do visit the country return home evangelical. It has all the staples: great food and drink, incredible art and culture (both high and low), an engaging population. But we all know the problems – Mexico will have won when there are more news stories about its culture and less about drug crime.

25- Portugal

With its economy in tatters, it could rely more on its looks

A capital with beautiful architecture, endless hours of sunshine, entrepreneurial spirit, attractive people… But Portugal’s economic problems are well known.

Too many of the people needed to turn the country around are fleeing for the relative sanctuary of São Paulo, Luanda and northern Europe. A renewed focus on design and architecture could boost Portugal’s soft power – the nation has traditionally been strong in this area and a new generation of architects and designers are getting noticed.

26- Turkey

In the news for all the wrong reasons but things are looking up

It has not been a good year for Turkey. The crackdown on protestors in Istanbul’s Gezi park, the failure to win the 2020 Olympics and the further disintegration of Ahmet Davutoglu’s “zero problems in the neighbourhood” foreign policy have all led to a bout of introspection. There is still much to celebrate, though. The fallout from Gezi has led to a more open political debate while recent peace talks with the Kurdish pkk offer the chance to end one of the region’s longest-running disputes.

27- Russia

The country whose soft power has the hardest edge

Vladimir Putin’s diplomatic prowess is impressive but using it to support a dictator might not do wonders for his country. Russia is also discovering that winning the right to host major sporting events does not necessarily translate into wall-to-wall soft-power success. The Winter Olympic Games, to be held in Sochi in February, have been clouded by a high-profile campaign against Russia’s homophobic laws. Likewise, the hosting of the football World Cup in 2018 has been blighted by racism within the Russian game.

28- Thailand

Serious political issues but a cultural output to be proud of

Endless white sand beaches and hundreds of islands only get you so far – the Caribbean, for example, is a long way from having a soft-power contender. But Thailand can boast a vibrant film industry and a pop-music scene that, while no J-Pop, is growing throughout the region.

Food figures highly: there is barely a major city in the western world without Thai restaurants. Political problems have held Thailand back in recent years and many challenges remain, but the country is well placed to play a bigger role in the region.

29- Chile

The time could be right for a new Latin American star

A new entry, Chile is one of the few Latin American countries with a growing economy, while its authoritarian past no longer casts a shadow over its politics. President Sebastián Pinera (see page 54) has not made much of an impact abroad but Chile is likely to have a leader with more global appeal next year. Michelle Bachelet, who left office in 2010, will have almost certainly reclaimed the top job by the time you read this. Having spent the intervening years leading a UN body she is well-placed to improve her country’s standing.

30- Poland

All eastern European eyes are firmly on Poland

A series of adverts appeared at airports around Europe earlier this year, featuring a perturbed little boy and the line: “What will you say when your child asks: why didn’t you invest in eastern Poland?” Easy to mock, but it also highlighted the determination with which Poland is trying to build a reputation as a country worthy of investment. It is now 10 years since the EU opened up to the east and Poland has taken advantage of its membership. Poland is seen as an example by other eastern European states.

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