Immediately after Lalisa “Lisa” Manoban, a member of the Korean-pop girl group Blackpink, in an interview casually mentioned her favorite meatball vendors at her hometown train station in Thailand’s Buriram province, sales of the local delicacies spiked by a staggering 1,000 percent. Lisa’s first solo music video album, in which she donned a dazzling traditional Thai outfit, garnered an astonishing 10 million views on YouTube within just two hours. Now that’s soft power!
Lisa’s phenomenal popularity makes her one of Thailand’s prime soft power exports.
Soft power reflects a nation’s international impact through cultural, political, and ideological means. By leveraging its soft power, a nation can strengthen its foreign relations, enhance its international standing, and ultimately – reap economic benefits.
According to the 2023 Global Soft Power Index, compiled by Brand Finance, Thailand ranks 41st out of 121 countries and third in ASEAN. The country possesses immense potential to capitalize on its rich cultural and creative assets, worth an estimated US$42 billion, equal to 8.9% of Thailand’s GDP.
The Thai government has adopted a comprehensive approach to utilizing its soft power in attracting investment, tourism, and trade. Dubbed the “5Fs”, its soft power push encompasses “food, film, fashion, fighting, and festivals.”
Thai cuisine is already renowned worldwide for its unique blend of flavors, spices, and exotic ingredients. In 2022, Thai food exports surpassed US$32 billion, ranking the kingdom 13th in the global food market.
Thailand’s film industry has gained increasing recognition in recent years, with Thai movies frequently selected for international film festivals and often winning awards. The country has long promoted itself as a film location and international production hub while supporting local filmmakers in showcasing their works on global platforms. In 2022 alone, Thailand served as the backdrop for a record-breaking 348 movie projects, generating US$6.4 billion in income for local actors, film crews and other domestic expenditures.
This year, the Thai film “Man Suang,” produced by Be On Cloud studio, made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival. One of the highlights of the film is a Thai traditional Khon dance performance. Assistant Professor Dr. Kwanjai Kongthaworn, Deputy Dean of Faculty of Music and Drama Bunditpatanasilpa Institute of Fine Arts, who supervised the film’s Khon dance training, expressed her elation at witnessing younger generation actors assuming the mantle of promoting Thailand’s ancient cultural heritage.
“Some changes are inevitably required to make classical performing arts more accessible to the public,” Dr. Kwanjai said. “The popularity of the two rising stars in the film will attract more people to become interested in Thai art and music.”
Thailand’s soft power extends to the realm of fashion, where world-famed Thai silk has long been at the heart of the country’s rich sartorial heritage. The Sustainable Arts and Crafts Institute of Thailand (SACIT) has recently taken the bold step of merging “fashion” and “fighting” with the creation of Thai silk boxer shorts, aimed at people practicing “Muay Thai”, the country’s world reknown martial art.
Ms. Sirintip Srimai, Director of Brand Communication and Heritage Craft Management elaborated on SACIT’s plan to expand its new market, combining soft power with hard punches.
“We are seeking collaborations with manufacturers and exporters of Muay Thai boxing shorts,” she said. “By integrating Thai silk into the design, it will not only elevate Thai silk industry but also showcase our cultural distinctiveness and craftsmanship.”
SACIT also aims to combine culture and tourism by providing immersive craft-making experiences for visitors, fostering appreciation for Thai cultural heritage while bolstering economic growth among local communities.
“Sustaining Thailand’s soft power relies on individual efforts,” she said.