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US tops list of countries with the most ‘soft power’

LONDON — The United States has overtaken Britain as the world’s leading “soft power”, according to a survey claiming that US President Barack Obama’s diplomatic moves in Iran, Cuba and Asia have helped to shift global opinion of the superpower.

LONDON — The United States has overtaken Britain as the world’s leading “soft power”, according to a survey claiming that US President Barack Obama’s diplomatic moves in Iran, Cuba and Asia have helped to shift global opinion of the superpower.

The report, which was cited last year by Mr David Cameron as proof of Britain’s global influence, warns that the United Kingdom could drift further down the rankings if it leaves the European Union and loses influence in Europe.

The Soft Power 30 survey uses a range of polling and digital data to measure a country’s appeal on issues ranging from government, culture and cuisine to education, enterprise and the attractiveness of luxury brands.

It showed that the UK (2nd), Germany (3rd) and France (5th) all moved down a place, while the US moved up two places to take the crown. Canada, under its dynamic Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, moved up a place to 4th.

The survey, compiled by Portland, the London PR company, in partnership with Facebook, will be welcomed by Mr Obama, who once said: “Real power means you get what you want without having to exert violence.”

It suggests the US President has moved some way to repairing the damage to his country’s international reputation following the 2003 Iraq war, although perceptions of US foreign policy are still a weakness. The US fares best on ratings around higher education, culture and technological innovation, where the report says it stands “head and shoulders above the rest of the world”. Nonetheless, Mr Jonathan McClory, the report’s author, said: “For the US, taking the top spot suggests a positive return on the investment of a succession of diplomatic efforts the Obama administration has pursued over the past year.”

Britain’s slide to second place does not appear to reflect any negative sentiment created by the EU referendum debate; rather, that it was pipped by a resurgent US. Indeed, the survey saw Britain’s rating rise from last year, driven by a high global regard of institutions ranging from universities, NGOs such as Oxfam or Amnesty International, the BBC and its luxury brands. But the soft power report adds that Britain’s high ratings also reflect its “enviable position at the heart of a number of important global networks”, arguing that no other country has a seat on so many influential organisations. “In this context, a risk exists that the UK’s considerable soft-power clout would be significantly diminished should it vote to leave the EU.”

Among other highly placed countries, Germany remains widely admired as a driving force in European affairs, with strong ratings for its engineering prowess and for Berlin, its culturally buzzing capital.

Canada’s rise up the league table is attributed partly to the election of Mr Trudeau, whose “social media savvy” helped to push up the country’s digital diplomacy rating this year.

Of the top 30 countries in the survey, 18 are from Europe but most have slipped down the ratings, prompting Mr McClory to ponder whether the continent’s economic and refugee crises are harming their global appeal.

In Asia, China, Japan and Singapore all moved up the soft power ratings. But China moved up only to 29th place, held back by low scores for freedom of expression and democracy.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the survey is the entry of Russia into the top 30 at 27th place. The survey argues that a relatively quiet period in Ukraine may have helped Russia’s standing, along with its “deep reserves of cultural soft power”.

Turkey, whose government has been criticised for suppressing press freedom, edged out of the top 30 in 2016. FINANCIAL TIMES

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