Written by Anna Lipscomb
is an integral part of a nation’s culture and identity, as it captures the
essence of its history, traditions, and values. In an era of increasing
movement, globalization, and technology, food can be easily shared with others
across the world, giving rise to “gastrodiplomacy” as an increasingly popular
cultural diplomacy tool used by states to promote nation-building and
nation-branding. However, it remains a relatively understudied topic in
academia. This paper analyzes three case studies of gastrodiplomacy efforts in
Thailand, South Korea, and Taiwan in order to answer the following question: How do gastrodiplomacy efforts by these
three Asian countries compare and contrast to one another? While
gastrodiplomacy is typically associated with cultural diplomacy, this paper
finds that effective implementation and levels of success are heavily
influenced by domestic and international interests, as well as political and
social conditions of a nation. It argues that while South Korea and Taiwan
attempt to replicate Thailand’s relatively successful gastrodiplomacy campaign,
they face obstacles such as lack of public support and political controversies.
Ultimately, these challenges encourage new approaches to gastrodiplomacy, as
countries attempt to redefine their gastrodiplomacy efforts.
In February 2002, The Economist coined the term “gastrodiplomacy” to describe a new effort by the government of Thailand to promote Thai cuisine across the globe, marking the start of state-sponsored food promotion campaigns which scholars such as Paul Rockower have sought to explain. Paul Rockower describes gastrodiplomacy as “winning the hearts and minds through stomachs.” Other scholars including Mary Jo Pham have expanded on this definition, adding that gastrodiplomacy is a “government’s practice of exporting its national culinary heritage as part of a public diplomacy effort to raise national brand awareness, encourage economic investment and trade, and engage on a cultural and personal level with everyday diners.” While the state is the primary actor in gastrodiplomacy, private organizations, businesses, and people are also relevant to the discussion.
The state refers to the government which is frequently initiating, directing, and funding gastrodiplomacy efforts. Private organizations and businesses include restaurant owners and food brands who promote food and gastrodiplomacy activities. In some countries such as South Korea, the government and private sector may have a close relationship. During the Lee Myung-bak administration, which was “self-proclaimed pro-business,” the South Korean government sought to collaborate more closely with the private sector as it undertook its globalization efforts. The “people” refer to domestic and foreign publics. The domestic public includes citizens whose support and public opinion may sway government actions and hold decision makers accountable. The foreign public is the receiving party of another country’s cuisine.
First, this paper will provide an overview of states’ domestic and international rationale for participating in gastrodiplomacy. Then, it will compare and contrast gastrodiplomacy campaigns in Thailand, South Korea, and Taiwan by providing background, explaining implementation, and analyzing the outcomes. Thailand’s campaign is relatively successful and viewed as a model of gastrodiplomacy, while South Korea and Taiwan attempted to follow its footsteps but have fallen short.
Previous research analyzes gastrodiplomacy campaign execution through either a large cross-comparison, as done by Juyuan Zhang, or a focused study on an individual country such as Paul Rockower and Mary Jo Pham. Zhang examines the branding themes and message appeals of gastrodiplomacy campaigns in Japan, Malaysia, Peru, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand and finds that each presents its respective cuisine as healthy, exotic, and natural. Rockower discusses the function of national cuisine as a “niche” area for middle powers to promote its values, as well as specific efforts that Taiwan has undertaken to follow Thailand’s gastrodiplomacy model., Mary Jo Pham explains the benefits of the South Korean gastrodiplomacy campaign in spreading its national brand and encouraging investment and tourism.
However, few studies take into account the broader, unique socio-political conditions and controversies that exist in each country that may have influenced the success of the campaigns. Socio-political conditions and controversies will refer to the current social and political factors that influence effective policymaking and implementation. In many cases, these current factors are influenced by a nation’s history. For example, Thailand was chosen as a case given the global attention and recognition it has received from global audiences for its gastrodiplomacy campaign, serving as a backdrop for future gastrodiplomacy campaigns in Asia. However, it is important to note that the inception of this campaign was influenced by socio-political motivations that will be explored further in this paper. From a historical perspective, Thailand has never been colonized by a Western power; it was invaded by Japan in 1941 but entered into an alliance and did not become a colony of the Japanese empire. Thailand was previously a constitutional monarchy but now has an interim military-affiliated government following a 2014 military coup. South Korea and Taiwan were selected because they initiated their gastrodiplomacy campaigns within two years of each other— in 2008 and 2010, respectively. They also share additional similarities with each other: both are former colonies of Japan, are semi-presidential (Taiwan) or presidential republics (South Korea), and are recognized as “East Asian Tiger” economies for their rapid economic growth and increased standards of living., All three countries may be categorized as middle powers. Rockower describes middle powers as neither great nor small powers, but “face the fundamental challenge of recognition in that global publics are either unaware of them, or hold negative opinions – thus requiring the need to secure global attention.” The previously mentioned similarities are intended to highlight areas in which South Korea and Taiwan, and to a certain extent, Thailand, might share common ground and experiences that shape the way they perceive their position relative to others in the international sphere. However, they still face unique challenges that influence their diplomacy choices.
This paper provides a broader perspective than just a single country but also allows more in-depth analysis on each campaign than Zhang’s six-country approach. Her approach focused primarily on multiple countries’ marketing strategies and overlooked the broader socio-political conditions that influenced such strategies. The paper will also synthesize these three cases together and look for common themes as well as unique challenges. Finally, this paper will conclude with the lessons and implications from each of these cases.
Since a nation’s cuisine is being promoted to foreign audiences, gastrodiplomacy may seem to be a predominately outward-looking practice. There is, however, also a strong domestic component. Pham’s definition of gastrodiplomacy specifically focuses on governments’ role in promoting culinary heritage as public diplomacy abroad, but states must also convince private actors and citizens within a country of the value of gastrodiplomacy and the notion of a unified national cuisine. In an age of globalization, cuisine represents historic identities and associations between food, places, and people at national, regional, and local levels. As a result, cuisine is a unifying factor that reflects a country’s nostalgia for its past and its government’s national attempts at identity-building in the present. However, national cuisine may also be a dividing force, as a gastrodiplomacy campaign may promote just one image of “authentic” cuisine. Nevertheless, gastrodiplomacy can still evoke a sense of national pride and unity around food. For example, South Korea’s Global Hansik campaign intentionally portrays Korean cuisine in a selective, nostalgic light, reminding Koreans of a time before industrialization and modernity. Promoting Korean cuisine abroad is reflective of the promotion of a constructed Korean identity at home.
Gastrodiplomacy also benefits a nation’s domestic economy, especially its tourism industry. Prospective tourists are exposed to other nations’ cuisines at restaurants in their home countries. Their dining experiences can foster a positive association between the cuisine and the culture it represents, thus driving consumers’ desires to visit those places. The official tourism websites of Thailand (tourismthailand.org), South Korea (english.visitkorea.or.kr), and Taiwan’s official tourism (eng.taiwan.net.tw) all feature easy-to-navigate information about food tours and food information. As of December 2018, The Tourism Authority of Thailand provides a tool for users to search for recommended restaurants based on “lifestyle” (street food, all you can eat, romantic dining, and Michelin), category (containing specific preferences such as waterfronts, gay-friendly, or budget restaurants), cuisine, destination, price, and tourism standards (such as Halal), and keywords. It also features two structured food tours called “Chiang Mai Cafe Hopping” and “Famous Bites in Bangkok Old Town.” Meanwhile, the Korea Tourism Organization dedicates an entire tab to “Food” with an introduction to Korean food, what and where to eat, how to cook, recommended food columns, and dining for vegans, vegetarians, and halal customers. Finally, as of December 2018, the Taiwan Tourism Bureau features similar information on Taiwanese cuisine (gourmet guide, snack guide, local specialities, and Taiwan’s Michelin restaurants), as well as planned snack/night market/food tours in cities such as Lugang, Taipei, Kaohsiung, Keelung, Hsinchu, Taichung).
The structures of these three websites reveal differing motivations. Instead of limiting them, the Thai site expands the options that tourists have available to them in terms of food. The Korean site, on the other hand, is more focused on educating people on Korean food. Meanwhile, the Taiwanese site seems to be a mix of both with information on Taiwanese food culture and planned activities to experience Taiwanese cuisine in Taiwan.
Since gastrodiplomacy focuses on building a nation’s image through the spread of its cuisine, it fits under the broader notion of “cultural diplomacy,” which is the cultural exchange among different nations and peoples in order to promote better understanding of one anothers’ similarities and differences. Gastrodiplomacy fulfills this purpose because people in all countries can relate to cuisine even though cuisines may vary from one place to another. For example, Korean food may seem foreign to an American audience, but gastrodiplomacy can lead foreigners to develop an appreciation for it when they learn more about it. The use of cultural diplomacy to advance state interests is particularly useful and expected behavior of middle power states. According to Mary Jo Pham, gastrodiplomacy allows middle powers, such as South Korea, to distinguish themselves in the eyes of foreign consumers by creating a “positive” and “palatable” image of their national brand. Paul Rockower echoes this sentiment, emphasizing that gastrodiplomacy provides an opportunity for under-recognized, middle power nations to increase their cultural visibility and enhance their national brand. Cultural visibility is particularly significant to the case of Taiwan because it lacks diplomatic recognition from most countries.
Investing in food promotion abroad offers an opportunity for nations to spread awareness of their cuisines as well as meet a rising demand and growing international market. Studies show that Millennials spend 44% of their food dollars on eating away from home, meaning that gastrodiplomacy can access this generation and their spending power. Furthermore, the Strategy for Globalization of Korean Food (Plan) by the South Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries reports that in 2009, the global food market was worth $438 billion, which is more than both the automobile and IT service industries. As a result, gastrodiplomacy campaigns create an incentive to not only spread culture globally but also tap into the booming food industry.
Finally, developing a national, cultural brand allows nations to empower their diasporic and ethnic communities abroad who may help fulfill gastrodiplomacy objectives or unite around a shared national cuisine. When the South Korean government implemented its gastrodiplomacy campaign, members of the Korean diaspora community were also opening restaurants and developing Korean food (such as Korean fusion) abroad. Engaging diasporic communities and national cuisine abroad also contribute to economic growth, as restaurants and chefs abroad purchase specific ingredients for their dishes.
Case 1: Thailand – First Model of Gastrodiplomacy
In the discourse of gastrodiplomacy in Asia, Thailand serves as one of the earliest examples and as an ideal case study due to its relatively successful promotion of its cuisine abroad from the early 2000s through the present.
Origins of the Thailand’s Gastrodiplomacy Campaign
Thailand’s gastrodiplomacy began in early 2001 as part of a Thai government’s effort to brand Thailand as the “Kitchen to the World” and “The food basket of Asia.” At the time, there were only around 5,500 Thai restaurants abroad, but this plan sought to increase the number to 8,000 restaurants by 2003. Under the name of the “Global Thai Campaign,” this gastrodiplomacy campaign was just one of multiple national projects related to food, fashion, health, culture, and tourism aimed to create a positive image of Thailand abroad and draw attention away from negative stereotypes associated with Thailand’s sex tourism. Therefore, the Global Thai Campaign is placed in a political, post-colonial context, in conjunction with other culture-promoting initiatives, to change Thailand’s image abroad and market itself as an ideal travel destination and unique culture. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Commerce, and Ministry of Labor were among the government ministries involved in the implementation of the campaign.,
Execution of Thailand’s Gastrodiplomacy Campaign
Thai gastrodiplomacy has been implemented in multiple ways, however, one theme has remained consistent: the role of the Thai government in conceptualizing and enforcing its campaign abroad. Multiple groups in Thailand were involved in the implementation including the Export Promotion Bureau, Ministry of Commerce, media and advertising organizations, as well as finance and education support. First, it created “Thai Select”, which certifies overseas Thai restaurants as “authentic” and of “high quality” based on inspections and criteria such as being open for at least a year, operating at least five days a week, being certified by Visa or American Express credit card companies, employing Thai chefs with Thai cooking backgrounds, using materials and equipment from Thailand, and offering at least six Thai dishes on the menu. These standards reveal the government priorities regarding Thai restaurants— to be operational and accessible, convenient for foreign audiences (who may prefer to use credit card payments), and “Thai” in its employee demographics, educational backgrounds, methods, and food offerings. This gives the Thai government more control over the image and quality that restaurants abroad are projecting and ensures that the restaurants receiving government funding and loans align with the image of Thailand that the government hopes to project. Likewise, it also helps promote standardization and consistency across Thai restaurants.
Another method used by Thailand to promote its food abroad is by training Thai chefs to work abroad, which had been supported by special visa arrangements with other countries so chefs could get work visas. For example, New Zealand has a special visa issued specifically to chefs from Thailand to promote Thai food. The “Thai Chefs Work Visa” allows Thai citizens who are also qualified, experienced Thai chefs to work in New Zealand for up to 3 years and are eligible for a one year extension. The Thai Chefs Work Visa is a sharp contrast to the visa process in other countries such as the United States, where there is not a specific visa for chefs – let alone from Thailand— and can vary depending on the nature of the job. Efforts by the Thai government to facilitate training and sending chefs abroad not only allow Thai citizens to experience another culture, but it also provides opportunities for those who may have received culinary training from government programs to go abroad and spread Thai cuisine.
Results of Thailand’s Gastrodiplomacy Campaign
Overall, Thailand’s gastrodiplomacy campaign is highly-regarded for its ability to increase the number of Thai restaurants abroad from around 5,500 in 2001 to over 13,000 in 2008. According to Sarunya Lertputtarak, this increased presence of Thai food and culture abroad can provide a good cultural experience by foreigners and increase tourists’ intentions to visit or revisit Thailand. Likewise, through interactions between tourists and restaurant owners, Thai restaurants positioned themselves as spaces to teach Thai culture and treat customers in a polite, friendly manner that increased customer satisfaction towards Thailand and Thai food. This success has inspired other nations to use national cuisine to advance their interests, while also spurring broader, deeper engagement via gastrodiplomacy between Thailand and other countries.
Even though Thai gastrodiplomacy began in 2001, it continues to be a priority today. In May 2018, the Bangkok Post reported that the ‘Kitchen of the World’ campaign is getting a reboot, citing the Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak’s speech at the Thaifex: World Food of Asia convention emphasizing the need to boost food exports and get Thai food products up to international safety and hygiene standards, as well as continue supporting Thai restaurants abroad. The continued advancement of Thai cuisine abroad and increasing food exports can be observed in the activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Thai missions abroad. Using the featured stories under “Social & Culture News” on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand, multiple trends emerge that provide insight into Thailand’s gastrodiplomacy efforts. Figure 1 in Appendix A shows a time-series graph of the number of articles published per month under this category of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand’s website, as well as a list of the articles found. Articles were selected based on keywords such as “food,” “gastronomy,” and “cuisine.”
From the period of January through December 2018, over 36 news releases contained keywords such as “food” and “gastronomy” in conjunction with events, festivals, and other activities related to Thai missions abroad. At the time of this research, only posts from 2018 could be retrieved on the site. Over half of them of them were published in the months of May (20%) and June (34%). Given that these two months are popular times for travel and tourism, it may suggest that Thailand is purposely promoting itself abroad in the early summer in order to appeal to prospective tourists abroad. The scope of these events range from the Thai Ambassador to Kuwait giving an interview on the TV program “With Ambassador” to introduce Thai dishes to the Kuwait audience to Thai night markets and street food in the United Arab Emirates., At least seven engagements were in collaboration with other countries or groups such as Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at the ASEAN Bazaar, held in the residence of the Thai ambassador in Buenos Aires or at the ASEAN Food and Culture Festival in Brasilia.,
A majority of the recent efforts mentioned are not in the United States or Western European countries— many were instead in countries such as Brazil, Japan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Poland. Given that the early campaign focused more on the United States and other Western countries, current activities suggest that the Thai government is broadening and deepening the scope of its gastrodiplomacy campaign beyond Western countries and restaurants to other nations.
One factor that may have influenced this shift from Western to non-Western countries as a target of Thai gastrodiplomacy efforts are the worsening relations between Thailand and Western countries following Thailand’s 2014 military coup and resulting military government. On May 22, 2014, former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement condeming the Thai military on the suspension of its constitution and seizure of government, expressing concerns for the detainment of senior political leaders, freedom of press, human rights, and democracy. He also emphasized the negative implications that the coup will have for the U.S.-Thai relationship and relationship between the two militaries. The Secretary-General of the United Nations also issued a statement expressing its concern for the situation in Thailand, urging parties to refrain from violence and preserve human rights. Finally, the Council of the European Union issued its conclusions on Thailand, explaining that it has re-evaluated its engagement with Thailand, suspended official visits to and from Thailand, and refused to sign the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement until a democratically elected government is restsored. The impact of this diplomatic fallout from the 2014 military coup in Thailand and establishment of a military government on Thai public diplomacy efforts warrant further attention in future studies.
Case 2: South Korea
Origins of South Korean gastrodiplomacy
Inspired by the success of Thailand and other gastrodiplomacy campaigns in the region, South Korea officially announced the Global Hansik Campaign at the 2008 Korean Food Expo with the objective of promoting Korean food as a leading ethnic cuisine in the world by 2017. In 2009, steps were taken to implement it with the Hansik Foundation Act and Hansik Globalization Development Agency, in which 36 members from government, academia, and food industry executives including former First Lady Kim Yoon-ok took part. Similar to Thailand, South Korea’s gastrodiplomacy campaign was an intra-governmental effort but key ministries were the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.,
Furthermore, the campaign was consistent with other political goals at the time such as former President Lee Myung-bak’s “Global Korea” strategy, which sought to forge closer ties between the government and the private sector, increase South Korean soft power abroad, and advertise South Korea as a global brand. The Global Hansik campaign fits within the scope of Global Korea because it advances those goals as the private business expertise and activities assist in the execution of the Hansik campaign abroad.
South Korean gastrodiplomacy also serves as a means of nation-building and promoting a selective interpretation of the Korean identity. Royal court food from the Joseon dynasty was selected as the representative of Korean foodabroad due to its historical significance as traditional cuisine passed down over generations and containing ingredients from many parts of the country, as well as its ability to forge Korean nationalism by creating a refined image of a sophisticated, noble Korea. Kim also asserts that using court food from the Joseon dynasty allows the South Korean government to bypass darker periods of Korean history such as Japanese colonial rule, American occupation, the Korean War, and the division of Korea and instead promote a more positive image.
The Implementation of the Global Hansik Campaign
The Global Hansik campaign was implemented in a similar manner to that of Thailand. Like Thailand’s campaign, it focused on the health aspects of national cuisine. The South Korean government branded Korean food with the following characteristics: natural ingredients and recipes, health and well-being through organic, fermented, and environmentally-friendly food such as kimchi and soy sauce, and low calorie diet using mainly vegetables and seafood as opposed to meat. Although meat-heavy Korean food such as Korean barbecue exist and are popular abroad, it seems that the South Korean government is instead choosing to focus the attention of the campaign on the healthier aspects of Korean food.
Like Thailand, South Korea has also hosted multiple overseas events to promote its cuisine. For example, in 2011, the Korean Food Foundation (now known as the Korean Food Promotion Institute) collaborated with nine NYC Korean restaurants to drive a food truck around New York City and give out free Korean lunches. This event brought Korean food to new American audiences who might not otherwise try Korean food themselves. The Global Hansik campaign also created the “K-Food Supporters Alliance” which invites foreign university students in Korea to participate in food tastings, food tours, and other cultural events with the hope that they will return to their home countries and spread their knowledge of Korean food and culture.
A defining characteristic of Korean gastrodiplomacy is that it capitalizes on the growing popularity of the Hallyu wave (Korean wave), which is responsible for the mass spread of Korean pop culture, music, and film/TV across the world and enhanced South Korea’s image as a culture producer and exporter. Around the same time as the gastrodiplomacy campaign, the South Korean government also invested heavily in building up and exporting K-pop. In the 2013 fiscal year, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism allocated 319 billion won (USD $286.4 million) to support Hallyu assistance and grants, with 8.7 billion won (USD $7.8 million) specifically for promoting Hallyu, revealing the importance that the South Korean government places on Hallyu and K-pop. Therefore, the Global Hansik campaign is in addition to the broader Korean wave that can benefit from the growing awareness of Korean culture as a result of Kpop.
For example, Hansik.org, the main website of the KFPI, features a ‘K-Food Collaboration Album’ of Korean food-themed music by Korean artists such as Jay Park, Electro Boyz and Big Star, Teen Top, and ZEA:A available for the public to download. The site also has interviews and video clips with K-pop idols promoting food such as “Super Junior promotes Korean Bibimbap.” Zhang refers to the use of local celebrities and figures as the “opinion leaders strategy.” Drawing a connection between Korean entertainment and the government gastrodiplomacy campaign reveals government-business collaboration as government pays the Korean entertainment industry to use its global popularity and name brand recognition to help in the campaign.
Korean gastrodiplomacy and Hansik campaign is also reflected in Korean TV and film culture as well. An early example of using television to expose audiences to Korean food was the 2003 Korean drama “Jewel in the Palace” (Dae Jang Geum), which was exported to over 91 countries and showed traditional Korean cooking and culture. More recent shows include Let’s Eat (Siksyareul Habsida) (2013) and Flower Boy Ramen Shop (Kkotminam Ramyeongage) (2011). Using tools such as social media and TV shows may prove to be an effective way to promote Korean cuisine abroad because it is creating interest “organically” through culture and the Hallyu wave rather than through state-sponsored efforts. A study by Kim et al. found that Korean TV food dramas increase international viewers’ recognition of Korean food and Korean traditional culture and leads to an improved perception of South Korea’s national image after directly experiencing Korean food. The Korea Tourism Organization has collaborated with notable chefs and Korean entertainment stars to develop food tours and combine Korean food culture with TV. Packaging Korean food alongside Korean pop culture creates indirect associations between the two and can be another inspiration for foreigners to travel to Korea to try Korean food. While some of the celebrities featured may be top Korean chefs, many of them are not in the food industry but instead film, music, and TV stars who are not necessarily experts in Korean cuisine.
Promoting Korean cuisine to the world with celebrity promotions and advanced cooking classes comes at a hefty price of nearly $1 billion. Although the stated key objective at the start of the Global Hansik campaign was to raise Korean cuisine as among the top five ethnic cuisines in the world by 2017, determining whether the campaign met this is a challenge as critics argue it is unmeasurable. Financial Times correspondent Christian Oliver’s criticized the Hansik campaign for lacking breadth and argued that Korea is “seeking to quantify the unquantifiable” since no objective, official international ranking system exists to determine the most popular ethnic cuisines and whether South Korea is among them. Without an effective method of measuring progress and achievement, the South Korean government is, in a sense, seeking to fulfill an unreachable goal, which could jeopardize the gastrodiplomacy campaign if the large amount of resources cannot be justified or defended politically.
While the impact of the campaign on the global scale is unclear, it still made an impact on a more local level. A survey by the South Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs found that the percentage of New Yorkers who were aware of Korean food increased from 24.2% in 2011 to about 64.3% in 2016. It also found that more Korean restaurant franchises have opened up overseas, from 234 restaurants by 41 chains (2012) to 732 restaurants by 73 chains (2016). While these numbers look promising, they do not reveal the inefficient allocation of time and resources associated with the project. The South Korean National Assembly Budget Office (NABO) reported that around 23 billion won (USD $20.65 million) had been spent on it, and that after the campaign was pushed, similar projects by different organizations arose, leading to inefficiency and a waste of funds. The Global Hansik campaign cost the South Korean government a large amount of money that was being used ineffectively and only yielded limited results, which negatively influences domestic public opinion towards the project and makes it difficult to justify its costs for the continuation of gastrodiplomacy activities.
Finally, political controversy and corruption charges against South Korean politicians and business conglomerates have negatively impacted the image and effectiveness of the Global Hansik campaign as well. Although the campaign started under the Lee Myung-bak administration, it continued under Park Geun-hye. After she was arrested and jailed for corruption, others close to her were also investigated and charged including Cha Eun-taek, an influential figure in the Korean culture scene as an ad film director who had produced some content for the Hansik campaign. These arrests, although not directly related to the Global Hansik campaign, created a negative public perception toward the Ministry of Culture and related departments. Former president Lee Myung-bak was also indicted for embezzlement and bribery, and former First Lady Kim Yoon-ok, who was a leading figure in the Hansik campaign, also faced investigation. Given the large role that Lee and Kim played in promoting Korean globalization and the spread of Korean culture and cuisine abroad, these scandals exacerbate the criticisms of Korean gastrodiplomacy and overshadow its achievements.
Despite the controversies of its first campaign, South Korea shows signs of a re-launch of its Global Hansik campaign, with the appointment of Yoon Suk-ja as the new Chairperson of the Korean Food Promotion Institute in 2016. Before assuming this role, she already had a strong culinary profile from her experience as a teacher at multiple culinary institutes, involvement in overseas fairs and major summits, and success of her book, The Beauty of Korean Food: With 100 Best-Loved Recipes, which has been published in eight languages. Among her priorities are standardizing the names of Korean dishes in major languages, promoting both traditional court food and more creative, “contemporary” foods, and educating Korean chefs who can be sent overseas. The previous experience from the old campaign offer knowledge and lessons about global markets that can be useful. The 2009 Strategy for the Globalization of Korean Food found that some of the cultural factors and obstacles that Korean restaurants serving foreigners abroad faced included having an excessive number of side dishes, unsanitary communal utensils, communication difficulties, and the lack of images and explanations of items on the menu.
Todd English, an American celebrity chef told The Korea Herald, “[The Global Hansik campaign] was too ethnic. It wasn’t fun. People (American consumers) didn’t understand it… It was too serious, you got Americans the wrong way.” English explains that Korean food should market its health benefits and encourage more Korean fusion. Lee Chang-il, the deputy director of the Food Industry Promotion Division in the Ministry of Agriculture, says that “Korea should give its campaign to globalize its food more time to succeed” and assures that the government will continue to globalize Korean food and support the private sector in globalizing Korean food without telling it what to do.
Case 3: Taiwan
Origins of the Taiwanese Gastrodiplomacy Effort
Inspired by the success of the Global Thai campaign, the Republic of China (Taiwan) government also initiated its own gastrodiplomacy efforts under the Ma Ying-jeou administration. According to Taiwan Today, an English-language publication of the Government Information Office of the Republic of China, Taiwan’s Ministry of Economy Affairs proposed a plan passed by the Executive Yuan to invest NT $1.1 billion (US $35.8 million) from 2010 to 2013 in order to “internationalize local” and “localize international” Taiwanese food. This plan was also expected to boost Taiwanese tourism, attract nearly NTD $2 billion (USD $65 million) in private investments, establish 3,500 local and overseas restaurants, and create 50 new brands and 10,000 jobs. It was sponsored by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, but other players such as the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, which is an organization under the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, also played an important role.
Like the other two countries mentioned before, Taiwan forges its middle power identity through cultural diplomacy, but faces a unique issue of weak diplomatic recognition. Historic controversy between the People’s Republic of China (China) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) has left Taiwan in a precarious political situation where it lacks formal diplomatic relations and allies with a majority of countries. As a result, it relies heavily on public diplomacy to bypass its diplomatic isolation and continue to spread its value and culture abroad. Gastrodiplomacy offers Taiwan an area to distinguish itself from Mainland China and educate foreign audience about Taiwanese culture. As a result, Paul Rockower explains that gastrodiplomacy in Taiwan seeks to “brand its own cuisine as a healthy, light alternative to the heavy image associated with Western versions of Chinese food.”
Execution of Taiwanese Gastrodiplomacy
The NTD $1.1 billion (USD $35.8 million) investment in gastrodiplomacy funds the Taiwanese gastrodiplomacy campaign that involves hosting international gourmet festivals, sending Taiwanese chefs to international culinary competitions, establishing Taiwanese restaurants in overseas shopping malls, department stores, and airports, and establishing a Taiwanese food foundation.
One of the most successful Taiwanese chains is Din Tai Fung, known for its xiaolongbao (soup dumplings). Even before Taiwan’s gastrodiplomacy efforts, Din Tai Fung already achieved international success and recognition with chains across the world and recognition by the New York Times. It has over a hundred chains in 13 different countries (Taiwan, Japan, United States, Mainland China, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Australia, United Arab Emirates, and the Philippines). Another example is 85°C Bakery Cafe, a Taiwanese bakery chain, which was founded in 2003 and now has over 1,000 locations worldwide. Both were already recognized internationally prior to Taiwan’s gastrodiplomacy campaign, yet still served as an ideal for aspiring Taiwanese restaurants opening abroad.
Similar to South Korea, Taiwan also saw a large number of food-themed film and TV dramas both before and after it launched its gastrodiplomacy efforts. This ranges from shows such as Love Recipe 料理情人梦(2011), Happy Michelin Kitchen 幸福三顆星 (2012) to more recent films and TV programs including Café. Waiting. Love 等一個人咖啡 (2014), Pleasantly Surprised 喜歡·一個人 (2014), Love Cuisine 料理高校生 (2015), and The Perfect Match 極品絕配 (2017). Compared to the South Korean TV shows, Taiwanese television programs are not as closely linked to the government. Following the end of martial law in the late 1980s, Taiwan’s broadcasting and entertainment programs was increasingly liberalized. In order to support the Taiwan film and TV industry, the Taiwan government provides subsidies, gives credit guarantees, and established an investment framework for public-private sector investment. While the extent to which the Taiwan government invested in food dramas for gastrodiplomacy-related purposes remains unclear, the shows reveal that Taiwanese cuisine has become a part of packaging Taiwanese culture and the Taiwanese identity to local Taiwanese audiences and foreign audiences through entertainment culture.
Taiwanese gastrodiplomacy succeeded in attracting more tourists because of its cuisine. According to the 2017 Survey Report on Visitors Expenditure and Trends in Taiwan by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, 67.78 (68 persons per hundred) of respondents said that “gourmet food or delicious snacks” was one of the top reasons that attracted visitors to go sightseeing in Taiwan, followed by scenery (60 persons per hundred), and shopping (26 persons per hundred). Likewise, 81.98 (82 persons per hundred) of respondents indicated that night markets were the #1 spots they visited, especially Shilin Night Market (46) and Raohe Night Market (14).
These numbers have increased since 2011, when the reasons why inbound visitors decided to take a sightseeing trip to Taiwan was for scenery (61 persons per hundred), food (41), and customs/culture (35). Night markets were also the main spot visited for tourists (74) with Shilin Night Market (47) and Kaohsiung Liouhe Night Market (25) as the most popular night markets. In terms of the ranking of activities of inbound visitors in 2011, shopping was ranked as #1 (83 persons per hundred), followed by night market sightseeing (74) and historical relics sightseeing (36).
These statistics reveal that even in 2011, Taiwan was already well-regarded for its food, as night markets and Taiwanese food were large parts of the inbound tourist experience. However, the number and percentage of tourists that came to Taiwan for these reasons increased based on the data from 2017. Since Taiwan’s gastrodiplomacy campaign began in 2011, and gastrodiplomacy efforts can benefit the inbound tourism industry, it seems that Taiwan’s gastrodiplomacy efforts improved during this time period.
The success and popularity of Taiwanese night markets inspired seasonal night market events overseas such as 626 Night Market in Arcadia, California, which was founded in 2012 by Jonny Hwang, the OC Night Market in Orange County, the NorCal Night Market in the San Francisco Bay Area, and many others in places such as Koreatown, Monterey Park, Long Beach, Philadelphia, Minneota, New Jersey, New York, Vancouver, and Atlanta. These night markets have “authentic” Asian street food, as well as creative, photogenic Asian fusion foods that drew attention on social media and Instagram. The Taiwanese government, particularly the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, has been particularly active in taking advantage of these opportunities to promote these night markets by acting as a sponsor, as well as giving out prizes and plane tickets to Taiwan at these night markets. Witnessing the power of social media in promoting these overseas night markets, the Taiwan Tourism Bureau also took advantage of Instagram to spread awareness of its brand with the hashtag #timefortaiwan. Appendix B contains photos from the Instagram account of Taiwan Tourism Bureau, North America (ttb_na) at the 626 Night Market, where it raffled away prizes and plane tickets if people took a picture and posted it on Instagram. The Taiwan Tourism Bureau has separate accounts for different regions such as North America, Singapore (traveltaiwansg), India (ttb_in), Australia and New Zealand (ttb_aunz), abd Turkey (ttbturkey), which suggests targeted, localized messages to each region.
Despite its efforts to distinguish itself from the Mainland, Taiwan has faced challenges in determining its culinary identity. On one hand, gastrodiplomacy – in particular, with bubble tea – has enhanced Taiwan’s culinary image abroad and had some tangible economic and political benefits. In the Philippines, Chatime, a Taiwanese tea house franchise, opened its first store in the Philippines in 2011, and is now operating over 40 stories in Metro Manila as well as almost 400 stores in nine different Southeast Asian countries. Not only has this expansion benefited Taiwanese investors and overseas recognition for Taiwanese tea, but it is also taken as a successful exam by the Tsai administration to promote its “New Southbound Policy” which encourages Taiwanese investors to invest more in Southeast Asian countries and avoid over reliance on Mainland China.
Despite the success of milk tea and Taiwanese brands like Din Tai Fung and 85°C Bakery Cafe, Taiwanese gastrodiplomacy efforts have struggled in defining its cuisine. May Chang, a chief executive at the Foundation of Chinese Dietary Culture, told BBC in a June 2015 interview that it is hard to find one type of food to represent Taiwan given that a strong sense of a ‘Taiwanese’ identity only started to emerge since 2000, and given that Taiwan’s history is closely tied to mainland China and Japan. This socio-political uncertainty can cause confusion as Taiwanese cuisine is seeking to distinguish itself from Chinese cuisine, yet may actually share many similarities with it.
Although 85°C Bakery Cafe is considered a “successful” example of Taiwanese food making an international impact. However, it was caught in the crossfire between China and Taiwan when Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen visited a branch in Los Angeles in August 2018. Since Tsai is a part of the Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan, which has historically advocated Taiwanese independence, cross-Strait relations between Taiwan and Beijing have been increasingly tense since her inauguration in 2016. After this visit, Chinese companies and netizens responded with Chinese food delivery apps such as Meituan-Dianping and Ele.me removing the chain from their apps, investors selling their shares of 85°C’s parent company Gourmet Master leading to a 9.8% drop in stock, boycotting the 600 branches in China, and hacking its Chinese site. In response, 85°C affirmed its “firm support” of the 1992 Consensus which states that Taiwan and China are “one China”, thus sparking criticism in Taiwan for giving into Chinese demands. Such a controversy reveals a unique challenge that Taiwan faces in promoting its cuisine overseas. While their most successful chains spread Taiwanese culture and food abroad, they are not exempted from the political realities that limits Taiwan’s reach and puts them into conflict and confrontation with the Mainland.
Comparing Gastrodiplomacy Campaigns
Gastrodiplomacy and Identity
The theme of national identity runs consistently across the three gastrodiplomacy campaigns in Thailand, South Korea, and Taiwan. Gastrodiplomacy involves national identity as national governments make conscious decisions when selecting dishes or types of food to brand itself with and creating a united image of the national cuisine. This may cause controversy as government-promoted national cuisine becomes a representative of that country, thus uniting the country but also failing to take into account the diversity within society. In South Korea, royal court food from the Joseon Dynasty is chosen because of its tradition as well as the fact that it is untouched by the darker episodes of South Korea’s recent history such as Japanese colonial rule and the Korean War. As a result, South Korea’s gastrodiplomacy becomes a part of the government’s plan to enhance its image as a middle power and reflects its view towards its own past and historical memory that presents Korea as a place of tradition, culture, and strength.
Meanwhile, Thailand’s gastrodiplomacy campaign was treated as an opportunity to rebrand itself from negative associations of Thailand as a place of sex tourism to a country of rich culture, unique foods, and tourism. It ensures that a more consistent image of Thailand is presented at restaurants abroad by offering incentives such as the “Thai Select” certificates and funding to restaurants that met government-approved standards. While variations still may exist across different Thai restaurants, these types of standards help maintain foreign audiences’ expectations as they may find similar menus, dishes, and hospitality. As Thailand’s campaign becomes increasingly successful abroad, it is a source of pride for Thailand and a source of envy to other countries.
Taiwan’s gastrodiplomacy efforts are closely related to its attempts to understand and its own national identity in the midst of diplomatic uncertainty and tension with Mainland China. Taiwan’s historic ties with Mainland China, Japan, and its own indigenous populations mean that some of its cuisine share characteristics with other countries, thus impacting some of its claims to being “authentically Taiwanese” food. Nevertheless, aspects of Taiwanese food culture such as night markets and bubble tea have reached considerable popularity among international audiences.
Common Techniques and Strategies
All three campaigns promoted their cuisine at international food events and festivals both within their country and overseas. In some cases, these were Embassy or Consulate General-hosted events, which Thailand continues to do throughout the year. While early efforts by Thailand seemed to target the West, now most of the recent food promotion events happen in non-Western countries like Kuwait, Moscow, or Morocco. For South Korea, many of the efforts by the Korean Food Promotion Institute seem to exclusively target urban, international cities with the help of partners in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Seattle, Tokyo, Yanbian (a Korean autonomous prefecture in Mainland China), Shanghai, Hong Kong, London, Paris, Sydney, Auckland, and Jakarta. In others, it may involve government participation in local events such as the Taiwan Tourism Bureau’s sponsorship of and participation in the 626 Night Market in California. Taiwan’s efforts seem to be in the West but also in Southeast Asia, perhaps given its plans to orient away from a dependence on Mainland China. They have all also developed educational materials and provided funding to train chefs in the national cuisine so that they can work at restaurants overseas, and constantly send top chefs to international cooking competitions.
The use of pop culture in advancing or representing national cuisine and food culture was used heavily by South Korea and, to a lesser degree, Taiwan. The South Korean government directly employed celebrities in the Korean entertainment industries to sing or appear in videos related to Korean food and gastrodiplomacy. Although the Taiwanese entertainment industry is not as far-reaching on the international stage as that of South Korea, it still indirectly added to Taiwan’s gastrodiplomacy efforts as more Taiwanese food-themed television series and films were being made and exported to other countries. Furthermore, the effectiveness of tying a close association between Korean pop culture stars and the Global Hansik campaign is unclear. The Korean government invested a great deal of money to produce content filled with celebrity endorsements, but doing so could impact the authenticity of the promotions. Furthermore, many of these videos were promoted on the food sites of Hansik.org or the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism websites, which could limit the visibility and reach of these materials.
Websites were an important component of each campaign, but only South Korea’s website is still live. In 2011, the Republic of China’s (Taiwan) Government Information Office launched a food culture website (http://taiwanfoodculture.net) which was available in Chinese, English, French, Japanese, and Spanish. The website is now defunct. Although the government-created website is no longer operating, other information on Taiwanese cuisine and gastrodiplomacy is available from private organizations. For example, the Foundation of Chinese Dietary Culture (FCDC), a private foundation founded in 1989 that promotes Chinese dietary and culinary culture, maintains regular information about ongoing activities, events, and scholarships on its website in English and Chinese (www.fcdc.org.tw). Given that FCDC was established before Taiwan’s gastrodiplomacy efforts, it already had an established mission and expertise that has allowed it to continue. Thailand also had a website (www.thaikitchen.org) to accompany its gastrodiplomacy efforts. Like Taiwan’s website, however, it is also defunct.
Of the three campaigns, only South Korea’s gastrodiplomacy website (hansik.org) is still running. This site was an important component of the Global Hansik campaign and was run by the Korean Food Promotion Institute, a public institute established by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and provides extensive information about the stories behind specific Korean dishes, popular Korean recipes, and Korean restaurants in different countries. The website is available in six different languages (English, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, French, and Spanish). Many of the pop culture materials related to South Korea’s gastrodiplomacy efforts such as the K-Food music playlist and celebrity interviews are also posted on this site. Based on the activity under the “KFPI News” section, the website was frequently updated and active throughout 2016 and 2017; however, activity has since waned – only two updates have been posted on February 9, 2018 related to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.,
Interestingly, none of the three sites were hosted on government sites even though they were launched by their respective governments. This might be an attempt to separate the image of national cuisine from the larger government influence behind the campaign. In other words, promoting culture and cuisine too obviously may come off as propaganda or as unnatural to foreign audiences. Even though the national government may have a huge influence on gastrodiplomacy campaigns, the website is playing it down. Furthermore, Taiwan and Thailand’s websites had simple domain names that explained what they were about – “taiwanfoodculture” and “thaikitchen” – which are easily understandable names for foreign audiences. South Korea, however, chose “hansik” which means “Korean food” in the Korean language instead of promoting it under an English translation or name.
Despite enormous amounts of money and resources, Taiwan and South Korea fell short of their objectives and failed to reach the same level of success as Thailand in their gastrodiplomacy efforts. In addition to a lack of measurable indicators of success, Taiwan and South Korea each faced unique controversies and obstacles that made it difficult to succeed.
Although Taiwanese gastrodiplomacy has benefited the perception of Taiwan and helped the Taiwanese tourism industry, the strong political and nationalistic implications of promoting “Taiwanese” cuisine can hinder its success. The recent controversy with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen’s visit to 85°C Bakery Cafe and the companies subsequent defense and assurances of the “One China” principle of the 1992 Consensus raise the questions as to whether or not a Taiwanese restaurant can safely be “Taiwanese” without endangering its business and reputation among Chinese audiences. Furthermore, the most successful Taiwanese chains such as Din Tai Fung and 85°C Bakery Cafe were already famous internationally long before the government gastrodiplomacy campaign started. Few other Taiwanese franchises have achieved global success since then, making it difficult to determine the level of success or failure of the campaign in terms of enhancing the profile of new Taiwanese brands. Even the success of established brands struggle to avert diplomatic controversy that threatens their businesses.
South Korea’s gastrodiplomacy campaign also suffered for political reasons, specifically from the negative perceptions associated with government corruption and wasted resources. Although Park Geun-hye did not pursue the campaign as actively as her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, did, she still supported the campaign and many of her close associates worked in the Ministry of Culture and other government departments that participated in its implementation—however, the corruption and scandals within her administration implicated many key officials also created a negative perception of the gastrodiplomacy campaign. As a result, internal politics and inefficient policies overshadowed the positive efforts and intentions of the campaign.
In 2008, the Korean government started a project to open an upscale, state-run Korean restaurant in Manhattan and ended up spending almost 80 billion won (USD $71.8 million); however, five years into the project, the plan fell apart and was considered to be a “money-losing operation.” Likewise, even as new Korean restaurants were opened up abroad during the Global Hansik campaign, many of them ultimately closed down. As of December 2018, of the 40 Korean restaurants in New York listed under “World of Korean Restaurants” on Hansik.org, 11 of them have closed down. The open or closed status was determined by cross-referencing the listed restaurants from Hansik.org on Yelp. These challenges ultimately led to a sense of distrust and lack of faith in the campaign, as well as the enormous amount of money and resources that made it inefficient.
Ultimately, Asian gastrodiplomacy campaigns provided an opportunity for Thailand, South Korea, and Taiwan to enhance their national and cultural brands to international audiences. While they adopted similar strategies such as funding overseas restaurants and hosting food promotion events, the three campaigns achieved varying levels of success in reaching their objectives as a result of unique socio-political factors at home. Thailand, which is home to the original gastrodiplomacy campaign, achieved the greatest level of success in boosting its international image and food profile that it continues to promote today in non-Western countries. Meanwhile, Taiwanese cuisine has also managed to promote its brand – most notably bubble tea and night markets – to other countries, but still struggles to promote a national identity while in the position of overwhelming diplomatic isolation. Finally, South Korea has devoted enormous amounts of money and resources to promote Korean cuisine and link it to the Hallyu wave, but struggled to justify its purpose and level of success to the Korean public when people questioned its value.
Investment in gastrodiplomacy efforts in Asian countries reveal the value that nations place on its cuisine as a part of its domestic national identity, as well as the representation of self that is promoted to the international community. As these campaigns require large amounts of money and resources, governments must adjust their strategies and implementation. They are held accountable by their domestic publics as well as market forces abroad. Nevertheless, gastrodiplomacy represents an increasingly important aspect of cultural diplomacy that states are learning how to utilize.
Number of Thai Gastrodiplomacy-Related Articles (Social & Cultural News): 2018
|x||x||xxxx||xxx||xxxxx xx||xxxxx xxxxx xx|
*Articles were included based on keywords “food”, “gastronomy”, and “cuisine”.
the time of this research, only posts from 2018 could be retrieved on the site.
A sample of photos from the Taiwan Tourism Bureau (North America) activities at 626 Night Market in Los Angeles, CA. (Taiwan Tourism Bureau (North America) Instagram – ttb_na https://www.instagram.com/ttb_na/)
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 Ibid., 9.
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