With record breaking sales, sell-out world tours and “banger after banger” of chart-topping hits, Blackpink is Generation Z’s K-pop group of choice that took the world by storm. Lauded by critics globally, the four-piece girl band has all the right ingredients: distinct personas, stage presence, glamour and killer beats.
Pop-culture trends should be noted by geopolitical watchers. Blackpink is a humbling reminder that Anglo-spheric entertainment industries are not the centre of the universe.
And on that note, it is the Asian superpower of China that has recently dominated headlines and intrigue.
After Joe Biden ordered the shooting down of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon on 4th February, US intelligence now believes that it was part of a worldwide fleet targeting many countries including Japan, India, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines.
The plot only thickens as two unidentified high-altitude objects intruding Alaskan and Canadian airspace respectively have since been destroyed. Whilst the origins are still uncertain, the US and Canadian governments are taking high vigilance in an uncertain world.
The alleged targeting of other Asian countries by the Chinese Communist Party should make Western governments and businesses aware of the importance of engagement and cooperation with allies in this complex region.
Such vital conversations should not just be military or political, but empathic in tone to the people and championing of freedom. Far from mere adolescent trivia, export successes like Blackpink symbolise deep values – the freedom to wear make-up, of self-expression and the thrill of live concert-going with friends. Simple acts of choice that many cannot imagine living without, but across the border north of Seoul can scarcely be imagined.
Strategies for engagement with the Asia-Pacific – and even more broadly the Indo-Pacific – axis need to be nuanced, sophisticated and subtle, enhancing the soft power of democracies without provoking authoritarian forces unnecessarily or demonising ordinary citizens. Prime minister Rishi Sunak’s taboo-breaking speech on the subject garnered attention, but equally important are the positive and constructive steps being taken to develop relations with multiple countries, from negotiations for a UK-India trade deal to the UK-Japan digital partnership. With debates heating up over the effectiveness of a suggested ban on Confucius Institutes, conversations are alive.
But what does the Scottish government say about UK-Asia relations?
Embroiled in debates on the constitution and gender self-id it is, by comparison, eerily quiet on the matter. The China engagement strategy has not been updated since 2018, and strategy for trade focuses heavily on Nordic and EU countries, omitting much of the planet beyond the great North Sea.
As the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) reveals that India has overtaken France as the number one export market for trademarked Scotch whisky, rethinking Scotland’s engagement with the Asia-Pacific appears evermore a strategic and moral imperative.
Napoleon Bonaparte is reputed to have said “Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.”
The CCP’s stir from slumber occurred long ago; today, we ignore the shifting world order at our peril.