Despite having outstanding economic growth, Bangladesh's ability to influence global players such as states, corporations, and communities has declined, which may be translated into, for example, its ability to lure foreign companies to invest in this country.
This has been reflected in the country's poor performance in the Global Soft Power Index 2021. Soft power is defined as the strength of a nation to bring others on its side "through attraction or persuasion rather than coercion".
In today's world, military forces are losing significance, and a nation's culture, economy, political values, foreign policies, quality of life, robust academic institutions and the rule of law emerge to be effective tools to "win the support of others," as suggested by the report of a global study on perceptions of nations as brands.
Bangladesh's scores on all the seven soft power pillars – business and trade, governance, institutional relations, culture and heritage, media and communication, education and science, and people and values – fell from last year's.
Bangladesh ranked 78th on the index out of 105 economies and achieved an overall score of only 30 out of 100. In the 2020 index, the country was in the 57th position out of 60.
Due to the expansion of the index and improved relative performances of other nations, Bangladesh has moved 21 notches down, registering the second highest fall in ranking among 19 Asian economies after Myanmar.
Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute, said, "The index is not something to see in isolation. It is a reflection of our general problems.
"Our political message is that everything is fine. That message is wrong. If we have complacency and don't recognise the problem, we will not be able to address it; reform won't happen."
The poor performance in the soft power index will have an impact on economic diplomacy, Ahsan added.
The index was prepared based on perceptions gathered from more than 75,000 people in 105 countries.
Apart from the seven core pillars, the index shows perceptions about nations on three metrics: familiarity, reputation, and influence.
This year, performance in tackling Covid-19 has also contributed to the ranking. Bangladesh did better than many others in dealing with the pandemic, scoring 3.2 out of 10 and ranking 56th. The US is the worst performer on that.
Out of the three metrics, Bangladesh has the lowest score – 3 out of 10 – in the "influence" metric. The overall influence is the degree to which a nation is seen to have influence on the respondent's country as well as on the world's stage.
Bangladesh scored 4 in metric "familiarity" and 5 in "reputation", which were 4.7 and 5.3 last year.
Bangladesh's scores declined
Of all the pillars, Bangladesh's score on international relations is the lowest – 1.6, 0.3 points lower than last year's. The country ranked 95th globally in this.
The country's second-lowest score – 1.7, which is 0.1 points less than that in last year – was recorded in the media and communication pillar. It is followed by governance and education and science pillars.
However, Bangladesh's largest score contraction was seen in the culture and heritage pillar – by 0.8 points, followed by the people and values pillar by 0.7 points.
In the business and trade pillar, the country ranked 94th around the world, with a score of 1.9.
The Global Soft Power Index 2021 was released by global consultancy Brand Finance on 25 February at an event where Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former United States secretary of state, was the keynote speaker.
Global soft power leaders
Strong and stable Germany ranked as the world's leading soft power superpower, with an overall score of 62.2.
With a score of 60.6, Japan ranked 2nd globally and is in the top position among the Asian countries. It is followed by the United Kingdom, Canada, and Switzerland.
Due to a turbulent election campaign and a haphazard Covid-19 response, the United States has lost its position as the world's soft power superpower, sliding down to 6th position with an overall score of 55.9 out of 100.
South Asian outlook
Among five South Asian countries reviewed in the index, Bangladesh is only ahead of Nepal.
India, the most populous democracy, is at the top in South Asia and in the 36th position in the global ranking, with a score of 37.7, followed by Pakistan (63rd position) and Sri Lanka (70th).
Nepal is at the bottom in the region, ranking 95th globally.
American political scientist and Harvard professor Joseph Nye first introduced the term "Soft Power" in 1990. The main postulation is that there is an alternative method of foreign policy to the traditional hard power method involving military and economic means.