ASTK18350U Promotional Politics in Asia

Volume 2020/2021

Bachelor: 7,5 ECTS

Kandidat: 7,5 ECTS


At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a high-profile global public relations company with headquarters in London and New York sent out emails praising Thailand’s government for its handling of the country’s public health crisis. Why did the company choose to praise Thailand? Was it hired by the Thai government? And what did it want to achieve? A few days earlier, members of the Czech parliament held an official ceremony thanking Taiwan for donating 63,000 face masks to the virus-stricken country as part of its global ‘Taiwan can help; health for all’ campaign. Messages of thanks and support soon followed from other European and non-European recipients of Taiwanese face masks as well as regional organisations, such as the European Union. Why did Taiwan donate more than 20 million face masks to foreign countries at the time when the global levels of personal protective equipment were running extremely low? Was it an act of political altruism or rather a sophisticated image promotion strategy?

Image promotion activities like these are not new to Asia, but they have intensified and evolved a great deal over the past twenty years. From India to Kazakhstan, Singapore to South Korea, most Asian countries today engage in some form of promotional politics both internationally and at home. This course will examine some of the key concepts underlying promotional politics drawing on scholarship from the disciplines of comparative politics, international relations and communication studies and critically engage with their application in Asia. The central questions this course asks are:

1.           Why, how and to whom do Asian countries promote themselves?

2.           Why do promotional politics matter in Asia (and beyond)?

The course will start with a broader thematic approach to promotional politics by discussing some of the key concepts related to the changing nature of political power and communication, and the proliferation of promotional cultures and competition imperatives. It will then tackle the questions of national image, identity and national meaning-making in an ever globalising world before turning its focus to Asia and the ways in which promotional politics is understood and applied in the Asian context. The course will then delve deep into five case studies to explore how promotional politics work in practice and why it is important to study them both in Asia and beyond. Students will be encouraged to explore the use of promotional politics beyond the selected country cases in their presentations and final papers.

Lecture topics:

1. Introduction

2. Politics, Power and Communication: Moving Beyond Propaganda

4. Promotional Cultures and the Rise of the ‘Competition State’

5. Identity, Image and Reputation

6. Nationalism, Political Legitimation and National Meaning-Making

7. Understanding Promotional Politics in Asia

8. Researching Promotional Politics in Asia

9. Case Study #1: China

10. Case Study #2: Japan

11. Case Study #3: Thailand

12. Case Study #4: Kazakstan

13. Case Study #5: Promotional Politics at the Time of the Global Coronavirus Pandemic

14. Conclusions: Making Sense of Promotional Politics in Asia

Learning Outcome


Students will gain knowledge about promotional politics through an interdisciplinary lens drawing on materials from comparative politics, international relations, communication and Asian studies. They will be able to analyse and critically engage with different forms of promotional politics in both theory and practice using examples from a wide range of different Asian countries.


Students will be able to identity and analyse the use of promotional politics across different Asian countries paying special attention to both their international as well as domestic dimensions. They will understand why and how a number of Asian countries engage in promotional politics and which audiences constitute their targets.


Students will be able to engage critically with the predominantly Western-based concepts that have shaped the study of promotional politics and assess their applicability to non-Western Asian context. They will be able to challenge their own assumptions and develop a more nuanced approach to the broader study of comparative and international politics. 

​Please note that this is an indicative reading list. Full reading list will be made available two weeks prior to the start of the course.


Alagappa, Mutiah. 1995. ‘The Anatomy of Legitimacy.’ In Political Legitimacy in Southeast Asia: The Quest for Moral Authority, edited by Mutiah Alagappa, 31-53. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Anholt, Simon. 2007. Competitive Identity: The New Brand Management for Nations, Cities and Regions. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Aronczyk, Melissa. Branding the Nation: The Global Business of National Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Aronczyk, Melissa. ‘Narratives of Legitimacy: Making Nationalism Banal,’ In Everyday Nationhood: Theorising Culture, Identity and Belonging after Banal Nationalism, edited by Michael Skye and Marco Antonsich, 241-258.

Barker, Rodney. 2001. Legitimating Identities: The Self-Presentation of Rulers and Subjects. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Barnett, Michael, and Raymond Duvall. 2005. ‘Power in International Politics.’ International Organization 59(Winter 2005): 39-75.

Beetham, David. 1991. The Legitimation of Power. London: Macmillan.

Billig, Michael. 1995. Banal Nationalism. London: Sage.

Browning, Christopher and Antonio Ferraz de Oliveira. 2017. ‘Introduction: Nation Branding and Competitive Identity in World Politics.’ Geopolitics 22 (3): 481-501.

Cerny, Phillip G. 2010. ‘The competition state today: from raison d’État to raison du Monde.’ Policy Studies 31(1): 5-21.

Cornelissen, Scarlett. 2017. ‘National Meaning-Making in Complex Societies: Political Legitimation and Branding Dynamics in Post-Apartheid South Africa.’ Geopolitics 22(3): 525-548.

Davis, Aeron. 2013. Promotional Cultures: the rise and spread of advertising, public relations, marketing and branding. Cambridge: Polity.

Dinnie, Keith. 2016. Nation Branding: concepts, issues, practice. London: Routledge.

Dolea, Alina. 2016. ‘The need for critical thinking in country promotion: Public diplomacy, nation branding, and public relations.’ In The Routledge handbook of critical public relations, edited by Jacquie L’Etang, 274-288. Abingdon: Routledge.

Govers, Robert. 2013. ‘Why place branding is not about logos and slogans?’ Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 9: 71-75.

Ichijo, Atsuko and Ronald Ranta. Food, National Identity and Nationalism: From Everyday to Global Politics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kaneva, Nadia and Delia Popescu. 2011. ‘National identity lite: Nation Branding in post-Communist Romania and Bulgaria.’ International Journal of Cultural Studies 14(2): 191-207.

Li, Mei. 2020. ‘Highlights, trends and patterns in Asian international communication research in the twenty-first century.’ The Journal of International Communication. Online first.

Miskimmon, Alister, Ben O’Loughlin and Laura Roselle. 2013. Strategic Narratives: Communication Power and the New World Order. London: Routledge.

Nye, Joseph. 2004. Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. New York: Public Affairs.

Price, Monroe E. 2015. Free Expression, Globalism and the New Strategic Communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rockower, Paul S. 2012. ‘Recipes for Gastrodiplomacy.’ Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 8: 235-246.

Syed, Farid Alatas. 2006. Alternative discourses in Asian social science: responses to eurocentrism. New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Van Ham, Peter. 2002. ‘Branding Territory: Inside the Wonderful Worlds of PR and IR Theory.’ Millennium – Journal of International Studies 31(2): 249-269.

Varga, Somogy. 2013. ‘The Politics of Nation Branding: Collective identity and public sphere in the neoliberal state.’ Philosophy & Social Criticism 39(8): 825-845.

Volcic, Zala and Mark Andrejevic. 2016. ‘Introduction.’ In Commercial Nationalism: selling the nation and nationalising the sell, edited by Zala Volcic and Mark Andrejevic, 1-13. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Promotional Politics in Asia

Anholt, Simon. 2008. ‘Nation Branding in Asia.’ Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 4(4), 265-269.

Barr, Michael. 2012. ‘Nation Branding as Nation Building: China’s Image Campaign.’ East Asia 29(1): 81-94.

Desatova, Petra. 2018. ‘Thailand 4.0 and the internal focus of nation branding.’ Asian Studies Review 42(4): 682-700.

Eggeling, Kristin Anabel. 2020. Nation-Branding in Practice: The Politics of Promoting Sports, Cities and Universities in Kazakhstan and Qatar. Abingdon: Routledge.

Fauve, Adrien. 2015. ‘Global Astana: nation branding as a legitimization tool for authoritarian regimes.’ Central Asian Survey 34(1): 110-124.

Hartig Falk. 2020. ‘A Decade of Wielding Soft Power Through Confucius Institutes.’ In Soft Power With Chinese Characteristics: China’s Campaign for Hearts and Minds, edited by Kingsley Edney, Stanley Rosen and Ying Zhu, 133-147. Abingdon: Routledge.

Iwabuchi, Koichi. 2015. ‘Pop-culture diplomacy in Japan: soft power, nation branding and the question of ‘international cultural exchange’.’ International Journal of Cultural Policy 21(4): 419-432.

Jory, Patrick. 1999. ‘Thai identity, globalisation and advertising culture.’ Asian Studies Review 23(4): 461-487.

Each weekly session will be divided into two parts with a short break in between. The first part will include a presentation by the instructor while the second part will comprise short student-led presentations, group exercises and discussions that will explore the different topics, identify key points and critically engage with the assigned readings and the main academic debates. Some sessions will also include brief study-skills discussions to help students prepare for the final written assignment.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Total
  • 28

Feedback will be given in person on student-led presentations and during group exercises and discussions throughout the course.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Written Free Assignement
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

- In the semester where the course takes place: Free written assignment

- In subsequent semesters: Free written assignment

Criteria for exam assesment

Criteria for exam assesment

  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner