Culinary diplomacy

A government that employs soft power aims to coerce rather than control – to build influence with other nations through non-violent means. For the government of Thailand, this approach includes restaurants.

Thai food
Takeaway [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Culinary diplomacy, also known as gastrodiplomacy, aims to foster intercultural connections by funding and supporting national cuisines. As cited in the Wikipedia article, “the easiest way to win hearts and minds is through the stomach.”

Thailand has taken this maxim to heart. Beginning in 2002, the Thai government offered financial loans, PR campaigns, and specific guides (with floorplan templates!) on how to set up a Thai restaurant overseas.

It has been extraordinarily successful: in nine years, the number of Thai restaurants outside of Thailand doubled, from around 5,000 to more than 10,000. It has helped Thai food exports (obviously) and tourism. I suppose the future will tell whether that translates to political power and enhanced diplomacy.

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