New Zealand fastest rising 'soft power' nation in new rankings as Hillary Clinton praises Jacinda Ardern

The United States has dropped from the top spot.
The United States has dropped from the top spot. Photo credit: Getty / Supplied.

New Zealand has rocketed up the rankings of the world's top soft power nations with the country being hailed as a "global success story" for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brand Finance's Global Soft Power Index, which is based on a survey with tens of thousands of people worldwide as well as interviews with experts and influencers, ranks New Zealand as 16th in terms of global soft power, up from 22nd in 2020. That's the biggest rise of any nation.

Soft power is the ability for a country to use its reputation, networks and standing to have influence around the world, as opposed to using hard power, which may involve using the likes of a military to achieve goals. 

The index places Germany in the top position, followed by Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada and Switzerland. The United States, which was ranked 1st in 2020, has fallen to 6th, while Australia is ranked 10th.

A report on the index promotes New Zealand as being a "global success story", hailing the "confident and decisive" leadership of Jacinda Ardern and the nation's world-leading COVID-19 response. 

A survey of 75,000 people from 102 countries which contributed to the index's rankings found New Zealand as topping the world in terms of its economic, health and international aid response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Including those in its managed isolation and quarantine facilities, New Zealand has recorded just 2368 of the 113 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide and suffered only 26 deaths. While some sectors - notably tourism and hospitality - have been greatly hurt by restrictions and border closures, New Zealand has mostly avoided the economic turmoil seen in other countries.

"The government has been so successful in suppressing the disease that social distancing is not required, with tens of thousands attending a music festival in December," the report says.

"Perceptions of New Zealand have no doubt been bolstered as nations such as the UK and the US cede their usual place as leaders in public health, with both battling repeated waves of the virus among loosened restrictions and ongoing debates about lockdowns."

The report compares the perception of New Zealand's COVID-19 response with that of the United States, which has recorded more than 28.3 million cases and has had 507,146 deaths.

"The stark contrast between the public's perceptions of how New Zealand and the US handled the pandemic, epitomises the two nations' contrasting visions of the world, spearheaded by almost polar-opposite leaders," it says.

"On the one hand, we have Ardern's open, liberal, and compassionate policies versus Trump's often combative, protectionist, and isolationist approach. As President Biden takes the reins of power, all eyes will be on him to kickstart recovery across the nation."

Speaking to the Global Soft Power Summit on Wednesday, former US Secretary of State and Democrat Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said female world leaders like Ardern and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been successful.

"There's just very little of the trappings of power and perks that too often go with leadership in the world," the Sydney Morning Herald reports Clinton as saying. "Those two women, and there are others obviously, have been proven right in the way they dealt with some terrible challenges."

The report says New Zealand is held back from ranking higher due to it lacking "clout" and suffering from "geographical remoteness, preventing it from wielding the same soft power levels as its European counterparts".

Germany's "stability, steadiness and accountability" is said to have pushed it to the top spot, while "widespread turmoil" in the United States - including with its COVID-19 response and eroding public trust in institutions - has hurt its standing.