Hanoi was all aflutter as it hosted Blackpink’s explosive concert last weekend. As the K-pop superstars experienced firsthand, South Korean brands like Hyundai and CJ Group have a firm footing across Vietnam, a clear sign of South Korea’s broad influence.
South Korea’s sway reaches far beyond catchy pop music and dramas, permeating Vietnam’s economy, fashion, and even football. The economic bond is a striking feature: South Korea consistently emerged as a major investor in Vietnam for over a decade, with a sizable expat community making its mark in Ho Chi Minh City’s trendy southern district.
As Vietnam aimed for industrial advancement, South Korea, the acclaimed “tiger economy,” served as an inspiration. Powerhouse South Korean businesses like Samsung and apparel supplier Hae Sung significantly boosted Vietnam’s economic standing.
According to a report from the Nikkei Asia Review, Choi Bundo, chair of the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry for South and Central Vietnam, attributed tax and trade agreements as key in fostering economic ties. He further acknowledged the quality of Vietnam’s labor force and its potential as a viable alternative amid unstable US-China relations. The cultural affinity with Vietnam’s fondness for Korean culture, such as K-pop and dramas, added to this strong bond.
This cultural connection, termed “hallyu” in Korean, presented itself as a business opportunity. Pulling off a high-profile concert like Blackpink’s was no easy feat, but it signaled Vietnam’s readiness for tourism revival, especially after grappling with the impact of COVID-19.
The Blackpink concert gave Vietnam a hearty dose of K-pop, much to the excitement of a rapidly growing local fandom. Nikkei Asia Review cited an annual survey by The Korea Foundation that revealed an astonishing 223% surge in Vietnamese fans of Korean culture last year.
With the increase in the wealthy class, more fans could afford to snag VIP tickets to see Blackpink. According to the Knight Frank Wealth Report, affluent Vietnamese jumped by 110% from 2016 to 2021.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Certain factions within Vietnam’s manufacturing sector expressed reservations about adopting the intense work culture typical of South Korea. Stories of Blackpink members working to the point of illness were cautionary tales. Other challenges included breaking into the supply chains of major South Korean companies and potential changes to tax benefits for imported materials.
Yet, despite these hurdles, many in Vietnam saw the merit in adopting South Korea’s industrial policy to escape the so-called middle-income trap. In this situation, a country’s growth halts after reaching a certain point. Anam Electronics, a South Korean company exporting LG and Harman audio products, compared Vietnam’s trajectory to the developmental stages of Korea and China.
South Korean influence was also evident in Vietnam’s consumer trends. From K-pop-inspired hairstyles to cosmetics, the tag “Han Quoc” (Korean) was a mark of quality. South Korean chains, like Tous les Jours bakeries, GS25 minimarts, Lotte Corporation, and CJ Group, were familiar sights. The South Korean touch extended to Vietnam’s football scene, where a South Korean coach led the men’s team until recently.
The issues were resolved despite some hiccups - a potential ban due to a controversial map and a royalty dispute. Blackpink took to the stage and delivered a performance that embodied the continued Korean influence in Vietnam.