Accounts of Hallyu (“Korean Wave”) exports in Southeast Asia often construct this phenomenon as a benevolent cultural force based upon a mutually beneficial arrangement designed to bring increased development and opportunity to the consumer. Such conclusions ignore the nature of Hallyu as soft power for Korean economic interests and also gloss over the complicated cultural differences that scholars understand have problematized its success in Southeast Asia. This article addresses the position of Hallyu in Laos, the poorest and least developed country in Southeast Asia and one of significant strategic importance to current Western and Eastern powers given its raw materials, geographical position, and current cultivation of overseas investment. While Hallyu in Laos may be constructed as part of a mutual exchange and beneficial arrangement, close analysis of the situation in Laos indicates a highly problematic situation in which Hallyu becomes part of a wider system of exploitation that is perhaps of little benefit to the ordinary Laotian consumer. Furthermore, close analysis of the few Korean cultural representations of Laos indicates that far from an equal partner, the nation is constructed as inferior, childlike, and in need of Korean assistance, in a discourse that is reminiscent of previous European-based Orientalism.
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