[FOUNTAIN]A tarnished national image

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[FOUNTAIN]A tarnished national image

Most countries around the globe have images of their own. For example, Japan is a country where everything is in order, the United Kingdom is a country of chivalry, and France is a nation of art and freedom.

The connotations have, of course, changed over time, and a country with a bad image sometimes succeeds in shaking it off and replacing it with a better one. Sometimes the opposite also happens.

Germany, for instance, was once considered a country of Nazis who killed millions of Jews, but its repentance and relentless efforts transformed its image into a country of discipline and system where everyone abides by the rules. Argentina, in stark contrast, tumbled into the image of a country of corruption, incompetence and economic turmoil from that of a country of vitality that was about to join the ranks of advanced countries.

So what is Korea's image? Is Korea still a country of the morning calm, of courteous people from the East, or of great liveliness although order is a little bit more ignored than in Japan?

Or, have we already been tagged with a new image without our knowledge?

It is worth examining how we are seen in the countries of the former Soviet Union, especially those in Central Asia, which once considered Korea a hospitable, virtuous country. Because of sexual abuse of Central Asian women by Korean employers, and because of the meek response by Seoul, Korea is increasingly seen as a lewd commercial country that does not care about human rights.

The cases of such abuse are exceptions, but reports about human rights abuse are pouring in to Central Asian governments; people there and those who hire workers to send to Korea are sometimes engaged in fights.

Some leaders of Central Asian countries, including Uzbekistan, have demanded that our government crack down on human-traffickers. They have issued orders to uproot the sex trade.

Islam Karimov, the president of Uzbekistan, was once a pro-Korean leader who said that he hoped to improve the newly-established diplomatic relations with Korea, recalling memories of the childhood Korean friends who lived in his neighborhood.

But in only one decade, Korea lost the good image that central Asian countries had of us. Our image has now been tarnished and is at a disgraceful level.

Foreigners' memories of Korea symbolize the level of Korean society and its development potential. The government must act to stop these abuses.

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Kim Seok-hwan

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