[CULTURAL DIMENSIONS]Two kinds of anti-AmericanismKorean leaders should know a great deal about the United States. They should know how public opinion is formed and how it affects the evolution of public policy. They need to know these things to position Korea advantageously in the all-important news cycle.
Talk of sending a "special economic representative" to the United States to stem the rise of anti-Korean views shows how little members of the Roh Moo-hyun transition team know about the news cycle. As long as there is hostile anti-Americanism in Korea, a "special economic representative" can do little to reverse the cycle of negative news about Korea.
The distinction between political anti-Americanism and hostile anti-Americanism is critical. Protests against such matters as the presence of U.S. troops in Korea, U.S. policy toward North Korea, and a possible war in Iraq reflect a critical stance toward U.S. policy that becomes political anti-Americanism. Banning Americans from restaurants or physical attacks on foreigners and U.S. soldiers are hate crimes against individuals.
The news cycle looks for clarity, but it makes a distinction between political and hostile anti-Americanism. In the news cycle, political anti-Americanism is treated as a political movement, which necessitates a discussion of the reasons and potential influence of the movement. Many Americans can sympathize with political anti-Americanism because they, too, are against a war in Iraq and have strong reservations about Bush administration foreign policy.
Conservative pundits, such as William Safire and Robert Novak, will complain, but they have little influence on the formation of public opinion. The current friction between Korea and the United States would have to build several times over to reach the necessary density to prompt the president or Congress to withdraw troops.
Hostile anti-Americanism, however, is treated in the news cycle as hate crimes. Reports of restaurants banning Americans and attacks on U.S. soldiers create a far more negative image of Korea than protests against U.S. policy. Few Americans or citizens of any advanced democratic society can sympathize with hostile anti-Americanism, because most of these countries have laws prohibiting such forms of discrimination.
If the Korean government is unwilling or unable to take a stand against such hostility, then Americans, and perhaps other Westerners, have little choice but to conclude that they should take their business elsewhere.
Instead of sending a "special economic representative" to the United States, the transition team should review existing laws on discrimination and hate crimes against foreigners. If it finds that there are no laws governing such matters, it should propose to make them and outline plans for their enforcement.
This will send a strong message to society that discrimination and hate crimes against foreigners will not be tolerated, regardless of the prevailing political winds. It will show foreign investors that Korea is serious about developing and maintaining an open and secure business environment. The message should be clear: discrimination and hate crimes against foreigners will be prosecuted aggressively.
Aside from legal action, President-elect Roh Moo-hyun should speak out against discrimination and hate crimes against foreigners. As an advocate of human rights during the dark days of dictatorship, the president-elect's voice carries special weight on such matters. He can set a high standard for human rights and encourage people to reach for that standard in daily life. The president-elect knows that great leaders challenge their people to do better.
The problem of discrimination and hate crimes against foreigners has other implications. Foreigners constitute only a tiny percentage of the population, but they are not the only minority in Korea. If a small number of foreigners can be abused out of anger at a nation or group, then how about other minorities in Korea? The answer is simple: A government that cannot protect the rights of the few cannot protect the rights of the many.
Beyond the news cycle, the transition team should inquire into the question of why political disputes between nations become personalized in Korea but not in most other advanced democratic countries. From this perspective, the problem is not anti-Americanism, hostile or political, but a deeper antipathy toward foreigners that can (and often does) affect interaction with people from other countries as well. To be sure, all nations have their prickly nationalistic quirks, but not all nations dream of becoming a regional hub in trade, finance, tourism and air travel.
In the end, there is no correlation between the presence of U.S. troops and the depth of the business relationship that the U.S. has with a country. Foreign investors from any nation need an open and secure business environment. President-elect Roh and his transition team can ensure that Korea remains open and secure by taking action to prevent hate crimes against foreigners and by affirming a strong commitment to national security.
Such actions and words will swing the news cycle in Korea's favor by framing anti-Americanism as a political issue to be addressed rationally during the course of the new administration.
by Robert J. Fouser
* The writer is an associate professor at Kyoto University in Japan.