[FOUNTAIN]Saying 'no' or 'know-how'?The Soviet Union's ambassadors to the United Nations during the Cold War were widely known as "Mr. Niet" in Russian or "Mr. No" in English. These ambassadors frequently wielded their veto in the United Nations Security Council. The national image of the Soviet Union was, in the American press, stubborn, argumentative and not open to negotiation.
But the series of Mr. Nos, other than holding different ideological and cultural views, were usually sophisticated and fluent in English. Most of them had a great deal of knowledge about American culture as well. So the Soviets criticized the American press, saying it was prejudiced and held an imperial point of view that considered everything not American to be inferior. Despite that criticism, the Soviet ambassadors were not successful in shaking their image as automatic nay-sayers.
Recently there is a cold atmosphere around U.S.-Korea relations because of North Korea's nuclear program and the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
One renowned American newspaper mistakenly printed a caricature of former President Roh Tae-woo and identified it as President-elect Roh Moo-hyun. Some American journalists criticized the president-elect as being anti-American.
Mr. Roh is well known as being outspoken and not ducking sensitive issues and questions. Still, there are many problems that cannot be solved by outspokenness, despite the common usage of the term "diplomatic language" to convey a sense of cynicism. But diplomats generally say the more diplomatic they are when they are not directly negotiating something, the more it helps protect their national interests.
Some foreigners living in Seoul said they had been upset by President-elect Roh's frank manner of speaking. An American showed me a column from The New York Times that said the president-elect's name is spelled Roh but is pronounced as "No" in Korea. The American said the column is typical of how some Americans think about him.
There is no reason to overreact, but it is still true that it is easier to establish a persona than to change an established one.
The president-elect has a personal Web site with the address "knowhow," so he really does not have to picture himself as "Mr. No" if he has the know-how. That image does not help to improve or protect Korea's interests.
by Kim Seok-hwan firstname.lastname@example.org
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.