[VIEWPOINT]The power of hallyu lifts Korea’s influence

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[VIEWPOINT]The power of hallyu lifts Korea’s influence

The popular appeal of hallyu, or Korean pop culture, is very big in China. Korean movies, such as “The Brotherhood of War,” have been distributed widely and Korean stars, including Lee Young-ae, the main character in the Korean TV drama “Daejanggeum; Jewel in the Palace” and Kim Hee-sun, one of the country’s best known beauties, are popular throughout Asia.
Television and movies are vestiges of Western civilization. China, which closed its doors for 30 years, began to open up in the late 1970s and could hardly accept flashy and gaudy Hollywood action films readily.
The Korean culture wave has added the tastes and styles of the Korean peninsula to the vehicles of Western culture. The elements of the Korean culture wave are closer to the region’s salty oceanic culture and carry much more emotional appeal to people here than do Hollywood productions. So the Chinese gladly take the trouble to stay up to watch Korean dramas that are broadcast only late at night, in accordance with government regulations. An example is someone on the staff of a university in Beijing who’d miss work the next day after watching episodes of the “Daejanggeum” TV drama series.
The boom in Korean culture is the mix of our national experience and sentiment with the values of recently realized democracy and freedoms. The Korean culture wave is also flowing actively in mainstream Western civilizations symbolized by Nike and Coca Cola.
In that flow, the particular qualities of Korean culture have created a wave of their own.
Will this cultural phenomenon hold true in the international political arena, too? The answer is “Yes.” Koreans living in China have a dilemma: how to deal with the “big country” of China. One way is to submit to China and the other is to confront it. But both ways are hard for Koreans to accept. Their pride does not allow them to be submissive and they know all too well that China is too big to grapple with.
The solution lies in the Korean culture wave, as it makes its way across the huge ocean. To put it plainly, we should be backed up by the United States, a variable that can move China. Although China is an important country that can exercise influence on North Korea, China always keeps its eyes on the United States when playing the North Korean card.
It can be said that North Korea ignored China in its missile tests because China failed to prevent the United States from imposing financial sanctions on North Korea. Because ― the thinking goes ― China froze North Korean funds in Macau, Chinese territory, in order to read the mind of the superpower, the United States, North Korea eventually saw China with distrust. This was shown by the North’s missile launches without prior notice to China.
Upon close examination, China’s ultimate purpose with the North Korean card is to purchase the stability of neighboring countries and a solution of the Taiwan problem. The country aims to keep North Korea in its embrace, preventing the forces of the United States from directly approaching Chinese territory and reducing U.S. influence over its eventual unification with Taiwan.
How about North Korea? Its biggest intention in testing missiles is to get to direct negotiations with the United States. This is the biggest factor behind the North Korean leadership’s constant distress and hesitation, envy and shame about the United States. Through confrontation with the United States, the North Korean leadership aims to keep its people more tightly within the framework of domestic rule.
What will move North Korea and China in the long run is the United States. Korea should find its strategy in the chessboard where the U.S. power dominates.
Although it may sound subservient, “Being backed up by the United States” means depending on the South Korea-U.S. alliance and the balance of international powers.
Some may question the wisdom of thinking there is a parallel with the cultural phenomenon, but I say this because of my concern about the signs of a crack in the bilateral alliance.
Although self-reliance sounds good, international politics is carried out in a world of cool-headed power. This is why the South Korea-United States alliance is all the more important.
Korea’s diplomacy has shown the missile incident was a problem. The “feeling” in Beijing is that South Korea’s role this time was much weaker than in the last round of six-way talks. This may have been the after-effect of its neglecting the trilateral alliance with South Korea, the United States and Japan.
I would like to give this advice to Korea’s diplomats and security officials: “Learn the power of hallyu from Chungmu-ro, the Korean Hollywood, and Hong-ik University, the mecca of avant garde art in Korea.”

* The writer is the Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Yoo Kwang-jong
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