[Viewpoint] Diplomacy out in public

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[Viewpoint] Diplomacy out in public

“I was first captivated by the pungmulnori, the traditional Korean folk music with percussion, and then gradually started to fall in love with the traditional dance, the food such as samkyeopsal [pork belly], the beautiful natural landscape and the people,” commented the Grand Prize winner of the “I Love Korea, Because .?.?.” video contest for foreigners, which was organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade as part of its public diplomacy program. There has been a sharp increase in the number of foreigners who love Korea and want to know more about the country. There are more than 830 Hallyu fan clubs in over 80 countries, with a total of 6.7 million members.

Many nations are actively pursuing public diplomacy as a means to win the hearts and minds of foreign people, and thus further enhance the nation’s image. In the field of foreign policy, the paradigm is shifting from traditional hard power, such as political and economic policies, toward soft power and public diplomacy involving mainly culture and art. Thanks to advances in IT technology, ordinary people can easily access information and express their opinions on foreign countries and their people without hesitation. If foreigners have a negative image of a country, it is very hard for the country to pursue its foreign policy.

In his speech at Cairo University in 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama tried to win over the hearts of the people in the region by advocating a new era in the relationship between the U.S. and the Islamic world. When he visited Korea in March this year, he drew an analogy between Korea-U.S. relations and jeong, or a Korean word meaning affection, and shouted out, “Gachigapsida” (“Let’s Go Together”) in his speech at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

Public diplomacy deals with the content and methodology in a strategic manner with the goal of strengthening bilateral relations and improving the national image. It utilizes a range of methods including culture, media and lectures. It is distinguished from simple cultural events in that it is pursued within a broader framework of our overall foreign policy goals. How is Korea viewed and perceived by foreigners? And how do Koreans want to be seen in the world?

Korea has developed from the Land of the Morning Calm to the Miracle of the Han River. It has achieved both economic development and democratization. Korea was once an aid recipient, but it is now a donor country and a member of the 20-50 club. Despite these achievements, Korea still faces the task of overcoming the so-called Korea discount, which stems from the North-South division, and creating a national image and brand which meets the expectations of the Korean people.

How then can we promote this newly emerging trend of public diplomacy? First, public diplomacy should be done in a two-way communication which respects other cultures and traditions rather than unilaterally presenting our tradition and culture.

Second, an accurate message and the right timing are crucial when it comes to response to a country’s image building. Due to the development of social networking services, an image of a country can be formed in an instant when the country faces difficult times and then such an image will persist. In particular, a negative image spreads rapidly and it is hard to change that image once it is engraved in people’s minds.

Third, we should take a strategic approach to public diplomacy within the framework of our overall foreign policy. We should present not only a current positive image of Korea but a vision of its future path and values. We should foster among peoples of other countries a perception of Korea as a responsible member of the international community. We should nurture a positive image such as, “Korea is a facilitator of peace and development cooperation” or “Korea plays a bridging role between developed and developing countries.”

Fourth, public diplomacy needs to be pursued by all stakeholders in Korea, including the National Assembly, media, NGOs and the Korean diaspora. Korea, with a unique history and development, needs a uniquely Korean-type public diplomacy strategy, which distinguishes it from other countries.

Korea’s 175 overseas missions are the vanguard in promoting public diplomacy - with a big boost from the globalized Hallyu. Our embassies and consulates general are promoting a fine-tuned, tailor-made form of public diplomacy that respects and embraces local customs and sentiment, taking into account also the level of local affection for Korea. The final goal of public diplomacy is to promote the national image and foster greater goodwill and influence in the international community by winning the hearts and minds of people of other countries.

Public diplomacy is also the most effective means in pursuing a comprehensive and complex diplomacy. Public diplomacy may seem soft, but it is stronger and more enduring.

Looking to the future, public diplomacy, which touches people’s hearts and fosters a sense of shared understanding through communication and a shared sensibility, is the obvious global trend.

*The author is minister of foreign affairs and trade in Korea.
By Kim Sung-hwan
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