Winning hearts first

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Winning hearts first

President Park Geun-hye is on a historic state visit to Iran for the first time as head of state since Korea’s establishment of diplomatic relations with the Middle East country in 1962. President Park also made the first visit as a female head of state to the theocratic country. Her trip carries great significance as it shows Iran wants as much as Korea wants from it.

Iran could be a last-remaining “blue ocean” for us. Despite exclusive images of the country portrayed by Western media, Iranians are not only friendly to Koreans, but also show favorable response to Korean brands, including consumer electronics and automobiles. Not a few senior citizens call Koreans just friends as they well remember Korean construction workers did not leave their country even during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. You can even see several Iranians who can speak Korean well since they worked in Korea.

The young generation are avid followers of Korean television dramas, as seen in the popularity of Korean drama “Jumong” and TV miniseries “Dae Jang Geum” in local video shops. On the elevator of Iran’s Ministry of Economy and Finance, Jewish American singer Barbara Streisand’s hit song “Women in Love” was playing. All of that shows the Iranian government is not closed to foreign culture. If we avoid offending costumes and immoral acts, the Korean Wave can further penetrate the Islamic state. To capitalize on the mood, we should develop contents that can meet the local demand.

To further advance to Iran, we must make effort to look at the country from our own perspective by breaking the longstanding prejudice consolidated by the West. A short cut would be facilitating exchanges with the country, including striking deals for visa waiver programs, direct flights, expansion of human exchange for science, technology and education as well as students and start-up entrepreneurs. Needless to say, promoting mutual understanding holds the key here.

More importantly, we must come to grips with the zeitgeist of Iran. The Iranian government pursues to develop the country into a modern economic powerhouse while maintaining its identity as Shiite Muslims and Persians. Just as Korea achieved the Miracle on the Han by developing science and technology through education, Iran wants to become a highly-advanced industrial nation based on nearly free education. Therefore, Korea must seek a mutual growth model with Iran beyond our export market. Understanding — and addressing — such desires and ambitions will be a way to a win-win cooperation in the future.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 3, Page 30
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