Asean sees Korea as K-pop nation and most trusted regional power
Over the past five years, the image of Korea in the minds of Asean young adults went from a developed country to K-pop nation, and its people from friendly and nice to pretty and beautiful, possibly due to the increasing popularity of Korean dramas and TV series, according to a recent survey by the ASEAN-Korea Centre in Seoul.
“K-pop was the top word associated with Korea among Asean young adults, both those residing in Asean and in Korea, followed closely by K-drama and Korean food,” said the center in releasing its report on Wednesday. “The top words the Asean young adults used to describe Koreans were pretty, beautiful and light-skinned.”
The center surveyed 1,800 Asean citizens aged between 19 and 34 living in the Asean region, excluding Myanmar, 519 additional Asean citizens of the same age spectrum residing in Korea, and 1,000 Koreans of the same ages, from last August to September. Myanmar was left out of the survey due to difficulties reaching the residents over the ongoing political turmoil.
Last time the center conducted the survey in 2017 with the Asean young adults — only those residing in Korea — the top words they associated with Korea were “developed” and “economic,” and the top words they associated with Koreans were “nice” and “friendly,” according to the center.
In both years, the survey respondents were not given a roster of words to choose from, but were asked to write the first words that come to their mind in answering the question.
Comparing surveys from both the Asean young adults residing in Korea and those in the Asean region also led to some interesting results, including some major differences in their perception of Koreans.
While the top most commonly used word to describe Koreans by young adults residing in the Asean region was “pretty,” the Asean young adults residing in Korea most often used the word “diligent” to describe Koreans, which was followed by “kind” and “fast.”
“We observed the differences could stem from the fact that most young adults in Asean would access information about Korea through the TV shows and online media and may form an impression on Koreans through Hallyu stars and celebrities,” the center said in its report about the survey results. “On the other hand, the Asean young adults residing in Korea would probably think of their friends, professors, bosses and colleagues in Korea, with whom they meet and interact regularly, when asked this question about how they perceive Koreans.”
On the contrary, the Korean respondents’ perception of Asean did not change much over the years.
The Korean respondents in the latest survey used phrases such as “developing countries,” “hot temperature” and “poor” to describe Asean, which did not differ much from the those they had selected in 2017 to describe Asean.
“While most Asean young adults based their answers from their experiences with Korean media and Hallyu [Korean Wave], most Korean young adults appear to have based their answers on their experience visiting the country,” said the report.
A total of 63.3 percent of the Korean respondents had visited an Asean country, while 34.3 percent of the Asean respondents had visited Korea, according to the study.
Korea No. 1 trusted regional power
The Korean and Asean respondents also contrasted in their level of interest in each other.
While 90.4 percent of the Asean respondents living in the Asean region and 97.7 percent of the Asean respondents living in Korea said they’re interested in Korea, 52.8 percent of Korean respondents said they’re interested in Asean.
Siti Maisarah Haji Majid, deputy head of the Information and Data Unit of the ASEAN-Korea Centre, said the gap in this perception is the place to start for anyone wishing to enhance Asean-Korean ties.
“To bridge the gaps in perceptions between Korean and Asean young adults, it is first important to acknowledge that such gaps do exist, so that meaningful outcomes can be realized,” said Majid. “This will allow relevant agencies and stakeholders to ensure that measures and approaches can be undertaken to appropriately address these gaps toward establishing a more cohesive relationship in the future.”
The Asean young adults’ interest in Korea was also portrayed through their level of trust in Korea over other regional powers.
The Asean respondents living in Southeast Asia and Korea all selected Korea as the No. 1 regional power they trust the most, among other regional powers including the United States, Japan, China, Australia and Asean.
The Asean young adults trusted China the least out of the regional powers, which was the same for Korean young adults, who said they trusted the United States the most, followed by Australia, Asean, Japan and China.
Trends by nation
The study also broke down the results by each Asean country, yielding several interesting trends.
Of the Asean respondents residing in Southeast Asia, those in Cambodia were found to have been the least interested in Korea. Of the Cambodian respondents in Cambodia, 65.5 percent said they’re interested in Korea — the other Asean respondents all surpassed 88 percent in the same index.
“If there was one anomaly we could find with the respondents in Cambodia, we found that while many had experienced Korea through its culture and the arts, or even through studying the Korean language, they had had comparatively less experiences buying Korean goods or meeting Korean people,” said the report. “We intend to conduct focus-group interviews with the young adults in the Asean region to find out more about what these data may be telling us.”
When the Korean respondents were asked to choose Asean countries that they have good sentiments for, Singapore came in first, at 45.2 percent, followed by Thailand and Vietnam.
But when it came to choosing a country that the Korean respondents felt was closest to Korea in economic, social and diplomatic contexts, Vietnam came in first, followed by Singapore and Thailand.
The report pointed out several factors, including the bilateral trade level, that could be behind the result.
“It may have to do with the fact that Vietnam-Korea trade took up 48 percent of Asean-Korea trade in 2020 […] and that 92 percent of Asean students studying in Korea were Vietnamese in the same year,” said the report.
Vietnam was also the No. 1 most visited Asean country by the Korean respondents. In the 2017 survey, it came in fourth.
Respondents did not differ much when it came to how they envisioned future cooperation.
Both groups chose the fourth industrial revolution as the top area where Asean and Korea should work more together, out of other categories including education, health care, social welfare, cybersecurity and climate change.
“Prior to the pandemic, major Asean countries had growth momentum of more than 5 percent and were planning policies around the fourth industrial revolution, including introduction of the relevant technology to its economy,” said the center in its report. “Against this backdrop, Korea and its advanced IT sector made it an attractive partner to many in the Asean and there have been budding projects such as the Vietnam-Korea Institute of Science and Technology.”
The report added that the fourth industrial revolution technology only became more relevant with the onset of the pandemic, likely leading to the heightened interest among both Korean and Asean young adults to see more Asean-Korean cooperation in the field.
The survey results were released at a forum the center hosted at the Korea Press Center in Seoul on Wednesday. Held under the title "Enhancing Mutual Perceptions for a Sustainable Partnership," the roundtable heard from experts including from the ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN Foundation, National Institute for International Education and Channel News Asia.
“The development of a mutually sustainable and beneficial relationship for Asean and Korea cannot be achieved through efforts from only one side. It is a role that everyone needs to take a part in, and this can only start when there are favorable feelings for one another,” said Kim Hae-yong, secretary general of the ASEAN-Korea Centre. “And as the survey results have shown, leveraging on opportunities through education, media and people-to-people exchange programs could be a way to bridge the existing gap in perceptions.”
Yoon Jin-pyo, professor of political science at Sungshin Women's University and a panelist at the roundtable, addressed the need to pay attention to the experiences of the Asean young adults in Korea.
"The survey results were encouraging in that many Asean young adults, after they experienced Korea themselves, had even better images of the country," said Yoon. "But there are cases of discrimination that they face in Korean society, which needs serious attention. The educational programs, media and other institutions have a big role to play here."
There are around 560,000 citizens of Asean living in Korea as of 2020, of whom around 180,000 are migrant workers, 60,000 are those who decided to settle down in Korea after getting married to a Korean, and another 60,000 are students, according to the center. They consist of about 27 percent of the foreigner population in Korea.
The center plans to launch a qualitative study via focus group interviews with Korean and Asean young adults later this year, to put the raw data into context and make recommendations on the future of Asean-Korean cooperation.
BY ESTHER CHUNG [email@example.com]