Monday, August 24, 2015

Making international friends

Korea Foundation President Yu Hyun-seok has been at the forefront of the country's public diplomacy since his appointment in 2013.
/ Courtesy of the Korea Foundation

KF chief stresses importance 
of public diplomacy for Korea to exert influence

By Rachel Lee

In today's rapidly changing world, public diplomacy is essential because it enables a nation to influence international public opinion in a way that supports that nation's interests. The need for this so-called "soft power" ― as opposed to "hard power" that includes political and economic diplomacy ― in Korea is undeniable, especially when the country is receiving unprecedented world attention thanks to the popular culture movement and increasing national strength. 

"There is traditional diplomacy between countries, and based on this, public diplomacy involves exchanging language, education and culture to promote our country and win the hearts of people around the world, which, in turn, will strengthen our influence," Korea Foundation (KF) President Yu Hyun-seok, 51, told The Korea Times. The KF is an organization founded in 1992 for international exchange and public diplomacy initiatives.

Yu has been at the forefront of the country's public diplomacy since his appointment in 2013. He also is a professor in the political science and international relations department at Kyung Hee University and vice president of the Korean Association of Area Studies.

"I can truly feel the world's growing interest in Korea whenever I go on a business trip, Yu said. "And I believe that now is the time to put more effort into public diplomacy. The result will be greater than expected."

The Korea Foundation, an organization founded in 1991 for international exchange and public diplomacy initiatives, launched "KF Together Program" in April. It is designed to help foreign residents understand Korea better through various activities, exhibitions and workshops. The photo shows "Storytelling Concert by Canadian Inuit Michael Kusugak" held at the KF Cultural Center in Seoul on May 9 last year.
/ Courtesy of the Korea Foundation

"Public diplomacy" dates back to 1965 when Edmund Gullion, an American diplomat, used the term in connection with the founding of the Edward R. Murrow Center for Public Diplomacy at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in the United States.

The Murrow Center's brochure describes public diplomacy as "the influence of public attitudes on the formation and execution of foreign policies" ― encompassing dimensions of international relations beyond traditional diplomacy.

Advanced nations such as France and the United Kingdom have been conducting numerous public diplomacy campaigns and projects.

The British government has several public diplomacy partners ― the British Council, Wilton Park think tank and the BBC World Service ― all of which build strong relationships with people overseas through various programs and conferences. 

The British Council, founded in 1934, has over 7,000 staff working at 250 offices in 110 countries. Its "GREAT campaign," designed to encourage the world to visit, study and do business in the U.K., is one of the country's ambitious, successful examples of public diplomacy.

France's Alliance Francaise, founded in 1883, is the world's leading cultural network, boasting 1,040 establishments in 136 countries. Every year, more than 450,000 people of all ages attend Alliance Fran├žaise schools to learn French, and over 6 million people take part in the cultural activities on offer.

Japan is no exception. The Japan Foundation, established in 1972, is dedicated to international cultural exchange programs. It has built a global network consisting of the Tokyo headquarters, the Kyoto Office, two Japanese-language institutes and 22 offices in 21 countries with more than 200 staff members.

But Korea falls too short of what its neighbor has done over the last four decades. 

"In the U.S., those working for think tanks also get to work for the government and they come back and continue their policy research," Yu said. "The reality is that the number of Korea experts is way below that of Japan specialists in Washington for instance. We need to nurture more young experts so that their views can be reflected in American diplomatic policies."

As part of a long-term plan to nurture the next generation of such specialists, since 2009 the KF has set up Korea-related programs with four think tanks in the U.S. ― the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Brookings Institution, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The KF has seven offices in six countries with 91 staff. 

"Just because Japan is close to us geographically, we've neglected the need for public diplomacy in Japan," Yu said. "I suppose people in Japan aren't really familiar with issues with Korea such as Dokdo and comfort women. So we are planning to expand our cultural exchange programs with Japan in hope that more Japanese people understand Korea-Japan relations properly."

Yu hopes more Korean people and businesses realize the need for public diplomacy and take an interest in it.

"At the end of the day, exporters have to win the hearts of consumers overseas," Yu said. "For that reason, conglomerates here are working together with the KF and support research in major think tanks in the U.S. I hope more and more companies in Korea take part in public diplomacy projects. And people in Korea will also hopefully get actively engaged in our programs and make the best of them."

The institution's "KF Together Program," launched in April, is designed to help foreign residents understand Korea better through field trips to the demilitarized zone and other historical locations, discussions about Korean culture and issues, and networking opportunities to interact with Koreans.

The KF plans to embark on the KF Next Generation Policy Expert Forum, networking businesses, and supporting think tanks abroad with research on Korea-related topics next year.

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