Monday, July 3, 2017

[Joo Joong-chul] Has cultural diplomacy been forgotten?

Joo Joong-chul,

Due to the allergic reaction to the “culture prosperity policy” of the former government, the word “culture” can hardly be found in the recent diplomacy of the new government. As the case may be, it is natural for cultural diplomacy to be left behind because of present diplomatic issues. Nonetheless, our government’s cultural diplomacy, represented by public diplomacy, has been making steady progress. We have pursued a “public diplomacy with the people” in earnest by building a collaborative system with the local government, civic groups, economic circles, and the media after public diplomacy law was enacted on Aug. 4, 2016.

Public diplomacy is not a type of hard power such as military and economic power, but a form of soft power that symbolizes culture, knowledge and policies. It is developing in diverse areas: policy public diplomacy that raises the world’s awareness of our key policies such as North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and unification issues; cultural public diplomacy that develops and informs the world of our attractive assets and cultural content; and knowledge public diplomacy which accurately publicizes Korea. It can be seen as a national diplomacy where many organizations and groups including local governments cooperate, as the central government has its limitations.

North Gyeongsang Province, where I am from, established the Gyeongju Expo Foundation in December 1996 before our government’s public diplomacy became full-fledged. It has been leading cultural public diplomacy by communicating with cultures around the world based on the rich cultural 

               " The Ho Chi Minh City-Gyeongju
                 World Culture Expo 2017 will be
                 the starting point of new
                 government’s cultural public
                 diplomacy "  
heritage of Gyeongju. Starting in 1998, the Gyeongju Culture Expo has been held eight times at home and abroad, with events in Siem Reap, Cambodia in 2006, and Istanbul, Turkey in 2013.
Ho Chi Minh City -- Gyeongju World Culture Expo 2017 will be held from Nov. 9 to Dec. 3 for 25 days under the theme of “Asian cultural prosperity through cultural exchange.” This year’s expo in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, will be a grand cultural festival that demonstrates and harmonizes all culture such as traditional and modern arts, exhibitions, performances, films and etc.

So far, in Southeast Asia including Vietnam, Korean culture has mainly been known through the Korean Wave based on K-pop and dramas. However, this expo is expected to play an essential role in introducing our unique culture and history, and traditional style and grace. As this year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Korea and Vietnam, this expo will be especially significant.

Vietnam, a provision for post-China, is a hub of Southeast Asia and focal point for the promotion of the diversification in our diplomatic policies. Vietnam celebrates its rapid economic development, and the world’s interest towards Ho Chi Minh City, the center of economy, is heating up. Much attention is being focused as Seoul, Busan, Daegu, and Incheon are signing up for a cooperative agreement with Ho Chi Minh City. In this regard, we have to pay attention to why Ho Chi Minh City decided to host the Gyeongju World Culture Expo 2017. This comes from its recognition of the ability and potential of Gyeongju Culture Expo committee. In May 2017, Nguyen Thanh Phong, the mayor of Ho Chi Minh City who visited Korea, emphasized that “this Expo will be the largest cultural festival together with foreign local government,” and expressed his high expectations about its success.

Ho Chi Minh City is the most dynamic place in Vietnam, and contributes 25 percent of Vietnam’s GDP, 30 percent of its government budget, and accounts for 25 percent of total exports. There are more than 80,000 Koreans living there and more than 2,000 Korean companies operating in the city. This is why we can also expect high economic ripple effects from the expo. It will hopefully be an exemplary case, showing that culture can play a crucial role in leading the economy. Although the Gyeongju Culture Expo has been led by North Gyeongsang Province and Gyeongju for more than 20 years, it is no exaggeration to say that it has become a cultural event at a national level. Our government has weighed the importance of this event by then President Roh Moo-hyun and Prime Minister Jeong Hong-won’s attending the opening ceremony at the Angkor-Gyeongju World Culture Expo 2006 and Istanbul-Gyeongju World Culture Expo 2013 respectively.

Since its launch, our new government expressed its interest in Southeast Asia by sending the mayor of Seoul to three countries, including Vietnam, as the special envoy of the president. In this regard, I sincerely expect that Ho Chi Minh City -- Gyeongju World EXPO 2017 could be successfully held with the active support of central government, leading to the first large-scale cultural public diplomacy event of the new government.

By Joo Joong-chul

Joo Joong-chul is ambassador vice governor of international relations in North Gyeongsang Province. -- Ed.

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