Monday, July 18, 2016

Korea's brand power undervalued overseas

By Rachel Lee, "Korea's brand power undervalued overseas,"

Korea Foundation President Lee Si-hyung / Courtesy of the Korea Foundation

Korea Foundation chief vows to boost outreach programs

Korea needs to build strong brand power that corresponds to its high level of economic achievement so it is more influential on the international scene, the new Korea Foundation (KF) chief says.

Lee Si-hyung, appointed in May, said public diplomacy was important when Seoul is receiving so much world attention because of the success of Korea’s companies, and as its culture spreads rapidly.

“Now is the time for the KF to do its proper job as an organization specializing in public diplomacy,” Lee said.

The KF was founded in 1992 for international exchange and public diplomacy initiatives.

Lee, 59, is a career diplomat with 35 years’ experience. He served as ambassador to Poland for three years from 2006, and was deputy minister for trade at the foreign ministry for two years from 2011. After returning from Warsaw, Lee served as chief of protocol in the presidential committee in preparation for the G20 Seoul Summit in 2010. Before joining the KF, Lee was for two years ambassador and permanent representative of Korea to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. 

Marking the 25th anniversary of its founding, the organization is eager to seek original ideas for business plans and strengthen its position following the enforcement of a law on public diplomacy in August.

“The key role for the KF lies within ‘Korea promotion,’” said Lee, calling for citizens’ understanding and participation in the organization’s long-term projects.

“We are considering ways to inform well our citizens on what we are doing.”

The KF chief believed Korea’s “soft power,” cultural diplomacy to influence international public opinion, has gained remarkable strength over the past few decades, thanks to fast economic development, democracy achievement and the spreading of Korean culture.

However, the president said there was an inadequate level of understanding about Korea despite several decades of effort.

“Even in the United States, regarded as our closest ally, the reality falls short of expectations, meaning that Korea is not well understood as much as it should be,” Lee said, mentioning that the country’s stance on key issues — including the historical controversy between Korea and Japan and the situation on the Korean Peninsula — still seemed relatively unknown.

“Compared with Japan, we fall behind when it comes to soft power,” the president said.

“They have invested a great deal of money in public diplomacy, telling the world out there their stance on controversial issues, but it’s not the case here.”

Advanced nations such as France and Japan have been conducting numerous public diplomacy campaigns and projects.

Japan has its Japan Foundation, set up in 1972, which 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.

France also has had one of the world’s leading cultural networks since 1883. Alliance Francaise boasts 1,040 establishments in 136 countries. Every year, more than 450,000 people of all ages attend Alliance Francaise schools to learn French, and over 6 million people take part in the cultural activities on offer.

“It has become of utmost importance to deliver our stance whenever diplomatic issues are raised, especially in this borderless, timeless global era,” the president said. “We will make efforts to raise understanding about Korea around the world, including the U.S., China and Russia, through public diplomacy.”

With Lee taking the lead for three years, the KF will focus on changes and challenges under the slogan “Small, but strong & smart KF,” with this year’s budget 49.6 billion won.

“The KF will spread nationwide our public diplomacy activities so that all Koreans can eventually join us promoting our country with pride,” Lee said.

The KF has embarked on several projects to promote the country since its founding.

In April, the KF organized “Korea through eyes of foreigners” to find out what people from overseas think about Korean society, and how perceived problems can be improved.

Lecturers included medical interpreter Ilya Belyakov, John Riley, deputy head of mission at the New Zealand Embassy, and Korean zither player Jocelyn Clark. They shared their experiences of Korean food, traditional culture and prejudice,

The organization also launched the “KF Together Program” 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.

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.

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