There’s more to South Korea than K-pop and Kim Yu-na, and Lee Bae-yong’s mission in life is to stress that point worldwide.
The former academic heads a unique body trying to burnish the image of a country which frets that its economic “hard power” far outweighs its “soft power” in the eyes of the global community.
She chairs the Presidential Council on Nation Branding, established in January 2009 and dedicated to enhancing South Korea’s international standing and prestige.
This month the council is taking its message to Paris for a “Korea Week” intended, said Lee, “to link traditional and modern culture and to introduce to the rest of the world that we have more than K-pop.”
Korean pop (K-pop) stars and TV drama series won a huge following in Asia and elsewhere in recent years in a phenomenon known as the Korean Wave, or hallyu.
“We have to move beyond hallyu,” Lee told foreign reporters this week.
|Presidential Council on Nation Branding Chairwoman Lee Bae-yong (The Korea Herald)|
Similarly in Olympic sport, the country ― which will host the 2018 Winter games in PyeongChang ― must have more than Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yu-na, she said.
“We have to have a number of very well-performing athletes to really imprint the status of Korea on the international scene,” Lee said through an interpreter.
South Korea built an economic powerhouse on the ruins of the Korean War and embraced democracy in 1987 after decades of army-backed rule.
The 1988 Seoul Olympics were seen as a national coming-out party, and the country last year took a global leadership role by hosting the G20 summit.
“The task now is to take Korea’s standing to the next level,” says a council booklet, adding that soft power derived from culture and image is becoming a crucial indicator of national competitiveness.
Korean culture ― such as traditional housing, costume, food and dance ― is central to the council’s work. Paris was chosen for the next overseas promotion “because it is the cradle of cultural cities around the world,” Lee said.
The events from Nov. 29-Dec. 3 will include a traditional royal wedding re-enactment, a fashion show, a performance and a banquet.
The council also pledges to embrace multiculturalism at home, expand aid and other participation in the international community, instill a greater sense of social responsibility and promote the nation’s hi-tech products.
Lee said the council’s official title is believed to be unique, although other countries have bodies with similar objectives.
“We are living in the era of the brand and trying to build this long-term credibility. Only then will we be able to promote the talent and products that we have,” she said.
As part of the process, Koreans must be “very objective” in judging themselves and correcting negative perceptions such as unfriendliness due to their reluctance to smile in the street.
Lee said smiles tend to be forgotten amid day-to-day pressures. “In reality, Koreans are very warm-hearted. I’m trying to deploy a smile campaign.”
She also acknowledged image problems created by North Korea.
“For instance, if you type in ‘Korea’ in a Google search, sometimes the face of (the North’s leader) Kim Jong-il will show up first,” Lee said. And some parts of the world even confuse the two countries.
“There’s really nothing we can do except enhance the positive image of South Korea even more as a promoter of peace.”
Those efforts are starting to pay off, she said, citing a survey which showed a 16 percent rise in favorable attitudes overseas towards the South ― to 61 percent ― after the G20 summit.
“In the past, when a foreigner met you, the first question was not necessarily ‘Are you Korean?’ It was ‘Are you Japanese?’ This is beginning to change, we are beginning to be better known.” (AFP)