The Korea Herald


Debate rages over who should be responsible for cultural diplomacy

By Shin Hae-in

Published : Nov. 23, 2011 - 16:45

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As controversy grows over which government ministry should manage the promotion of Korean culture overseas, scholars have come together to seek a solution to the issue.

During a policy debate session this week, experts agreed that the job should not fall on just one ministry or government agency, but a network of organizations with different functions.

“The role should not fall on one ministry, but the whole government,” professor Lee Joon-hyung of Hanyang University said during the “International Cultural Exchange: Issues and Directions” forum held Tuesday.

“What we need the most is not a conductor, but a coordinator,” Lee said. “I seriously wonder if the Foreign Ministry is really capable of being in charge of the affairs that need to be considered in so many different aspects.”

Professor Kim Sang-bae of Seoul National University, also attending the session, agreed.

“A network of various ministries, agencies and private sectors is what is necessary for proper cultural diplomacy, public diplomacy, soft power diplomacy or whatever you may call it,” he said.

“Culture and diplomacy must go together, always. A meta-governance mechanism, under which the government maps out the big picture and backs up individual organizations separately should smoothly link the two,” said Kim.

Cultural diplomacy, public diplomacy and soft power diplomacy have become oft-repeated terms as countries become more aware of the importance of non-diplomatic activities by diplomats, activists and individuals in promoting a positive national image.

The heated discussions here come as two separate bills were submitted to the parliament earlier this year over which ministry should specialize in overseas cultural promotion.

With Korean pop culture gaining popularity overseas, the government has been recognizing the influence culture has in promoting and enhancing national image.

A group of 35 lawmakers, including Shin Nak-kyun of the main opposition Democratic Party, submitted to the National Assembly in September a bill that calls on the Foreign Ministry to take over cultural diplomacy affairs from the Culture Ministry.

While advocates of the bill, including the Foreign Ministry, believe the ministry will better handle affairs related to international cooperation and exchange programs, critics question the ministry’s expertise in the field of culture.

On Nov. 9, another group of lawmakers led by Heo Won-jae of the ruling Grand National Party submitted a separate bill, under which related affairs would be divided among the ministries of culture, foreign affairs, education and more.

Bae Byung-soo, an official at the Foreign Ministry’s cultural diplomacy bureau, said it would be “more efficient” for his ministry to take charge and coordinate different agencies and their cultural promotion activities.

“With different ministries dealing with different events and different issues, there has been a growing need for a so-called manager to oversee details,” said Bae.

“As overseas diplomatic missions are deeply related to the cultural events held outside the country, we can play this role efficiently.”

It would be “a win-win strategy” for all ministries, Bae said, adding consultations have been continuing among ministries with the Culture Ministry recently submitting its opinion on the issue.

Since last month, the Culture Ministry has repeatedly expressed concerns over the issue, claiming it has more budget, expertise and concrete policies to effectively promote Korean culture overseas.

“The biggest problem is the vagueness in the term cultural diplomacy,” said Oh Nam-sook of the Korean Overseas Information Service, affiliated with the Culture Ministry.

“And we cannot agree with the Foreign Ministry acting as the control tower on issues that we have been and are still in charge of,” she added.

The Culture Ministry claims it has the capacity to deal with the increasing number of overseas-related affairs as it currently operates information centers in 20 different countries with affiliated agencies the Korea Tourism Organization and the Korea Culture and Contents Agency also operating independent overseas offices.

By Shin Hae-in (