The Korean Wave, or the popularity of Korean culture, is the best tool for South Korea in reaching American people and bringing the two countries' closer together, said a United States diplomat recently posted in Seoul.
"I think the best thing to use is a soft power approach. The best thing Koreans have going for them in foreign countries is the Korean Wave," Brian Peterson said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Friday.
The second secretary-level official from the US Department of State started his one-year term at the Regional Public Diplomacy Division at the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs last month under a diplomat exchange program. Peterson is the fifth US diplomat who has been posted to South Korea since the program opened in 2011.
He said South Korea's popular music, dramas and movies have started to make their presence felt among the US audience.
"In the US, it used to be very, very few people that were not of Korean heritage that were interested (in South Korean culture). But now more and more people are getting interested," Peterson said, referring to the Korean Wave. "So, I think the best way is to tie into some of those."
K-pop festivals in US cities, for example, would be a useful public diplomacy opportunity where South Korea can expose an intrigued US audience to other aspects of the country to raise their understanding of national policies, the diplomat suggested.
"If you can use the music, or the movie, or whatever to get their attention, then they may develop more interest in other things about Korea. And then they will be more likely to listen to things about Korea's policy, Korea's goals and other things Korea does in the world," according to Peterson, who speaks Korean fluently.
In his case though, it was chance that made him pick up the Korean language and eventually land his current position. He said his previous job in the US military required him to learn Korean.
"It started off as a chance meeting. But then the more I got into it, the more I started to fall in love with Koreans and Korean culture," the diplomat said. During his previous post in the US Forces Korea, he met his wife, who is Korean, and has since lived under the influence of Korean culture.
"I've been working with Koreans and I've been married to a Korean for almost 18 years now, so I think in some ways, I'm better or more adjusted than even some of the Korean-Americans who have come into this program because I am used to it," he said.
During the one-year term, he will mainly focus on playing a mediator role between the foreign ministry and the US Embassy in Seoul, especially when their interests conflict.
"Perhaps it's my job to help find the common ground or help find the compromise that can benefit both sides," Peterson noted. "The best thing is, if I can, by understanding both points of views well, maybe I can help to find a solution that can work for both sides."
He will also try to infuse a Western perspective into the ministry's public diplomacy policies.
"Because a lot of this office's mission is to teach about Korea, Korean policies and bring a favorable impression about Korea and the Korean government to foreigners, and since I am a foreigner, hopefully I can help them understand what is the best way to reach their audience, especially from the Western perspective," according to Peterson.
He added that his “personal, selfish goal” is to use the posting to improve his Korean skills and understanding of Korea and Korean culture.
It is currently a difficult time for the Korea-US alliance because there's no clear picture of who's going to be the next US president, he said, referring to the undecided nature of the presidential race back home.
"But I do hope that because we have such a long enduring relationship that no matter what the candidates say during their campaign speeches ... there's campaign promises and then there's real outcomes, often the relationship is very small," he said. "So don't overreact too much yet until you see how things play out." (Yonhap)