The Korea Herald


[Kim Seong-kon] Friendly advice from foreign experts who love Korea

By Korea Herald

Published : Oct. 11, 2023 - 05:30

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Many young foreigners these days love K-pop so much that they do not hesitate to spend a lot of money to buy a ticket for a K-pop concert. They are also fond of the K-movies and K-dramas streamed on Netflix. Many of them idolize K-pop singers and want to visit the country that has produced such charming and appealing pop culture.

But for K-politics, things are quite the opposite. While K-pop and K-film have made South Korea proud, K-politics has been an embarrassment. Foreign experts who care about Korea warn that South Koreans do not seem to realize how grim and precarious their current situation is. Watching what is going on in Korea these days, especially in the political arena, many ask, “Dear Koreans, what are you thinking and doing in these times of international crisis?”

Foreign experts on Korea have long labeled Korea as the “Hermit Kingdom” because it was seen as an isolated country veiled by a foggy curtain, and that description is still used for North Korea. In their eyes, South Korea is also a perplexing country that is oftentimes hard to understand.

For example, foreigners find it puzzling that South Koreans are still engaged in ideological warfare of their own, even though the ideological difference between the North and South has already split the peninsula. This dispute would only serve to please North Korea.

Indeed, North Korean politicians may mistakenly believe that about 40 percent of South Koreans who are reportedly supporters of left-wing politicians would welcome them when they start the second Korean War. North Korea made the same mistake when it invaded the South in 1950. In the eyes of the international community, therefore, it is indeed enigmatic that there are still so many left-wing radicals and their sympathizers in South Korea, while a hostile North Korea’s nuclear threat is ever increasing.

Another inscrutable thing for foreigners is that many South Koreans seem not to realize or are reluctant to admit that the current mass of piled-up problems in Korea were created by the previous administration, not by the current administration. Perhaps that is why, in the recent words of one foreign expert, “despite all efforts by the current administration to straighten things up, and the powerful international community’s support, too many in Korea seem to support the hunger strike of the opposition party leader.”

Foreigners find the recent hunger strike of the opposition party leader baffling because his party holds the majority of seats in the National Assembly and thus is already powerful enough to block anything from the government if it deems it to not be democratic. It is common sense that hunger strikes are usually reserved as a last resort for demanding democracy.

It is for the above reasons that many foreign experts think South Korea has not been able to gain the full trust of its allies yet. Foreign political leaders cannot rule out the possibility that the Korean people may choose the opposition party in the next election. If so, it seems likely that everything will have to be reset back to the past again and thus all the hard work of increasing cooperation between foreign allies and South Korea’s current administration will go down the drain. How, then, would anyone dedicate themselves to establishing a long-term relationship with South Korea?

Indeed, foreigners find it very difficult to understand the way Koreans think and act these days. They find what is happening in Korea unfathomable in every sense. A foreign expert on Korea put it in an appropriate way, “The only conclusion you can reach is either that Koreans know something no one else in this world knows, or that Koreans do not know something the rest of the world knows.”

Foreigners also worry about the problems that Korean society is now facing such as the issue of high-rise buildings that were not built safely, the jamboree disgrace, the financial deficit and increasing debts. Naturally, foreign experts’ diagnosis of South Korea’s health is not rosy. According to them, the situation is more serious than Korea thinks, and thus, “Korea’s future looks dangerously cloudy and without the means to turn things around.”

However, if we realize that we can still change by overcoming our ideological differences, our future will not necessarily be bleak. Otherwise, “It’s the people that will pay the price, and for at least a decade to come, if not two,” as the above foreign commentator wrote.

Foreign experts on Korea are Korea lovers. All of them have a strong wish that Korea has a bright and prosperous future. They believe in the Korean people’s potential, which has enabled Korea to overcome difficulties and prosper at every critical moment. They are just perplexed by what has been going on in Korea lately. Thus, we should listen to their friendly advice. Then, the outcome will surely be rewarding.

Kim Seong-konX

Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.