Efforts to enhance national prestige are speeding up in the public sector under the Lee Myung-bak administration`s strengthened diplomacy policy. In his special speech at the Davos World Economic Forum on Jan. 28, President Lee proposed a number of plans leaders need to address and presented a strong leadership image as the president of the chair country for the G20 summit this year.
Korea recently won a $40 billion nuclear-plant contract from the United Arab Emirates, joined the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and became the host of the Financial Stability Board meeting around the same time it hosts the G20 summit.
Yet numbers have not quite swelled to move the nation "into the center of the world," as Lee puts it. Research by Samsung Economic Research Institute ranked the nation at 19th place among 50 countries in 2009. A survey by a British expert on national branding, Simon Anholt, placed Korea at 33rd in global branding power, although its economic size ranks 13th.
As part of a larger effort, The Herald Business, sister paper of The Korea Herald, launched a year-long project on `national prestige` with hopes to provide the platform for dialogue and debate on the topic. The first meeting of the project`s advisory committee took place on Wednesday with a panel of nine. Participants redefined the word "gukgyuk," or national prestige in English, and emphasized the importance of understanding our own culture and history before embracing others.
Participating committee members were Seoul Global Center head Alan Timblick, British Council director Roland Davies, French Cultural Center director Laure Coudret Laut, Korea Development Institute president Hyun Oh-seok, World Futures Forum chairman Lee Young-tak, Hansun Foundation for Freedom and Happiness chairman Park Se-il, Chung-ang University president Park Bum-hoon, Korea International Cooperation Agency president Park Dae-won, and lawyer Kang Ji-won.
The following are excerpts from their discussions.
Redefining the goal
Park Haeng-hwan, CEO of Herald Media Inc.: I would first like to know how we should translate the word "gukgyuk" when we mention the term here and abroad. We at The Korea Herald have been using "national prestige" for now.
Roland Davies, director of British Council: I think "national standing" will do. Some use the term "national branding" but this should be avoided - it sounds like we`re marketing the nation. There are many things involved in raising the overall value of a country. Korea`s involvement in international organizations or assisting other countries for purposes such as climate change or security reasons should not be called "marketing." There are a whole range of things which make a country valuable and those weren`t carried out for the purposes of marketing. I have negative reactions to marketing `cause you`re trying to sell something.
Laure Coudret Laut, director of the French Cultural Center: I think "national prestige" sounds better. "National standing" represents political and cultural standing of a country but the term "national prestige" comes with an illusion of a reputation higher than that of "standing."
Hyun Oh-seok, president of Korea Development Institute: It`s not all about marketing, but we do have to think about the value of Korea as a brand. The brand power of Korea is only 30 percent that of Korean companies abroad. Only about 10 percent of university students in the United States know Samsung is a Korean company, the rest think it`s Japanese. Having to come from Korea often adds negative value to Korean exports so we do need to work on marketing to not disadvantage Korean companies. Korea has to be known for better things than inter Korean conflicts and political issues.
Lee Young-tak, chairman of World Futures Forum: Bigger problems surround our lack of awareness. A lot of Koreans think it`s okay to let foreigners think Samsung is Japanese and LG is European - or they think time will solve the issue. Also, I`m not so sure if the private sector should outwardly try to escalate national standing. It may be more appropriate for the private sector to subtly support the government and that would look better.
Work from the inside out
Park Se-il, chairman of Hansun Foundation for Freedom and Happiness: Talking about national prestige, I have to talk about how we Koreans view ourselves. It`s important to come up with ways to improve our image, but first we need to have pride from knowing our strengths. Values we want to present to others have to be clear and to do this, we need to go back to our culture and history and appreciate its uniqueness. Old values have long been forgotten among youngsters but it doesn`t mean that they truly accepted western values either. Rather, western values were "thrown" upon them through cultural references from movies and television shows. Goodness in Korean culture and history have to be better understood to figure out paths we can take next.
Park Bum-hoon, president of Chung-ang University: We`re too critical. No other country has 84 percent of their citizens as university graduates and Korean parents` enthusiasm for education, at the fundamental level, should be praised. Including Barack Obama, leaders of many countries often look to Korea`s education system when reforming their education policies. We often try too hard to nitpick our own system but it`s important to put things into perspective and recognize our accomplishments when they are good.
Kang Ji-won, lawyer: To do that, we need to have rationally mediated self-esteem. Let`s personify Korea for a second. Overly critical or competitive personalities arise from feeling a sense of inferiority. Those who think of themselves as `decent` don`t act aggressively or criticize others irrationally. Too much confidence often turn people arrogant. So to have a good personality, we need to have a sense of dignity in what we pride in, and balance that with a constructive attitude towards what we lack.
Park S.: Scenes where children respect their grandparents in Korean dramas are one of the reasons why Korean dramas are so popular in China. Caring for others and respecting elders are at the core of Confucian values and we need to uphold these values to upgrade ourselves. We can relate these values to western manifestations of noblesse oblige and develop it to suit our culture.
What we should shun
Alan Timblick, head of Seoul Global Center: Korea is a bit obsessive in taking the country up in rankings. The British don`t really know where the country ranks in terms of GDP growth or export but many Koreans try to judge brand power with numbers. How Korea measures its national prestige should focus more on stabilizing its political and economic environment. Floating capital around the world gets invested into countries with stable political and economic environments, and quantitative measures of a country won`t attract that capital in the long run.
Davies: We should drop the idea of "pali pali" (quickly). National prestige won`t be raised in a year or two and Koreans should learn to take it slow.
Park H.: The idea of doing things quickly has been a recent trend. If we look at traditional Korean cuisine, no dishes can be made quickly. Some of our food takes long hard years of effort - and waiting - and not all Koreans pursue the "pali pali" trend even now. We should go back to the forgotten values from the olden days.
Coudret Laut: People-to-people interaction should be at the center of the work in raising national prestige. In this regard, Koreans should think about how they can be viewed to foreigners and figure out Korea`s uniqueness.
By Cynthia J. Kim