South Korea seeks to enhance public diplomacy efforts with China and Japan this year to help defuse regional tensions and find long-term solutions to territorial and historical issues, a Seoul envoy told The Korea Herald.
The three countries agreed to launch a trilateral public diplomacy forum during a summit in Beijing last May. The plan proposed by former President Lee Myung-bak has made little progress amid rising political tensions among the three neighbors.
“We are seeking to hold the public diplomacy forum within the year, if possible, and currently formulating various related projects,” Ma Young-sam, Korea’s ambassador for public diplomacy, said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.
The forum is expected to invite policymakers and academics to discuss ways to boost their soft-power capacity and address misunderstandings among their peoples.
“We have yet to receive a clear green light from Japan and China but are continuing consultations. It will take some time to fully engage them, for which we’ve offered to play catalyst.”
Ma has high hopes for cultural and people-to-people exchanges as crucial tools for promoting better ties among the key regional players.
“The countries’ historical and territorial issues resulted in troubled relationships between their peoples,” Ma said.
“I think cultural and personnel exchanges are the best way to resolve this, though it may take time. That will help to eliminate enmity between the young generations of the countries.”
The Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat, established last year by the three countries in Seoul, is pushing many projects focusing on student cooperation such as a mock trilateral summit, video contest and idea competition.
The ambassador called for greater efforts to expand youth and student exchanges.
“There is a possibility of another trilateral initiative. As you expand the forum and youth exchange projects you need a new secretariat for them,” Ma said.
The 57-year-old public diplomacy envoy is also in charge of assessing the operation of all overseas missions.
|Ma Young-sam, Korea’s ambassador for public diplomacy and performance evaluation, speaks during an interview with The Korea Herald. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)|
His 32-year career includes ambassador to Israel, director-general of the African and Middle Eastern affairs bureau, representative to the Palestinian Authority and director of the human rights and social affairs division.
Korea has been enhancing its public diplomacy efforts as its international roles are increasing. This year the government set aside 6 billion won ($5.5 million) for public diplomacy programs for the first time as the single biggest item in the Foreign Ministry budget.
To maximize the effect of public diplomacy, the diplomat vowed to step up collaboration between government, the private sector and civil society as prime driving forces are diversifying.
“There used to be a clear-cut distinction between the main agent and its target ― government versus other peoples. Now the audience is also virtually every group and individual in the world,” Ma said.
“I think the most effective way of executing public diplomacy is that the government creates channels for our citizens, NGOs and media to interact with their counterparts abroad.”
As for the first major project this year, the ministry began taking proposals on March 1 for projects to better promote Korea to foreigners. The winning individual or team will receive up to 30 million won and administrative and other support.
It plans to dispatch Korean youngsters to developing countries to teach art, music and other cultural subjects, while setting up a youth public diplomacy corps with about 30 Korean and foreign students here to carry out various campaigns at home and abroad.
The newly introduced Scholars Group for Public Diplomacy consists of 16 academics from around the world who came to teach and study in Korea. Their one-year tasks include offering tips on country-tailored strategies, attending the ministry’s advisory meetings, writing about Korea in their hometown newspapers and giving lectures to their fellow countrymen.
The up-and-coming projects appear to keep pace with President Park Geun-hye’s “attractive Korea” initiative.
While on the campaign trail, she promised to drum up public participation in foreign affairs, provide wider opportunities for young Koreans to take part in development cooperation programs, open more overseas Korean language schools and boost support for cultural exports.
“In addition to Korea’s pop music, dramas and food, its rapid economic ascent and cutting-edge technology such as for cell phones and cars are extremely important assets that many other countries want to learn about,” Ma said.
“There will be a great ‘charm’ effect when we integrate such components into our public diplomacy efforts.”
Ma, who created his own account on Twitter, stressed the role of conventional and social media in facilitating agenda-setting and interaction with the public.
“Many businesses are engaging in very good corporate social responsibility activities, but we can help coordinate them to reduce redundancy and enhance specialization,” Ma said.
“Social networking sites help offset one of traditional media’s drawbacks ― one-way communication. But people today have to say what they want to say and want to get feedback.”
As Seoul’s first ambassador for public diplomacy, Ma aims to help make public diplomacy an initiative in which every Korean participates ― true to its name and concept.
“What’s better is that when the people take on such a role they will gradually self-evolve, because they can’t do it if they are not kind and nice to other peoples,” he said.
“The transition process will make Koreans the main agents of diplomacy, produce positive outcomes and elevate national prestige.”
By Shin Hyon-hee (email@example.com