By Na Jeong-ju
The new chief of the presidential panel on improving Korea’s international status said the country’s culture and history is largely unknown worldwide despite its past economic achievements, making it difficult to achieve the desired results from its recent vigorous overseas promotional activities.
“We have a rich cultural heritage. Our culture and history can be effective tools in communicating with the rest of the world,” Lee Bae-yong, chairwoman of the Presidential Council on Nation Branding, told The Korea Times.
“Korea’s hardware has grown very quickly, but its software development has been too slow. It’s impossible to make Korea a respected and beloved country without addressing such a problem.”
The interview, conducted at the paper’s head office in Seoul last Thursday, was her first meeting with the press since being named as the country’s branding chief on Sept. 28 by President Lee Myung-bak.
The former president of Ewha Womans University replaced Euh Yoon-dae, who resigned from the post to become the chairman of KB Financial Group, the country’s second largest financial services provider.
“Economic development is an integral part in improving a country’s image and reputation. However, what really matters to make Korea a respected nation is culture and education. We need to strengthen cultural exchanges to make foreigners better understand us,” the 63-year-old said.
The history professor won credit for successfully strengthening Ewha’s partnership with prestigious schools in New York, Beijing, Tokyo, London and other major cities in exchange programs to provide more students with opportunities to study there while she served as the school’s president from August 2006 to July this year.
Lee said one of her imminent tasks will be to promote the country’s global outreach programs on the occasion of the G20 Seoul Summit in mid-November.
“The summit is an historic opportunity for Korea to raise its international status. We will prepare various programs to help participating leaders experience the essence of our culture and history,” she said.
Lee said she will continue programs initiated by Euh and find ways to make them more effective.
The branding council was created in January last year to reorganize Korea’s existing overseas PR activities and create a better image abroad for Korean culture and products.
Some of its key projects include expanding exchange programs with underdeveloped countries in line with Seoul’s plan to increase development aid, developing programs for multicultural families here, strengthening the education of globally accepted norms and etiquette among citizens, and globalizing Korean food and language.
“The challenge now facing Korea is to determine how to effectively mold and manage Korea’s brands and reap the benefits for the nation as a whole,” Lee said.
A native of Seoul, Lee graduated from Ewha in 1969 and obtained a Ph.D. in Korean history from Sogang University in 1984 before becoming a professor at her alma mater in 1985.
Recalling her meeting with Hillary Clinton in Seoul in February last year, Lee said Korean women should be given more opportunities to work on the global stage.