How to spoil national image?
Fifty-two lawmakers of the ruling and opposition parties introduced a bill Monday designed to prevent legislators from wielding hammers, electric saws and chisels in the National Assembly. The bill, if passed, would partly polish the image of the legislative chamber and the international profile of Korea.
They asked their party leaders to endorse the so-called Physical Clash Prevention Bill this month. They also vowed not to participate in any voting where physical confrontation was likely. They said the National Assembly will receive a modicum of public respect only when there are no physical clashes. The bill, they said, would be the greatest achievement the National Assembly has ever made.
The bill calls for introducing a filibuster. A lawmaker would be able to make a long and slow speech in order to prevent a vote on the passage of bills. It would also prevent the National Assembly Speaker or the chairmen of parliamentary committees from tabling bills without inter-party consensus. They demanded harsh penalties for wielders of muscle and metal tools inside the chamber.
Although the parties are reluctant to pass the bill, their proposal illustrates that lawmakers have come to realize the enormous negative impact their violence and clashes have on the national image. In fact, they have been the spoilers of it.
When international media published photos of physical clashes among lawmakers, the image has a lasting negative impression abroad.
Korea has seen many spoilers of its national image in recent months. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade tarnished the country’s international image with its error-full translation of Korea-EU free trade agreement (FTA). Citizens have lost confidence in the content of the deal as mistranslations have been uncovered. Namely, the Korea-EU FTA has an image problem. Whatever positive effects trade negotiators trumpet about the accord, the public is cynical.
Many people wonder whether the ministry and other government agencies have made the same blunders in translations in other international treaties. The translation errors unduly spawned distrust in the government. Foreigners, especially Europeans, might wonder how such a thing could happen in the world’s 14th largest economy.
Poorly-written English language material-website copy, PR materials and advertisements, lead many people abroad to inculcate a negative image of Korea and Korean companies.
Another case of negatively influencing the national image is the unsophisticated burial of 3.5 million pigs and cows infected with foot-and-mouth diseases. International animal-rights advocates issued a strong protest over the cruel burial.
The Shilla Hotel got negative international media attention last week because it banned the entry of a Hanbok-wearing guest into its buffet restaurant. Although the hotel immediately apologized, the incident also distorted the image of Hanbok and Korea itself. These are a few of many episodes that have negative international implications.
Upgrading the national image has received the highest attention under the Lee Myung-bak administration. The Presidential Commission for Nation Branding has been in operation although what it is doing now is puzzling.
Simon Anholt, a respected British policy advisor, gave 10 recommendations for upgrading the national image.
(1)To refrain from bragging to the world about what Korea has got. Ask yourself what Korea can do for the world. Behave admirably, and admiration will follow.
(2) To think about actions, not words. People judge countries by the things they do and the way they do them, the things they make and the way they make them.
(3) Not to rig the measurements. There is simply no point in producing ``branding indexes’’ that would purely make Korea look better.
(4) Not to be obsessive about image. A positive image is a consequence of good policy. It is not an end in itself. Countries that make a big public fuss about wanting to fix their image, do not look dignified or serious. They look insecure and vulgar, as if superficial approval is more important to them than real substance.
(5) To be realistic about expectations. Objectively speaking, South Korea probably does deserve a better reputation than it currently has, but it will not change dramatically or suddenly. Perceptions of countries cannot be directly manipulated because they are deeply-rooted cultural phenomena.
(6) Be alert over falling into the trap of overestimating the power of advertising, logos, slogans, or public relations. These techniques are useful and even essential, when marketers sell a product such as tourism. They are a complete waste of money if policymakers are trying to make people change their minds about the country as a whole.
(7) To make these decisions after talking to the population. The good name of Korea is not the property of the government or the business sector. It is the property of the Koreans.
(8) To decide on a clear and simple national vision and stick with it. Don’t try to be everything to everybody.
(9) Not to imagine that the media is the same thing as public opinion.
(10) National image has more to do with Koreans than Korea. Most people abroad have no particular idea about what Koreans are like. It is necessary to promote Korea's achievements, economy, history, landscape and investment opportunities, vacation offers, food, corporations, products and all the rest. In the end, people are more interested in people than countries and their institutions.
In a nutshell, Korea’s image has been slowly improving. Koreans will get respect when they behave well. Such foreign respect will lead to the upgrading of the national image. Criminalizing the use of chisels, hammers and pickets would be a big step toward upgrading the national image.
Lee Chang-sup is the chief editorial writer of The Korea Times. He can be reached at email@example.com