Obama‘s go-together appeal
U.S. President Barack Obama’s three-day visit to Korea was a well-plotted drama with a strong message and political symbolism.
Hours before his visit, he nominated the Korean-American Jim Yong Kim, president of Ivy League school Dartmouth College as president of the World Bank. It would be the first time in the World Bank’s history for an American with Asian roots to become president.
It would also be the first time for a Korean or ethnic Korean to head two of the three powerful organizations ― the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Obama's nominating Kim as the World Bank’s leader also symbolizes his appreciation of Koreans’ zeal for education, can-do spirit and the rags-to-riches economic history. The nomination comes after Korean-American Sung Kim became ambassador to Korea.
Upon arrival Sunday, Obama visited the DMZ, freedom’s frontier, on the eve of the day when 46 brave souls perished aboard the Cheonan two years ago.
He asked the North to choose between peace and isolation, adding that the United States has no hostile intent toward the Confucian Communist country. Obama says unification will surely come about although it may not come easily or without great sacrifice.
He said, ``When it does, change will unfold that once seemed impossible. Checkpoints will open, and watchtowers will stand empty, and families long separated will finally be reunited. The Korean people, at long last, will be whole and free.’’
He said that Koreans are one people, adding that Koreans in the North are also capable of making great progress if just given the chance and freedom.
As Obama indicated, the divided Koreas are contrasting examples of prosperity and poverty. South Korea has become a model of a successful capitalist country practicing democracy. North Korea has become an epitome of self-destruction through its close-door policy, repression, dictatorship and self-reliance ideology.
Obama lauded South Korea as a modern miracle, transforming itself from crushing poverty to one of the world’s most dynamic economies; from authoritarianism to a thriving democracy; from a country focused inward to a leader for security and prosperity not only in this region but also around the world ― a truly ``global Korea.’’
His Monday visit to the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies has symbolism of giving hope and pride to the students struggling to study to land decent jobs.
He encouraged them to inherit the pride, heritage, sacrifice and struggle their parents have made to make Korea what it is today.
The great communicator knows how to impress his audience. He mentioned Me2day and Kakao Talk, popular local text message services, as tools for social media communication. He gave hope to the students that the world is a stage where they can fulfill their dreams, only on condition that they can speak English better than he can speak Korean.
Equally impressive was his appeal for an enduring alliance between Korea and the United States. He reaffirmed that South Korea is under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
This was his third visit to Korea as President. He has now been to Seoul more times than any other foreign capital.
He said this reflects the extraordinary bonds and mutual commitments between the two countries. In his view, there is no limit to what the two countries can achieve together.
White House aides crafted four key messages through Obama’s visit to Seoul ― enduring alliance, giving hope to the young generation and appreciation of Korea’s potential and a message of ultimate unification. He mentioned the global popularity of hallyu, or the Korean cultural wave, is no coincidence.
By touching the hearts of Koreans, he might have tried to weaken the voice of those deriding the strong Korea-U.S. alliance. He briefly mentioned the benefits of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, possibly out of concern that about 45 percent of Korean adults oppose the accord.
He used the Korean expression “katchi kapsida” (Let’s go together) ― a catchphrase of the Good Neighbor Program the U.S. Forces in Korea uses in their outreach program to promote friendship. He boasted he knew the meaning of the Korean psyche ``jeong’’ (one-sided affection without expecting anything).
His demonstration of love for Korea might weaken the anti-globalization forces in Korea, including opponents of the bilateral free trade agreement.
Korea has become one of the world’s 15th largest economies and the seventh largest trading country from one of the world’s poorest nations in six decades. Without trade-oriented economic policy, the country would not have become what it is today.
The world is watching what Koreans are doing. Like Obama, foreigners rate Korea far beyond what Koreans think of themselves.
Obama’s approval rating might have risen noticeably among Koreans for his carefully-crafted messages. However, the open microphone gaffe during his talks with outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was a public relations disaster. Obama’s conversation was picked up by a microphone without either leader apparently knowing. He left a fond memory in Korea although he may face trouble in the United States.
Lee Chang-sup is the chief editorial writer of The Korea Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.