Lack of Information Barrier to Koreas Image Abroad
Korea has a lot to fascinate foreigners, but limited information in other countries sets a barrier to them being more knowledgeable about the country, the German ambassador to Korea said Thursday.
Ambassador Norbert Baas observed North Korea's bellicose acts and violent protests led by activists -- which some experts single out as two major factors undermining Korea's image abroad -- should not hurt it so much.
But his view is not shared by some South Korean experts and political leaders.
Political leaders and experts contend that endangered peace as a result of North Korea's nuclear threat, militant labor unions and violent protests contributed to Korea's disappointing standing in a global national branding report.
Korea ranked 33rd in the 2008 Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index (NBI), behind China and India.
The NBI report measures how outsiders perceive a country.
According to a survey of 1,000 foreigners living in Korea, 48.4 percent of respondents said South Korea's confrontation with its northern neighbor was a major reason explaining why there is a big gap between its status in the index and in the global economy.
The poll, conducted by the Presidential Council on Nation Branding in collaboration with World Research in March, showed Korea's relatively poor contribution to the international community as a donor state (44.1 percent) also caused foreigners to think Korea was not attractive. This compares with its economic capability, and political and social instability (41.5 percent).
N. Korea Factor
Ambassador Baas, who has lived in Korea for about three years, disagrees, insisting that Korea's image in Germany is widely positive.
``Frankly, I would not worry about the North Korea factor so much. The North Korean crisis has not had a negative impact on foreign investors' interest in investment activities in Korea,'' he said.
But he admitted the threat could impact on South Korea ``indirectly.''
A recent Hyundai Research Institute survey of 1,000 people working in the banking sector supported the ambassador's view.
The poll found that financial experts don't have many worries about North Korea, with only 7.5 percent answering that tensions on the peninsula would have a negative economic effect.
They selected slow economic recovery in the United States and Japan (36 percent) and sluggish domestic demand, along with a high jobless rate (31.4 percent) as major risk factors.
The German ambassador was also skeptical about the negative fallout of street protests and militant labor unions on the image of Korea.
``Demonstrations are a sign that your government gave demonstrators the right and freedom to express their own opinions and therefore that is basically positive,'' he said.
Baas said the miracle on the Han River, freedom and pro-democracy fighters are assets of which Koreans should be proud.
``The enormous success story (in terms of the economy) that Korea has achieved after the Korean War always impresses the world,'' he said.
Baas said he had a positive feeling about the victory of democracy here, saying, ``You made it by your own forces from dictatorship to democracy.''
The ambassador observed that limited availability of specific and accurate information on Korea in other countries probably had something to do with foreigners having less understanding of the country.
``What is perhaps less known in Germany is that Korea is already very advanced in terms of its economy and scientific achievements,'' he said.
Baas added that Korea's efforts to create an attractive image would be successful when and if the government pursues the nation branding initiative together with public diplomacy in foreign nations.
Yoo Jae-woong, former chief of the Korean Overseas Information Service from 2004 to 2008, expressed a similar view regarding the need to bolster information services abroad.
In an interview with The Korea Times in May he said that the government should step up efforts to expand more foreign language services not only in English, but in other languages such as French, German and Chinese, and in publications and other content-oriented areas.
Germany, Land of Ideas
Germany topped the overall country brand out of 50 countries in the Anholt NBI report.
The German government introduced the national brand initiative in 2004 when Horst Kohler was elected president.
In his inaugural speech, Kohler presented a vision for Germany under the motto of ``the land of ideas.''
``Germany should become a land of ideas. In the 21st century, that means more than the land of poets and philosophers, more than `made-in-Germany,' and more than the typical German virtues,'' he was quoted as saying.
He said the land of ideas stands for curiosity and experimentation.
Following his inauguration, a committee called ``Germany, Land of Ideas,'' was set up named after the vision that he presented in his inaugural speech.
Local national brand experts said the German government's branding initiative was one of the most successful practices, from which, they say, Korea can learn.
Its government worked closely with private sector entities, the civic sector and the general public to present ``an authentic and modern image of Germany as the land of ideas.''
Asked what factors made the initiative effective, Ambassador Baas said it focused on the creativity of the individual, including all the networking and clusters which exist in Germany stretching well beyond its borders to its European neighbors.
``Everyone can identify with the stimulating notion of creativity, not only Germans or those already interested in Germany. That made the image campaign quite attractive,'' he said.
Knowing More About Germany
In an effort to provide more information about Germany in Korean, the German embassy in Seoul recently opened a new Web site, in addition to its official homepage. The official Web site provides news and events about the embassy, while the new one offers overall information about Germany.
The ambassador said the new Web site was the first of its kind among German embassies in Asian countries, and received very positive reactions from the government and the public.
``The goal of the new Web site is different from the official one. It introduces necessary updates and the fascinating sides of cultural life in Germany, plus the federal political system, basic facts about our economy and information about universities. All these are available in Korean,'' he said.
Before the second Web site, the German Embassy conducted a survey on the Korean perception of Germany and it found they had a positive image.
The poll found the younger generations were interested in learning more about German cultural life and Koreans were quite impressed with how Germany managed the unification process.
``Given that Korea has the highest percentage of broadband-Internet users worldwide, we decided to create a new Web site called Germany-in-Korea which has updated news and stories about cultural life in Germany,'' the ambassador said.