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(LEAD) New law set to take force to harness S. Korea's public diplomacy

2016/08/03 14:47

(ATTN: UPDATES with foreign minister's comments in last 4 paras; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, Aug. 3 (Yonhap) -- Dutch middle-school textbooks on history and geography had depicted South Korea as a cheap-labor economy dependent on fish processing. This was up until South Korean diplomats successfully persuaded the publishers to update their texts two years ago, officials at the foreign ministry here said Wednesday.

Now, South Korea is portrayed as a "rich country" that produces cutting-edge smartphones and digital televisions.

In another similar case, 11 Spanish middle- and high-school course books were revised last year to drop their depiction of South Korea as part of China's territory and remove erroneous classification of the Northeast Asian country as a nation where the majority of the population lives in poverty, the officials said.

These cases were only part of the South Korean government's successful attempts in recent years to improve its national image across the globe through its public diplomacy efforts.

The unconventional diplomacy approach reaches out to the hearts and minds of common people, rather than to typical government players, capitalizing on soft assets like culture and knowledge, according to ministry officials.

South Korea expects the country's public diplomacy to make a big leap forward with the legislation of the first public diplomacy law, which goes into effect on Thursday, they said.

The new law gives the foreign minister the authority to command South Korea's public diplomacy programs, which are led sporadically by different government organs, private groups and regional governments.

"The public diplomacy law provided the legal and institutional foundation for South Korea to take one big leap forward in public diplomacy," Amb. for Public Diplomacy Cho Hyun-dong said.

Under the law, a public diplomacy committee comprised of about 20 members will be established to put together and oversee the country's public diplomacy programs, ministry officials said. The foreign minister will head the committee.

The committee will also be in charge of drawing a five-year plan on public diplomacy, with the first five-year scheme to be launched from 2017, the officials said.

Still, South Korea has a long way to go with public diplomacy, the official said, pointing out the country's meager budget. This year's budget stands at just 14.2 billion won (US$12.8 million) while Japan earmarked $400 million for public diplomacy.

"We are starting small, but our utmost efforts will be poured into expanding our public diplomacy with the law's enactment," a ministry official said.

Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se stresses the importance of public diplomacy at a symposium in Seoul on Aug. 3, 2016. (Yonhap) Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se stresses the importance of public diplomacy at a symposium in Seoul on Aug. 3, 2016. (Yonhap)

Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se stressed in a parliamentary symposium held to mark the legislation that the role of public diplomacy will continue to expand as a viable diplomacy tool.

"At a time when government-to-government dialogue and efforts are not sufficient for the always complicated diplomacy theater, public diplomacy has become a core element of modern diplomatic policies," the country's top diplomat said.

South Korea's public diplomacy should continue to focus on rallying international support behind South Korea's initiative to get North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions and unify the two Koreas, he added.

Currently, South Korea is using public diplomacy to generate support for the South Korea-U.S. alliance from both of the main U.S. presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Yun said.

This kind of effort can better allow the government to enhance South Korea's interest with the new U.S. administration.