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(Yonhap Feature) S. Korea riding K-pop craze in Latin America for public diplomacy

All Headlines 09:44 December 14, 2012

By Oh Seok-min

LIMA/SANTIAGO, Dec. 14 (Yonhap) -- As the phenomenon known as the Korean Wave, or "Hallyu" in the native tongue, grows in popularity throughout the world, South Korea is hoping to use its pop culture's recent fame to promote public diplomacy, especially in Latin America where the Asian culture is truly beginning to be embraced.

Despite the language barrier, and the physical distance of a 20-hour flight between Seoul and any Latin American country, thousands of fans there have posted videos of themselves performing K-pop dance moves on the Internet as well as a slew of appeals to the Korean stars to visit the continent.

"Hundreds of fans even camped out on the streets to buy a ticket for boy band JYJ's concert in March, some of whom even flew from Ecuador and Bolivia. More than 5,000 tickets were sold in three days," Seoul's Ambassador to Peru Park Hee-kwon told reporters from his embassy in the capital city of Lima.

Along with music, Korean dramas are also making waves in Peru. Since 2008, 13 soap operas have been aired, and one is currently being shown during prime time by a Peruvian public broadcasting channel.

The Korean government sees the growing popularity of its culture in the Latin American country as "a superb chance" to expand its presence in a diversity of fields, said the ambassador.

"Public diplomacy is often regarded as something abstract, and it often takes a long time to bear tangible fruits. But the lack of a soft-power basis will detract from diplomacy as a whole," Park said, citing last month's jet aircraft deal between the two countries worth US$200 million as a tell-tale example of successful public diplomacy.

"We won a deal to export 20 KT-1 trainer jets to Peru, which is a landmark achievement for Seoul. Despite a flood of negative campaigns against us by the Brazilian side, we tried to reach out to the people here by pursuing a win-win strategy of sharing technology," Park said, adding that it will pave the way for South Korea into other Latin American markets.

"Trust-building efforts so far, I believe, lead to such a concrete output," the ambassador said.

South Korea and Peru also maintain amicable relations, with bilateral relations currently being at their highest level of "comprehensive strategic partnership." Trade volume has also surged by six-fold over the past six years to US$3.3 billion in 2011, according to the Seoul government.

Stressing cultural influences as a key strategy for the development of the South Korea in the future, the Korean embassy in Lima now looks to establish a cultural institute in the capital city.

"The cultural institute is a must to systematically support and manage the growing Hallyu momentum in this passionate country for South Korea," Park said. "It requires budget, but deserves it considering the potential for further strengthening of bilateral relations in diverse fields including energy resources."

The Seoul government also strives to promote soft-power diplomacy in Chile, where more than 200 K-pop fan clubs, with over 20,000 members, have popped up over the past three years, even though until this year not a single singer has visited the country, said officials.

"The Chilean pop culture was dominated by American and European ones, with a few of Japanese assets, but we've received a growing number of requests from our audiences for airing more Korean programs," said Paz Egana Baraona, program director at Chile's broadcaster TVN.

"It is amazing considering the conservative social atmosphere in Chile. The Korean culture, full of novelty and power, gets traction in Chile," she added.

To maximize the changing environments for the sake of diplomacy with limited resources, South Korea targets adolescents there.

"It will be a niche strategy, as the Chilean government does not have enough programs for the youth and their dynamic nature would create greater ripple effect," Seoul's Ambassador to Chile Hwang Eui-sung said.

"The yearly K-pop contest we have hosted since 2009 became one of the most famous cultural events among the young people here. We now try to take that fever to broader fields including Korean food, language and education," said Park Sun-tae, councilor of the Korean embassy there.

In November, the Seoul government opened the King Sejong Institute in Santiago to provide people with Korean language classes. Currently, more than 70 students, most being locals, are taking a two-semester program with four classes available -- three elementary and one mid-level class, according to the officials.

Named after the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) king who invented the hangul script, King Sejong Institutes offer Korean language classes. Currently, there are 76 such institutes across the world.

The South Korean government also tries to promote student exchange programs to attract more Chilean students with the purpose of fostering a future generation that is familiar with South Korea and who are expected to play the role of "goodwill ambassadors" to the nation in the long term.

"The Chilean government provides some 2,000 students with subsidies for studying overseas, and we will try to attract more students to South Korea. In September, we held a briefing session to promote Korean universities in Chilean cities, and more than 1,000 students showed interest," Hwang said.

"Last year, 50 Chilean students studied in South Korea, and the number grew to 70 this year. I think the government efforts will bring the number higher so as to activate the exchange."


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