Dr. Hwa-jung Kim (SNU Institute of International Affairs): ‘Whoever is interested in public diplomacy is an “enlightened” citizen.’


In 1965, US diplomat Edmund Gullion defined public diplomacy [JB emphasis] as “an activity that wins the hearts of the public in other countries and secures their support,” thereby establishing the concept of public diplomacy for the first time. Korea’s Public Diplomacy Act states that public diplomacy refers to “diplomacy activities through which the State promotes foreign nationals’ understanding of and confidence in the Republic of Korea directly or in cooperation with local governments or the private sector based on culture, knowledge, policies, etc.” However, it is not easy for individual citizens to recognize themselves as both the subject and object of public diplomacy, as most have never learned about the activities and importance of this very special form of diplomacy. This is why the KF interviewed Dr. Hwa-jung Kim of the Seoul National University Institute of International Affairs, who has long been a champion of public diplomacy and its significance.
Dr. Kim, you are a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute of International Affairs in the Graduate School of International Studies of Seoul National University and are also active as secretary general of the Public Diplomacy [JB underlining] Center at Ewha Womans University. Would you tell us about your work at both institutions?
I engage in public diplomacy at both institutions, but my focus at each is different (research vs. activities). At Seoul National University, I am doing research on governance in cultural public diplomacy, having been selected as a postdoctoral research fellow with funding from the National Research Foundation. I am very grateful to Seoul National University, the National Research Foundation, and the Korea Foundation for their support. At Ewha Womans University, I make more efforts in terms of practical public diplomatic activities. The most representative of all of the diverse work I do is as general management of the Korean-German Junior Forum. Junior delegations of the two countries alternately visit each other for interpersonal exchange and training. The forum was held in Daejeon last year and will be held in Berlin this year. It is especially meaningful that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a former recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize, has donated funding to the forum, enabling more Korean and German youths to take part in the meeting both this year and last year.
Public diplomacy is something that most people understand vaguely and find difficult to explain. Could you give the simplest possible definition of public diplomacy together with concrete examples?
Public diplomacy is not difficult at all if we think of it in the context of daily life. Acts of public diplomacy are as simple as being kind to foreign travelers we encounter. If we give sincere answers to foreigners when they want to know about Korea and Korean culture, we are engaging in public diplomacy. “Bigger” acts of public diplomacy may strive to practice global rules of etiquette in business dealings and international events that require interaction with foreigners. Another act of public diplomacy is respecting and offering equal treatment without discrimination to foreigners living in Korea as to Koreans, whether they are immigrants, workers, or students. All of these acts embody the “global citizenship” model that meets the demands of an increasingly smaller world.
Why do you think public diplomacy is crucial now and will become more significant in the years ahead?Public diplomacy is important because this is an age of non-polarity. Public diplomacy was born against the backdrop of the bipolar system of the Cold War. Today, the world has become a completely different place, having come through the US-led unipolarity after the end of the Cold War, the September 11 attacks, the emergence of China, and the multipolar world order that formed after the global financial crisis that began in the United States. With the onset of non-polarity, absolute power, which was concentrated in the past, is now diffused, and many countries bear presence in the international arena, while non-state actors are beginning to influence global order. The international arena is not a stage only for nation-states but also for members of international agencies and regional organizations or self-governing cities and provinces. Terrorist attacks and other incidents of disorder and chaos break out beyond national borders or regions, and these situations, more than ever, require efforts to seek better solutions through public diplomacy. Let’s think about the citizens of Paris, who reacted to hatred and conflict with greater tolerance instead of escalating outbursts. Shunning competitions of the past based on international power struggles, promoting one’s own country to other countries and enhancing the latters’ understanding, and endeavoring to get to better know other countries—all of these attitudes advocate public diplomacy through humanitarian approaches. I think the importance of public diplomacy cannot but continue to grow.
As a public diplomacy expert, do you have any suggestions for the KF?The KF has and continues to do great work, but I think it can do even better in the coming years. There are not many people who know how much effort has been invested by how many of the so-called “advanced” countries in terms of manpower and finance into public diplomacy and for how long. It is generally believed that Korea began public diplomacy in the latter half of the 1990s, which means it began more than 100 years after the “advanced countries” of the West. Despite their belated start, Korea and the KF have grown remarkably quickly on the global stage and have made enormous achievements. However, due to its nature, public diplomacy cannot produce visible results in a short period. It is crucial to invest time and funds from a long-term perspective, even in the absence of short-term change. At the moment, there are so many public diplomacy projects and businesses that are being carried out by government ministries and provincial administrations, and I wish that the KF, as a hub of public diplomacy, can play the role of a coordinator and mediator that connects and develops such efforts in a mutually beneficial way. It may be meaningful for the KF to create something new, but I look forward to seeing the KF share its expertise with other private diplomatic organizations and seek synergistic effects. I support the KF as an organization that both spans and expands international boundaries.
Do you have any last words for KF Newsletter readers?Whoever is interested in public diplomacy is an “enlightened” citizen. Each and every one of you is a valuable national asset. As you know, Korea is a country whose greatest resource is its people. You and I should not forget that we represent Korea and that we are activists who can enhance Korea’s global standing. Korea has matured as a free democracy as speedily as it achieved economic growth and continues to grow today in many ways. Based on pride in such achievements, I hope we can each carry on the work of public diplomacy within the scope of our everyday lives.
Interviewed by Kim Daniel
Diplomacy International Public_Diplomacy InterviewOriginal Article