Recently, a friend of mine who works for a prominent foreign company here in South Korea said he was a bit puzzled that the government was so reticent to meet them.
“Usually, in the beginning of a new government, Cheong Wa Dae or officials from other related bureaus would approach us for meetings to get a rundown of what’s happening and what needs to change, but this time, even after we asked for a meeting, nothing,” he recalled, shaking his head in disbelief.
The situation appeared to be similar for several other firms that tried to flag down officials to discuss what they perceive as pressing matters.
The problem is not the individual people or even the companies. The real problem seems to be the fact that Korea is still very much Korea-centric.
Yes, we have come a very long way in opening up and, in some ways, Korea is one of the most globalized countries in the world. It is not afraid of new things or new trends. We have opened up to and accept the idea that despite having been homogeneous for such a long time, foreign nationals will and must become a part of the culture.
More and more policies are being created to support multicultural families, and Koreans are going everywhere to build companies, befriend new people and become part of the culture there. In fact, in terms of culture, it is actually at the fore, introducing the world to how Koreans entertain themselves.
Still, in some aspects, there are misunderstandings about the things we should hold on to, and it does not help that the government is too bogged down with domestic politics to get work done outside the country.
As the public becomes entangled in that web of power or fight for it, they become more distanced from the idea of a building a global Korea.
As a member of the English press for nearly two decades, I have never really understood the noncommittal attitude the Seoul government appears to have when it comes to being represented abroad or in languages other than Korean. It would mean standing in front of a wider, global audience, so it would be unfortunate if the country is misrepresented, no?
Apparently, officials don’t seem to have that kind of awareness. Yet. Part of the reason is because they are constantly weighed down in domestic politics. They consequently become obsessed with how they are presented on their home turf.
But we still have hope. Korea is known for its fast-paced change and its willingness to adopt next-generation technology. It always takes a bit of a struggle -- sometimes more than that -- but in the end, it has always pulled through.
The key is to focus on how we can go forward, and not backward, which is what politics does so much of the time.
Who is at fault for what, who is running in which district and why are only some of the things that should be on our agenda. The bigger emphasis should be on how we can use all this to move forward -- into a future to be defined by a “fifth industrial revolution,” by a society where people can live without the fear of nuclear weapons, with less discrimination and more equality.
Isn’t that what we are all working toward?
So, let’s send the message to the outside world that we are up to things other than North Korea, other than adjusting voting districts, or the number of parliamentary seats, or bashing Samsung or vice versa. Send the message that it’s a good idea to do business with Korea, to come to Korea and to be with Koreans.
Sure, sometimes it feels like we are bending over backwards, but as a country where two-thirds of gross domestic product depends on exports, unless we find reliable sources of energy or some other system that can independently keep us afloat, we need to go to the next level of globalization.
Kim Ji-hyun is editor of The Investor desk. She can be reached at email@example.com. -- Ed.