SEOUL, KOREA — Korean Culture and Information Service (KOCIS) plans to establish Korean cultural centers in developing countries this year, including those in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, a top official of the KOCIS said.
"To create new foreign demands for the Korean culture, we will set up Korean cultural centers in developing countries, which have great demands for 'hallyu (Korean wave)," said Seo Kang-soo, director of KOCIS.
"At present, we are operating 24 Korean cultural centers in 20 countries. In the first half of this year, we will additionally open Korean cultural centers in Hungary, Mexico and India in February, March and June, respectively.
"In the latter half of 2012, we will also make a strong push for setup of Korean cultural centers in Belgium, Brazil and Thailand," he said, adding that Korean cultural centers in foreign countries is an advanced base to herald the Korean culture abroad and a foothold to spread hallyu.
In an interview with Korea IT Times, Director Seo said, "KOCIS will strengthen cultural exchange cooperation with foreign governments this year, especially on the occasion of commemoration of the establishment of diplomatic ties with Korea.
"In 2012, Korea will participate in the event to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Korea-China diplomatic relations, the Saudi Arabia's Janadriyah Festival, and Costa Rica Arts Festival," he said.
Major cultural events
The opening ceremony to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Korea-China diplomatic relations will be held in March this year in Seoul with attendance of the leaders of the two countries.
Korean and Chinese state-run arts troupes will present joint cultural performances on the occasion of the EXPO 2012 Yeosu Korea to be held in Yeosu from May 12 to Aug. 12. A Korean performance team will also participate in the cultural event to mark the 50th anniversary of Korea-Saudi Arabia diplomatic ties to be held in Saudi Arabia from Feb. 8-24. Korea will attend the international arts festival to be held in San Jose in Costa Rica from March 15-25 as a main guest.
"In addition, KOCIS will actively support the three major international events to be held in Korea _ 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit in March, the EXPO 2012 Yeosu Korea in May and 2012 World Conservation Congress Jeju in September - to herald the Korean culture to foreign participants," he noted.
"KOCIS is moving to build a mutual cooperative system between the public and private sectors to let foreign participants in the key global events get easy access to Korea's various cultural assets," said Seo.
Importance of soft power
Noting that many countries in the world are striving to strengthen their soft power through culture, Director Seo said, "KOCIS will also exert all-out efforts to enhance the national image through a variety of Korean culture."
Commenting that Korea's national image index is still undervalued, he said, "We will go all-out to upgrade the national brand by strengthening an image as a cultural country." According to the Anholt's Nation Brand IndexSM (NBI), an index measuring the image and reputation of the world's nations, Korea's image ranking went up from 33rd in 2008 to 31st in 2009 and 30th in 2010, but it is still far behind those of advanced countries.
Asked about the background of the recent hallyu fever, Seo said, "The hallyu fever is the result of the Seoul government and private sector's strenuous efforts to herald the Korean culture to the world. Since 2000, hallyu started to gain high popularity in China and Japan through Korean dramas and movies. Now, it reached the climax by the K-Pop fever. K-Pop fever, which made a great success in Paris, the cultural capital of the world. It is now spreading to Latin America and Africa, across the Atlantic.
Noting that the importance of soft power such as science technology, cultural exchange and international cooperation is becoming greater in the 21st century, Seo said, "Culture stands in the center of soft power."
"In particular, the recent emergence of K-Pop fever is mainly attributed to the private groups' efforts to produce new contents and make long-term investment, coupled with the role of social media, including SNS.The ripple effect of K-Pop fever is expanding as a growing number of youths in Latin America, Europe and the U.S., can enjoy Korean songs and music videos through You Tube," he explained.
"In addition, the improved contents quality and unique dynamism of the Korean culture, which are widely differentiated from Western or other Asian culture, greatly contributed to boosting the hallyu fever," he said.
Economic effects of hallyu
The value of Korean products and the national image have been improving through the cultural hallyu, Seo said, "Hallyu will continue contributing to enhancing the national brand and create Korea premium."
For instance, Korean-made automobile, computers and mobile phones are gaining high popularity among Iranians after the Iran's state-run broadcasting company IRBI televised Korean dramas, including "Daejanggeum" and "Jumong." "The sales of Korean-produced cosmetics are also rising at a rapid pace in China thanks to the high popularity of the Korean TV drama, 'Daejanggeum," he said. In the meantime, "Danji," a Korean restaurant in the U.S., was selected as one of the 2011 top 10 restaurants by the New York Times.
As the cultural hallyu brought about direct and indirect economic ripple effects, some relevant institutions have produced their reports on economic effects of hallyu.
4.9 trillion, and job creation for 40,000 persons. According to Korea Customs Service, Korea's export growth rates to hallyu countries far exceeded those to non-hallyu countries during the 2005-2010 period.
For example, Korea's exports of consumer goods to such hallyu countries in the Middle East and Asia as Iran, Iraq, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia soared by 234 percent, 7,716 percent, 160 percent and 110 percent, respectively during the corresponding period.
Korea's exports of consumer goods to such non-hallyu countries in the Middle East and Asia as Israel, Ukraine and India dropped by 25 percent, 9 percent and 43 percent, respectively.Korea's consumer exports to hallyu countries in Latin America, including Mexico, Peru and Brazil, also soared by 61 percent, 320 percent and 124 percent, respectively, during the cited period.
On the other hand, Korea's consumer exports to non-hallyu countries in Latin America, including Guatemala, Colombia and Venezuela, plunged by 39 percent, 32 percent and 84 percent, respectively.
Efforts to keep hallyu fever
Asked about KOCIS' strategy for sustainable hallyu fever, he said, "We are now operating a global press corps, titled the 'Worldwide Korea Bloggers (WKB),' to herald Korean culture to the world through social media, including Blog and Twitter. To activate operation of 'The Korea Blog,' which introduces Korean culture in English, we already selected a slew of bloggers across the world. "In particular, we will place focus on specializing and localizing KOCIS' overseas programs this year to spread the hallyu fever to the whole world," he said.
"For sustainable hallyu spread, we will strengthen supports and investment for development of excellent cultural contents this year. Along with this, we will establish a system that systemetically supports activities of hallyu fan clubs and K-Pop cafes in the world. "KOCIS is now implementing a variety of strategies to expand and re-produce hallyu centering on such public culture as K-Pop and movies to the overall Korean culture, in close cooperation with various cultural groups" he added.