April 2018
People > Interview with Professor Kim Sangbae of Seoul National University Department of Political Science and International Relations
Interview with Professor Kim Sangbae of Seoul National University Department of Political Science and International Relations

For this issue, the KF met with Professor Kim Sangbae of Seoul National University Department of Political Science and International Relations who shared his views on the changing trends in international politics and the utilization of social media in public diplomacy.

You have been undertaking extensive research on diplomacy, from hard-power diplomacy dealing with security cooperation and policies to soft-power diplomacy that applies networks and IT to international politics. Would you tell us how international politics has changed of late and how Korea should respond to such changes?

Traditionally, international politics has been a subject dealing with war and peace, and national prosperity and military power. The paradigm of pre-modern international relations was a game of national wealth and military power played by the state actors. However, nowadays such varied non-state actors as corporations and civic groups are taking part in the game, seeing its transformation into a smart-power or network-power game that combines hard- and soft-power resources. Given this reality, it is imperative that Korea quickly comprehends the rules of the game spearheaded by world powers and positions itself accordingly. The nation needs to properly adapt in order to avoid repeating its tragic history of failing to understand the international political game played by the Western countries at the time of Joseon’s opening up in the 19th century.

In the modern era, traditional diplomacy and public diplomacy are conducted simultaneously. Are there any episodes involving clashes between these two forms of diplomacy or any examples showing synergistic effects created by the two?

In the case of the United States, the Bush administration strongly pursued traditional diplomacy only to be hit with the tragedy of the September 11 terrorist attacks. This in turn saw the Obama administration emphasize soft-power and smart-power diplomacy, paying keen attention to the synergistic effects from the combination of hard- and soft-power diplomacy. The effectiveness of this approach must take into account the ever changing circumstances in the global diplomatic arena.
  Korea meanwhile has become an attractive country in many respects, but is often regarded as a dangerous, unattractive destination due to North Korea’s ongoing nuclear tests. This is a classic example of how the failure to resolve problems through traditional diplomatic means can undermine public diplomacy efforts. The political situation in Northeast Asia is not good for public diplomacy, but I think we can appeal to the world and increase our attractiveness as a destination by carefully overcoming these difficulties. The present situation may at first appear to be a case of traditional diplomacy clashing with public diplomacy, but in actuality, it could just as easily be a case of synergistic effects.

You were a speaker at the KF Global Academy’s course on understanding public diplomacy. For those who were unable to attend the course, could you talk about the rise of social media as a major means of public diplomacy?

Social media is an important means of delivering one’s opinion quickly without relying upon the established media. The emergence of social media has opened a crucial channel of access to the people, and diplomacy itself has become much more familiar. On the other hand, however, it is true that there remains a gap between social media and the essential character of diplomacy, and this becomes problematic when dealing with sensitive issues. People are free to voice divergent views on a range of issues, but such views can only be reflected in diplomatic decisions to a limited extent, as diplomacy should be conducted in the national interest.

Could you explain in more detail some forms of public diplomacy using social media?

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is operating various social media accounts, including on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, but, as diplomacy usually involves sensitive issues, the roles of these platforms are nothing more than expanded versions of mass media. It is necessary to actively utilize social media while maintaining the delicacy inherent in diplomacy, and for this, an insightful review of the current paradigm of diplomacy and diplomatic organization is needed. The government should not try to do everything alone. It would be ideal if the government could prepare a social media platform and provide trustworthy information, and the private sector, by using the platform, could carry out the role of better publicizing Korea.

Written by Woo Ji-won

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