There is no other way to describe the Korean Wave—more popularly known as “Hallyu”—than with the word phenomenal. Since the 1990s, diffusion of South Korean culture to various parts of the world, including the Philippines, has only grown stronger and wider thanks to the enigmatic appeal of K-Pop—that is Korean dramas, music and game shows, among others—despite language barriers.
And even if the Philippines is three times the size of South Korea in land area, Hallyu has undoubtedly conquered the islands with Filipinos excitedly embracing their brand of entertainment, subsequently their fashion and flavors, and ultimately large groups of immigrants over the last two decades.
For the coming years, Ambassador Han Dong-man promises to work closely with the Philippines in strengthening the country’s ties with South Korea
The effects of the phenomenon have only proven to strengthen already strong ties between the two Asian governments. As South Korea appreciates the world famous hospitality with which Filipinos have welcomed their families and retirees here, the economy is rewarded with a significant addition to consumer spending as well as direct investments from their end.
Here is the supporting data. According to reports from the Embassy in Manila, South Koreans took the top spot among tourist arrivals to the Philippines in 2017, recording 1.6 million visitors from their part of the world alone. Moreover, about 100,000 South Koreans are already residing in the Philippines, with the following estimated breakdown: 50,000 in Metro Manila, 20,000 in Cebu, 10,000 in Angeles, Pampanga, and the remaining 20,000 in various parts of the country.
Upbeat over the ever-tighter and productive connection between the Philippines and his nation is South Korea’s top diplomat to Manila, Ambassador Han Dong-man. Beginning his tour of duty on January 17 when he presented his credentials to President Rodrigo Duterte, he, along with his wife, Jang Sook-yung, are very eager to nurture this friendship and see to the welfare of their people here as best as they can.
Before his posting to Manila, Ambassador Han had already visited the Philippines many times as he was in charge of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional forum over the last several years.
“I had a good impression of the Philippines the very first time I came here and it stayed that way in my successive visits. Filipinos are always smiling and very friendly, and I didn’t have to make too much adjustments when we finally came to live here,” he enthused in this one-on-one interview The Sunday Times Magazine.
Moreover, the seasoned diplomat has very good things to say about the current state of the country.
“The Philippines is now transforming into a modern country, thanks to its steady economic growth,” Ambassador Han began. “It has a lot of potential to develop even more, so it is my honor to serve as an ambassador in this country. I consider it my obligation to establish a win-win scenario that would benefit both Korea and the Philippines.”
Ambassador Han pays a courtesy call on President Rodrigo Duterte before the latter’s official visit to South Korea on June 3
he top diplomat exchanges views on tax reform bills and easing restrictions on foreign investment with Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez
Prior his appointment as Korean Ambassador to the Philippines, Han had gathered more than 30 years of experience in representing Korea in the international community via the areas of policy planning, trade issues, and public relations.
“I started my [foreign service]career in 1985, so for the last 33 years, I have held many diplomatic jobs. When I was a Director-General of the International Economic Affairs Bureau in the Foreign Ministry, I pioneered the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), which was designed to help developing countries, including the Philippines, adapt to and mitigate climate change,” he related.
“Climate change is a very important issue for Korea as well as the rest of the world. Korea ranks seventh in terms of CO2 [carbon dioxide]emission, so it is time to shift the paradigm from a brown economy to a green economy, by protecting the environment, and at the same time finding new hope for the future.
“With the creation of GGGI, I received the Order of Merit from my government, one of my proudest achievements as a diplomat,” he added.
Han’s most previous posting was Consul General to San Francisco.
“In the Foreign Ministry, I was Deputy Minister for Overseas Koreans and Consular Matters You see, there are about 7.4 million Koreans living abroad, and it was my job to secure their safety and security, and the reason why I had to visit Manila many times before. I find what I do quite fulfilling.”
From field to the world
As The Sunday Times Magazine prodded Ambassador Han to talk more about himself, the envoy revealed he never saw himself in the foreign service growing up as a child.
As a young boy in the 1970s, he was exposed to an agricultural community, as his father was a farmer like most other men during the nation’s impoverished years. According to Han, Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world back then, lagging far behind the Philippines in terms of development.
All the same, despite their situation, Han focused on his studies and became a voracious reader through high school. He remembers reading many books about the great leaders of the world, most impressed with the life and times of legendary Englishman Winston Churchill and how he overcame the crises the United Kingdom faced during World War 2.
He was saddened by the state of Korea compared to what he learned about other countries in his readings, but held tightly to Churchill’s words, “a pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, when an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty,” which gave him hope that they too can overcome hardship.
Bent on securing a college degree, Han went on to study Mass Communication at Yonsei University in Seoul revealing, “I wanted to be journalist because I thought journalists could change the world.”
He continued, “But then I changed my mind because when I was a university student in the 1980s, Korea was deep in political turmoil much like the Philippines, which led to your Edsa revolution, so I decided instead to work for the government and really make a difference there.”
Han zoomed in on Foreign Service to promote the national interest of Korea in the global community.
“I started to study for the qualifying exams for diplomats and after being chosen as a junior diplomat, I continued my studies in two Paris universities—one in Sciences Po or the Paris Institute of Political Studies, and the other at the Pantheon-Sorbonne, where I studied International Organization.
“At the time, in 1987, Korea was underrepresented in the United Nations so I decided to continue working in an international organization such as the United Nations to represent the interests of Korea.”
It will be remembered that prior to becoming one of the richest countries today, South Korea benefited from big injections of foreign aid. In the 1960s, South Korea under President Park Chung-hee launched economic and social development plans, and soon the economy began to grow, although the lives of ordinary people were hardly affected until the 1970s. The Korean economic miracle that was achieved under President Park’s leadership in the 1960s and 1970s is a story of dazzling national transformation from poverty to wealth.
‘Can do spirit’
Grateful to see his beloved nation rise to prosperity, Ambassador Han is all the more eager to share their “can do” spirit with developing countries today so that they too can reach their full potential.
“I am very fulfilled in representing my country, South Korea. We remain a very unique country, transforming an aid-recipient country to a donor country in the world. In the 1980s, Korea was heavily reliant on foreign aid, but in 2000 the tables turned,” Han said with pride.
“What Koreans can do is work hard. Capitalizing on an excellent and disciplined work ethic, Korea developed not just in the economic realm, but culturally as well, with an enviable world status. And yes, that is Hallyu, the Korean Wave spreading worldwide as a fine example of this growth and global influence,” he added.
Indeed, the South Korean culture has reached the peak of popularity around the world, and as his country’s ambassador ,Han said it is his responsibility to “galvanize” the Korean wave in the Philippines.
“I was glad to meet the presidents of television networks ABS-CBN and GMA because they broadcast Koreanovela dramas that are rating very well,” he explained. “I hope that Korean dramas will continue to have increased airtime on Philippine television. Why? Because of these shows, many Filipinos wish to see Korea.
“In fact, according to a public opinion poll, Korea is the No. 1 country that Filipinos want to visit. On the other hand, the Philippines has the same appeal to Koreans who are the No. 1 foreign tourists to the country too,” he happily noted.
Asked what he believes is the reason behind South Korea’s success as a nation and influence in the world, the ambassador replied, “It’s because of the cooperation between government and [private]companies to enrich Korea’s cultural heritage. For the government, culture is an important component of soft power so it enhances the cultural platform for young talented people. Now we are witnessing their creativity unleashed based on their traditional values, which can be synchronized and harmonized with other cultures.”
Elaborating on the public and private sector cooperation, he cited, “You know, Korea is the No. 2 country in the world in terms of internet infrastructure and speed, which allows many Korean entertainment companies to use technology in spreading their music, drama, and other contents across the world.”
Choosing to zoom in on the close ties of the Philippines and his country, Ambassador Han made it a point to go back in history and acknowledge the Philippines as one of the first among Asean countries to recognize South Korea as a republic in 1949.
“That’s why in 2019, we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between Korea and the Philippines,” he enthused.
“When President [Rodrigo] Duterte visited Korea in the first week of June, he and President Moon Jae-in announced that 2019 will be a year of mutual exchange. And yes, we are committed to make next year a landmark year by ensuring people-to-people exchange, and an exchange of cultural events and economic activities through more dynamic trade,” Han elaborated.
“I strongly believe that today’s Korea would not be enjoying peace democracy, and economic prosperity without the noble and great sacrifice of the Filipino-Korean War veterans. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the Philippines sent 7,420 troops to fight the communists, so the Koreans are indebted to the Philippines,” he added gratefully.
“So on June 25, I invited former President Fidel Ramos, who was a Korean War veteran, and the other veterans to have dinner [at the ambassador’s residence]. I believe the Filipino-Korean War veterans deserve to be called ‘heroes.’ We will continue to honor these veterans as well as extend more scholarship programs to their children and grandchildren from our government,” he promised.
Besides sending troops to the Korean War, Filipinos further contributed to South Korea’s development in the 1970s what with many Filipino engineers and technicians going to the neighboring country to lend their expertise in the construction of a government complex and gymnasium.
“Because of that too, Koreans will never forget the Filipinos’ contributions to our nation, that is why it is time for Korea to pay their ‘debt’ to the Philippines,” Han said again.
“Based on our great gratitude to the Philippines, the Korean government has expressed its intention to help the country by allocating $25 million in overseas development assistance (ODA). Additionally, one month ago, Foreign Secretary Allan Peter Cayetano and I signed an agreement providing a $1-billion soft loan.”
Han furthered, “Just last week too, I was in Northern Samar to attend the ground breaking ceremony to build a road through a Korean investment of $20 million.
“I was also in Tacloban, Leyte, where President Duterte was born, to attend the completion ceremony of the Tolosa campus of Visayas State University, which was hit by Typhoon Yolanda.”
A true friend of the Philippines, around 500 members of the South Korean Armed Forces went to Leyte to help in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of province in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda. Dubbed the “Araw” contingent and comprised of medical and engineering personnel, the troops stayed in Leyte for one year.
“Every cloud has a silver lining. Likewise, Araw, which in your language means ‘sun,’ was a silver lining that gave hope to Leyte,” the ambassador waxed poetic.
“There is a saying, ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed,’ so based on that proverb, we will continue to work together for the common prosperity of Korea and the Philippines.”
Over the next few years, Ambassador Han said that his embassy and their Philippine counterparts plan to establish “four pillars” to further strenthen bilateral relations between the two nations.
The first pillar will see the commemoration of two significant events—the 70th anniversary of Philippine-Korean friendship and the 30th anniversary of the Asean-Korea dialogue partnership.
“Politically and geopolitically, we will continue to deepen our ties. In particular, Korea appreciates the support of the Philippines vis-à-vis the North Korean nuclear issues. We will continue to work closely with the Philippines in addressing the security issue in the Korean Peninsula and in the region.”
Meanwhile, the second pillar will focus on developing more extensive on economic ties.
According to the ambassador, the two countries’ trade volume reached $14.3 billion in 2017. But with the growing potential of the Philippines (as indicated in the US News and World Report which ranked the Philippines as the top country for investment), the figure is bound to grow.
“Many Korean companies are interested to invest here. So, whenever I meet Korean business people, I tell them to invest in the Philippines in accordance to President Duterte’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ slogan. It is my hope that during my tenure, I can raise our trade volume to US$20 billion,” the diplomat declared.
The third pillar will see to the growth and continued presence of Korean culture in the Philippines.
“Of course K-Pop and Korean dramas are already popular, but we hope to increase the presence of Korean culture with many cultural programs to celebrate our 70th anniversary next year.”
The fourth pillar, Han finally said will be devoted in attracting more Korean tourists to the Philippines.
“Last year, 1.6 million Koreans visited here, and when I met with President Duterte, I promised him that I will bring 2 million Korean tourists to your country, while asking him in turn to ensure the safety and security of Korean tourists and residents here, which number around 100,000.”
As a parting shot, the ambassador who “can do” promised that South Korea will always be available to help the Philippines.
“We are on the same boat navigating a long journey, so Korea will continue to remain a very close partner of the Philippines as it pursues its goals. As ambassador, I will do my best to strengthen our partnership and friendship as best as I can.”
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