“The Confucian Approach to Public Diplomacy in Korea”
July 3, 2016
What would be the qualifications of a Korean diplomat in response to the rapidly changing nature of diplomacy in our age? Here is a lecture entitled, “What does diplomacy mean in our age?” by Prof. Emanuel Pastreich, Senior Advisor ofAsiaToday and director of The Asia Institute. This lecture was conducted for over fifty Korean diplomats engaged in the field of public diplomacy and cultural diplomacy at the Foreign Office building on June 27. [Editor’s Note]
When I met with Korea’s Ambassador for public diplomacy Cho Hyun-dong last month we talked briefly about my current research and I met with a small group of diplomats interested in public diplomacy. Ambassador Cho made a rather unusual offer to me after our meeting. He suggested that I could come to the foreign ministry to deliver a talk on the topic.
He left it up to me to write the paper, giving me the freedom to explore various themes. He also suggested that there might be an opportunity to develop it into a more complete report or monograph at a later date.
I felt that this opportunity to talk with Korean diplomats about the field of diplomacy, rather than a specific topic in current affairs, was a tremendous honor, and a chance to share some of my ideas about the rapidly changing nature of diplomacy in our age.
I am deeply concerned about how the nature of international relations is being so rapidly transformed by technological change that the field of diplomacy is simply not keeping up and we will be facing a serious crisis in the future when nations are rocked by forces within and without of which policy makers simply have no understanding.
I spent many hours writing the talk and discussed its content with several friends in advance.
The sky over Seoul was bright blue and the lecture hall on the 19th floor had a perfect view of Bukhan Mountain and the Blue House. The room was filled with over fifty Korean diplomats engaged in the field of public diplomacy and cultural diplomacy.
I first discussed the impact of technology on international relations and how our assumptions about the nature of the nation state no longer applied. I then spent some time discussing the serious challenges posed by climate change and suggested that the response to climate change would increasingly dominate all aspects of diplomacy and security.
What was perhaps most unusual about the talk was the amount of time that I spent talking about the Confucian tradition and the strengths of traditional Korean government. I felt strongly that Koreans are not aware of just how many precedents for good government exist in Korea’s past and how much we can learn about good governance by studying past precedents from the sixteenth or seventeen centuries.
I drew attention to Choi Chi-won, the great Korean diplomat of the Silla Dynasty who used culture as a mean to reinforce relations between the two countries, and was perhaps uniquely able to play a central role in policy in both countries.
I closed the talk with a few remarks about the role of women in diplomacy. As I had anticipated, more than half of the diplomats in the audience were women. I told them that I had great hopes for an age in which women would play a central role in Korean diplomacy, but I also suggested that women had to create their own women’s culture that moved beyond the highly commercialized femininity that is rampant in Korean society.
I recommended that women needed to reinterpret the Confucian tradition to make it inclusive of women in order to assure that Korea did not lose the very best of the Confucian tradition of good governance. I hinted that only through the creative reinterpretation of Confucianism can we make it relevant to the present day, but at the same time, Korean Confucianism offered the potential of true innovation.
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