|Culture and Sports Minister Park Yang-woo speaks during the UNESCO Forum of Ministers of Culture in Paris, Tuesday. / Yonhap|
Culture ministry to set up 'hallyu control tower'
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Park Yang-woo unveiled a plan Wednesday to set up a cross-ministry "control tower" to promote hallyu, or the Korean wave.
Under the scheme, the culture ministry will team up with other ministries to draw up a set of measures to enhance the popularity of hallyu overseas.
"Our talks with the Ministry of the Interior and Safety to move the idea forward are in the final stages," he told reporters on the sidelines of the UNESCO Forum of Ministers of Culture in Paris. "We are planning to launch a taskforce as soon as possible, within this year."
Park made the remarks with a promise to "upgrade" government support for hallyu to spread it more extensively abroad so that Korean companies can benefit from it.
"I think it's important to link hallyu to Korea's exports, as well as the manufacturing and services sectors. For this purpose, we need to establish a system under which all relevant ministries can work together to promote hallyu," he said.
The culture minister vowed to "diversify hallyu and regions" to help businesses producing related products benefit from the popularity of Korean culture.
His remarks hinted at the "strengthened" role of the government to promote Korean pop music, films and dramas.
Some hallyu experts voiced worries about the government's plan to interfere in the culture sector.
Oh In-gyu, a professor of Kansai Gandai University in Japan and president of the World Association for Hallyu Studies, was critical of the culture minister's notion of beefing up the government's role in spreading Korean culture around the world.
He said the culture minister's remarks reminded him of the Choi Soon-sil scandal which cut former President Park Geun-hye's tenure short. Choi, a longtime friend of Park, reportedly tried to use her bond with the president to increase her wealth.
Oh was also skeptical of the effectiveness of the inter-ministry committee to promote Korean content overseas.
"What is it going to achieve in two years?" he told The Korea Times.
President Moon Jae-in has just over two years left in office.
"I think the best policy for hallyu is to leave it alone," Oh said. "If the culture ministry is really serious about helping hallyu, there is a role they can play."
Oh called for better protection of hallyu fans, who are mostly female, and providing support for hallyu studies.
In August, a female Japanese tourist was assaulted by a Korean man near Hongik University in western Seoul. She posted the video of her being assaulted by the man on social media. She wrote that he approached and spoke to her and grabbed her hair as she didn't respond to him. The video caused a stir. Some characterized the incident as a hate crime by a misogynist, expressing worries that it could wreak havoc on Korea-Japan ties which were already troubled at the time.
The incident occurred amid a consumer boycott of Japanese products in Korea following the Japanese government's imposition of trade restrictions on some Korean firms.
Oh said South Korea's diplomatic spats with foreign governments, such as Japan, are an obstacle to hallyu, urging it to take measures to improve diplomatic relations.
Skepticism about the role of government in hallyu has erupted for various other reasons.
Cultural diffusion is a phenomenon that happens naturally when cultures interact, rather than as a result of the intended efforts by a government. So the role of government could backfire, rather than help the spread of Korean culture.
Few people believe that the rise of global superstar band BTS or the popularity of PSY ― the latter of which was somewhat short-lived with the phenomenal success of his "Gangnam Style" music video ― were the result of the government's premeditated efforts to promote hallyu.
Hallyu-related industries are already benefiting from the rise of K-pop and Korean dramas. Korean cosmetics, tourism and lifestyle brands are experiencing the positive hallyu effect. Universities also benefit from the popularity of K-pop as an increasing number of foreign students choose Korea as a country to study in.
Culture Minister Park's remarks on the role of government in hallyu have met with lukewarm support from some experts because of the risk of government heavy-handedness. Some are worrying that the idea of a "hallyu control tower" could pour cold water on the popularity of K-pop, Korean dramas and films.