Language, Sports and Cultural Exchange: #Shigak no. 46

By | June 24, 2017 | No Comments

Taekwondo plays a part in the Arirang Mass Games, which used to take place almost annually in Pyongyang. | Image: Wikicommons

On April 2, Sino-NK began a series of regular analyses looking at the South Korean presidential election through the lens of the Korean-language media, reviving a series that ran from February 2014 to October 2015. That revival continues post-election, as Moon embarks on the politically all-important first one hundred days in office. 

“Shigak” (시각), or “perspective” uses Twitter to curate sources on the key determinants of the election outcome. Each issue takes the most important tweets posted by Sino-NK analysts under the #시각 hashtag and augments them with essential annotations and a bite-size dollop of concentrated analysis. #Shigak is edited by Steven Denney and Christopher Green. Yongmin Lee is a regular contributor. Back issues can be found on the dedicated page. Importantly, users of Twitter are encouraged to adopt the hashtag and take part in the project.

Language, Sports and Cultural Exchange: #Shigak no. 46

by Sino-NK

It’s an internationally-flavored #Shigak this week, featuring news that the linguistic talents of the new ROK Foreign Minister may be leaving a nasty taste in the mouths of some South Korean journalists, the arrival of North Korean athletes at a South Korean ski resort, and news that Moon Jae-in’s North Korea policy is potentially in trouble already.

South Korea finally got a foreign minister last week; Kang Kyung-hwa, who took up her post on the 18th after multiple political clashes over the fact that she once falsified her residential address, potentially rendering her unsuitable for the post. The story was covered in detail in #Shigak no. 45.

However, Kang is not home free, and now she has walked into a dispute over what is, by any objective assessment, one of her strongest assets; exceptional English. Kang has, lest we should forget, done things like interpret for former President Kim Dae-jung and serve as Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs at the UN, as well as once providing the English voice of announcements on Seoul Metro Line 4.

But just because one can speak a second language to a very high standard doesn’t necessarily mean that one should, and Kang is in trouble with the South Korean media for speaking English rather than Korean to Marc Knapper, the United States’ charge d’affaires in Seoul. Although this makes for practically seamless communication between national representatives — clearly a good thing, not least given that Kang was conveying South Korea’s condolences to the United States over the death of Otto Warmbier — it does make the work of local journalists harder.

Partly for this reason, national representatives of any state, be they presidents, prime ministers or foreign ministers, will speak their native tongue in official settings. On the fringes of official events, some are more accommodating than others when foreign media is present — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte seems rather to enjoy giving remarks to the press in English, although the Dutch media doesn’t always applaud his choice of words, and Boris Johnson has repeatedly proven himself extremely capable, if blustering and very much still the same Boris Johnson, in French.

On Friday, a taekwondo demonstration team featuring several North Korean athletes arrived in South Korea to take part in the WTF Taekwondo Championships, which take place from June 24-30 in Muju, a provincial ski resort. The team from the International Taekwondo Federation, the DPRK-led rival to the WTF (World Taekwondo Federation), which is dominated by South Korea, is due to participate during the opening and closing ceremonies of the championships, as well as giving demonstrations in the nearby city of Jeonju on Monday and, after a degree of wrangling, at what the WTF calls the HQ of world taekwondo in Seoul on Wednesday. The arrival of the North Korean team marks the first instance in the Moon Jae-in era — indeed, the first time since 2007 — that North Koreans have visited the South to take part in sporting exchanges. Such things happened frequently during the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations (1998-2008).

The visit of the North Korean athletes isn’t popular with everybody. If, as some suspect, North Korea’s regional strategic calculus involves slowly but steadily driving a wedge in between the administrations of Moon Jae-in in Seoul and Donald Trump in Washington, DC, thus weakening the alliance between the two, then going ahead with “sports diplomacy” whilst simultaneously testing missiles (to say nothing of sending the late Otto Warmbier home to Ohio in a coma) would be among the most effective ways to do it.

As was discussed in previous editions of Shigak and various South Korean media outlets, many observers projected that President Moon would return to the ways of the Sunshine Policy by, among other things, reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex and improving inter-Korean relations.

However, recent developments are likely to have made President Moon rethink his North Korea policy. Several defections from North to South will certainly pose a human rights dilemma for the new administration. In addition, South Korea’s new minister of foreign affairs, Kang Kyung-hwa has expressed her support for a 2008 UN human rights resolution on North Korea. Her position is different to that of the last progressive administration of Roh Moo-hyun, which abstained from voting for a resolution condemning human rights conditions in North Korea. Also, with the death of a US citizen, who was previously arrested and detained by Pyongyang, North Korea-US dialogue has become still more difficult. President Moon has already called the North’s actions deplorable. President Moon’s North Korea policy is facing serious constraints before it has even begun.