TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — On Wednesday evening, the International Center of the Capital Region hosted a South Korea – United States trade panel discussion at the Hudson Valley Community College. The panel consisted of moderator Kathryn Bamberger, Mark Tokola, Vice President of the Korean Economic Institute, Chang Woo Lee, Public Affairs Officer of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, and David Anthony Rodriguez, Political-Military Officer, Office of Korean Affairs.
Before the formal event, guests mingled and talked with the panelists while enjoying Korean appetizers from Sunhee’s Farm and Kitchen and Son of Egg. Conversations continued after the panel discussion.
While the trade panel discussed topics such as American and South Korean products and the differences and similarities, foreign policy regarding Japan and North Korea became one of the focal points. Below is a portion of the trade panel discussion.
Bamberger: “How would you describe the climate regarding American products and services in South Korea?”
Tokola: “From my time in South Korea, what struck me were the types of American goods that people recognized, such as fine California wines, so I think the people think of the U.S. as a place that exports high-quality and cultural goods.”
Lee: “In the past, the U.S. had a lot of products in the manufacturing area, but now, there are more services and digital platforms. For example, many kids are not playing outside but would rather stay inside and stick to watching things on YouTube. We, adults, use YouTube a lot too. Also, services like Uber are really popular. I think that most people are appreciative that the products are moving from manufacturing to digital and other more significant areas.”
Bamberger: “What would be some Korean brands that this audience might be familiar with?”
Lee: “Big brands such as Hyundai. I can also say some Korean dramas and K-Pop stars like BTS are also popular. When I walk in the streets and meet American people here, they frequently ask questions about how BTS are doing and why they do military service. So, I always have to ask my friends how groups like BTS and Blackpink are doing.”
Bamberger: “I was in South Korea in 2016. I don’t know if any of you have used face masks for facials. The products in the skincare and healthcare industries are incredible. As recently as 2016, those products were pretty much unheard of, and now you see them everywhere.”
Bamberger: “What are some things about Korean culture that may surprise many Americans?”
Rodriguez: “I think something surprising is when you are talking about cross-cultural communication. It’s a different style. Americans are very direct people. We tell you what we want, and we want it now. I think Koreans have a softer approach to negotiating styles and communication styles. There is a more collectiveness society where you want to make your counterpart and the people around you feel comfortable and respected. As an American, sometimes it is a little confusing because we are so used to getting out what we need right away, whereas sometimes in the communications context, you might not get the answer you are looking for right away.”
Bamberger: “What are some misconceptions Americans have about South Korea?”
Tokola: “I think some Americans think Koreans are all considered Korean, whereas there are regional differences in Korea. People are proud of the regions they are from. There are also regional dialects. It is worthwhile to get to know where your Korean friends or partners are actually from because there is a strong sense of region there.”
Bamberger: “For those of us who haven’t experienced living with a hostile neighbor, can you talk about how life in South Korea is affected by political, economic, and other relations with North Korea?”
Tokola: “In the early 1980s, there was an economic competition between North and South Korea, and it wasn’t clear at that time who was going to be more successful. There were Chinese refugees back then who fled to North Korea to improve their lives. What has happened since then?
“Let’s take a look at how many countries in the world are both big and rich. By big, I mean have a population of over 50 million, and by rich, I mean have a capital GDP of over $30,000. There are a lot of big countries that are not wealthy, like China, Russia, India, and Mexico. Then there are countries that are small but have a very high capital GDP like the Netherlands and New Zealand. When you apply the filter of population and capital GDP, only seven countries fit into this category. The four in Europe are the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy. Then you have the U.S., Japan, and South Korea.
“In North Korea, the CIA’s best estimate of everything both legal and illegal last year is that the GDP is around $60 billion a year. The GDP of Albany and the greater area is roughly $67 billion a year, so Albany has a greater GDP than North Korea.”
Lee: “North Korea is a very tricky one. This year, North Korea launched and tested over 60 missiles. They also have an abject human rights issue. What we are trying to do is defend ourselves, and part of that is to have diplomatic and military with our U.S. allies on how to do that. The other thing we are trying to do is make an environment for North Korea to come to the table. We are following the 3D principle. The first D is deterrence to make them think about not using nuclear weapons. The second is dissuasion, and the third is dialogue, to try and get them to abandon their nuclear program and return to the international community so that the people of North Korea can get the help they deserve.”
Rodriguez: “Life in South Korea is absolutely impacted by this threat but it is important that we not only look bilaterally about how we respond but a big thing that we are pushing for is trilateral cooperation because Japan is impacted by the same threat. I think the U.S. doesn’t want to insert itself into the bilateral areas of two of our closest allies but supports them in having discussions on resolving historical issues that are extremely difficult. At the same time, we are very fortunate and happy that from a security arrangement perspective, both countries have decided to move forward to execute concrete activities that trilaterally send messages to North Korea and other adversarial countries in the area like China. We have now started doing ballistic missile defense and anti-submarine warfare trilateral exercises, which sends a big message to North Korea that they can’t do anything without consequence.”
Bamberger: “Where does South Korea fall when there is tension between the U.S. and China?
Lee: “An important thing to remember is that we have our own values. The South Korean government focuses on international values and norms, and freedom is one of the most important. We support freedom not only in Korea, but we try to promote freedom in and around the world. So, it is not a choice between the two countries, but it is more like we are doing our foreign policies based on our principles and values.”