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[Hello Indonesia] Soft power takes Korea-Indonesia ties to new heights

Dec. 3, 2023 - 16:19 By Park Han-na
South Korean Ambassador to Indonesia Lee Sang-deok delivers President Yoon Suk Yeol’s congratulatory remarks at the Korea-Indonesia Cooperation Forum held at a hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- People-to-people diplomacy between South Korea and Indonesia is playing a pivotal role in enhancing bilateral relations and will continue to do so in the coming years, according to experts.

Deepening the relationship between the two nations further is no longer a matter of choice, South Korean Ambassador to Indonesia Lee Sang-deok said during a seminar commemorating the 50th anniversary of Korea-Indonesia diplomatic ties, held at the Hotel Mulia Senayan in Jakarta on Thursday.

“Developing cooperation between the two nations is not an 'option' but 'essential' to counter the rapidly changing international orders incurred by the tech rivalry between the United States and China and the transformation of global supply chains,” he said.

The seminar took place in the wake of President Yoon Suk Yeol's agreement with his Indonesian counterpart, Joko Widodo, to strengthen their strategic partnerships in areas such as the economy and defense at a bilateral summit in Jakarta in September. The two leaders have held meetings four times since Yoon took office in May 2022, underscoring the two nations' solid relations.

“It sends a powerful message to the world of how a partnership between two middle powers can greatly benefit not only the two nations themselves but also (the surrounding region), in this case, the greater Indo-Pacific region,” said Dino Patti Djalal, Indonesia's deputy foreign minister and founder of the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia.

Experts in attendance at the seminar presented a unified front and stressed the importance of soft power in effectively enhancing connections between the people of two countries in non-coercive ways.

"When you think about the meaning of special partnerships ... it is about what kind of policy alignments are (created through) this partnership and also how much this relationship captures the public imagination," Djalal said. "The friendship between our governments is also very strong, but more importantly, at the people level, it is also very solid," he said, exemplifying Indonesian people's exposure to Korean culture through Korean drama series on Netflix and K-pop groups.

Eom Gang-sim, a visiting professor at the University of Indonesia, said "people-to-people, heart-to-heart, open diplomacy, open communication" have been "crucial in creating (a trust in the) Indonesian people (toward) Korea."

Eom said Indonesia has the largest BTS fanbase in the world, with approximately 20 percent of the Army, BTS' fandom, reportedly residing in Indonesia.

"Indonesia and Korea's long-standing, steadfast official diplomacy started in 1973, (and has seen the) increasing influence of public diplomacy since 2010," Eom said.

"We know that ambassadors are at the forefront (of efforts to) strengthen our partnership, but brand ambassadors like Korean celebrities are also working (to spearhead such efforts)."