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[Kim Seong-kon] We owe BTS and Korean enterprises

It seems that our left-wing politicians today tend to think that corporations only exist to exploit their workers. Perhaps that is why they so frequently discourage our enterprises and give them such a hard time. Yet, corporations create jobs, often pay high salaries and instill a good impression of South Korea around the world. They even contribute to our diplomacy by investing in foreign countries.

At a recent press conference after the summit between Korea and the United States, US President Joe Biden expressed his gratitude to the leaders of Samsung, LG, Hyundai and SK for bringing a $25 billion investment package to America. He invited the executives of these Korean companies to receive a standing ovation from the audience.

President Biden said, “And I’m particularly gratified that so many leading South Korean companies see the benefits of investing in the United States, including this morning’s announcement of more than $25 billion in new investments from Samsung, Hyundai, SK and LG.”

He continued, “I understand the executives of those companies are here. Would you please stand up? Thank you, thank you, thank you. And I think we’ll do great work together.”

Then, he concluded, “I thank you for making the investments in our future and yours.”

Hearing President Biden’s speech, Koreans and Korean Americans were undoubtedly delighted and proud. Sixty-eight years ago, South Korea was a devastated, poverty-stricken country at the end of the Korean War. Today, however, the country has become an affluent society with advanced technology and economic success that has enabled her to bring such a huge investment package to the US. The Korean investment will create numerous jobs in America in crucial sectors, with products like semiconductors and electric batteries that the US urgently needs.

South Korean enterprises such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai, and SK are not the only ones that make Korea visible and favorable in the international community. Surely, K-pop is another.

BTS’s English song “Butter” once again topped the Billboard Chart Hot 100, following “Dynamite” last August. “Butter” also hit No. 3 on the UK chart. Thanks to the enormous popularity of BTS, South Korea is widely known all over the world. Today, BTS is no longer merely a Korean vocal group; they have become famed international idols that regularly compete with the world’s top singers and pop groups.

The other day, I went to McDonald’s to buy a BTS Meal that comes with a box of Mcnuggets, french fries and a soft drink, plus two types of sauce -- sweet chili and cajun, written in both English and Korean. About 40 years ago when I lived in America, I could not possibly imagine that someday a sauce whose name is written in Korean would be available at McDonald’s, not to mention a special meal named after a popular Korean vocal group. Today, however, you can find the BTS Meal not only in the US, but also in many other countries.

I have a very good American friend named Ben Vinson who is provost of Wayne State University. His three children are huge fans of Big Bang, another popular Korean vocal group. Their smartphones’ ringtone is a song by Big Bang. They even sing in Korean, mimicking the members of Big Bang. They like Korean pop culture so much that they are eager to visit Seoul someday. Thus, both BTS and Big Bang are playing an important role as cultural ambassadors.

Our politicians should know the importance of cultural impact when it comes to raising the profile of South Korea. BTS has done an especially great job lately. Thanks to the spectacular accomplishments of BTS, many young foreigners develop interest in Korean culture and want to come to South Korea. In the future, those K-pop fans will remain not only good friends, but also valuable assets to Korea.

Our left-wing politicians should also realize that we no longer live in the Karl Marx era, when enterprises ruthlessly exploit and abuse workers. Today, big business corporations such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai and SK are worker-friendly companies with superb wages and remarkable fringe benefits. That is why many people, domestic or foreign, want to get a job at the above companies. Therefore, our government should acknowledge their contribution to Korean economy and image and encourage them, not antagonize them as if they were capitalist monsters.

Indeed, the above-mentioned Korean companies greatly contributed to the successful summit between Korea and the US. If South Korea did not have such world class enterprises that can invest in the US, the summit might not go as smoothly as it did. Thus, Korean politicians should never underestimate the importance of gigantic business corporations. Nor should they ignore the power of cultural exchange between countries, as the global impact of BTS demonstrates.

We should value the international popularity of BTS and other K-pop groups. We should also appreciate our global enterprises that enhance the image of South Korea in the world. We owe Samsung, LG, Hyundai, SK and BTS greatly.


Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.
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