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Taiwan's public diplomacy

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By Lee Seong-hyon

South Korea is a latecomer when it comes to public diplomacy. It can learn from Taiwan's experience, especially its public diplomacy with the United States. It's a fitting proposition because there is a view that South Korea, under Park Geun-hye, displayed the appearance of "tilting" towards China at the expense of the U.S., its major ally.

Meanwhile, the recent phone conversation between U.S. president-elect Donald Trump and Taiwan's president Tsai Ing-wen was hailed as a victory for Taiwan's lobby. In fact, it can also be viewed as a victory for Taiwan's public diplomacy that has had a robust presence in the U.S. for decades.

The difference between Taiwan and South Korea is that Seoul has a formal alliance with Washington that leads Koreans to believe that the U.S. will defend them in case of a war. In this institutionalized alliance system, South Korea didn't feel the dire need to invest amply in public diplomacy towards the U.S., being allies, friendship was taken for granted. The relationship was seen as something that required little maintenance and greasing.

On the contrary, Taiwan doesn't have a formal alliance with the U.S. It also lost U.N.-member statehood to China in 1971 when the world body chose to recognize the People's Republic of China (P.R.C.). Feeling vulnerable, Taiwan early on invested heavily in public diplomacy with the U.S., hoping that the world's superpower would stand by Taiwan in times of trouble in the geopolitical jungle.

The origin of Taiwan's public diplomacy can be traced to May-ling Soong (Soong Mei-ling), who later became Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi)'s wife. In 1917, she graduated from Wellesley College, an exclusive all-female college, comparable to South Korea's Ewha Womans University. Many graduates of Wellesley were married to American political figures and Soong's alma mater connection also turned out very helpful for her networking in the U.S.

Soong herself was a charismatic figure. Having been versed in both Chinese and western culture, Soong gained popularity in the U.S. with her talent for public speaking and personal charm. She was on the cover of Time magazine three times and addressed the U.S. Congress in 1943. When she visited the U.S. again, a crowd of 30,000 gathered to see her. Life magazine called her the "most powerful women in the world." Overall, Soong is widely regarded as having paved the way for Taiwan's public diplomacy in the United States.

Even today Taiwan maintains a close network with the U.S. Congress. The Congressional Taiwan Caucus, for example, is the second largest country caucus with 137 members. The Korea Caucus, for reference, had only 58 members, as of 2013.

A defining feature of Taiwan's public diplomacy is its utilization of Taiwanese-Americans in the U.S. who engage their local politicians. Of notable is the Formosan........

© The Korea Times