Korea-China ties necessary to back up hallyu

By Choi Ha-young

Experts stressed the importance of cooperation between Korea and China as the key to the sustainability of hallyu, or the Korean wave, at the China Forum 2016, co-hosted by The Korea Times and its sister paper the Hankook Ilbo, Wednesday. 

In a session titled “The Present and Future of Korean wave” at the Shilla Hotel, speakers discussed how to boost culture from political, diplomatic and economic dynamics.

Amid the diplomatic deadlock between Korea and China caused by a plan to deploy a terminal high altitude area defence (THAAD) unit in Korea, the forum sought ways to overcome the challenges facing hallyu.

“China has been and is the largest stage for hallyu, from the beginning of its popularity,” said National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun in a congratulatory address. “The meaning of hallyu is growing, even though the relationship between two countries has faltered due to THAAD.”

South China Morning Post CEO Robin Hu said in his keynote speech that political skill and economic resilience were needed to back up the cultural trend.

“The focus has to be beyond the product itself to the underlying values and factors that made hallyu successful in the first place,” Hu said, citing the case of Hollywood for the United States and the Japanese animation boom.

The two parties should develop joint platforms to distribute content said China Samsung President Chang Won-kie.

“Over the last centuries, American culture has dominated the global market thanks to the internet, social network services and smartphones that it created,” Chang said. “Korea and China should establish their own industrial chain, including materials, software, hardware and services, to connect culture and lifestyles.”

Seoul and Beijing can cooperate by combining each others’ technological advantages, Chang said, pointing to Korea’s success in the mobile communications and gaming industries, and China’s prowess in the internet of things and robotics. “The two parties have no need to compete. We should find ways to cooperate and make an Asian platform to lead global culture.”

Chang noted that companies see Korea as a test bed before entering into China, the world-largest market. “Korean customers are very sensitive, particularly about new technology. Also, Korea and China share a similar culture,” he said.

The form of cooperation between Korea and China has evolved. At its inception, Korean boy band H.O.T performed in Beijing to an audience of 100,000, and fans in China watched Korean dramas such as “Jealousy,” “Star in My Heart,” and “Autumn in My Heart” through unofficial channels.

Since renowned Korean producers made their way into the Chinese market, they – based on Korean publication rights – have engaged in collaborations to localise Korean cultural products for Chinese customers.

“Thanks to the cultural commonality between the two countries, Chinese producers could get one-to-one tutoring, unlike previous cooperation with Western countries,” said Zhou Kui, a professor at the Communication University of China, and the director of the International Journalism and Communication Program.

Zhou emphasised the enormous popularity of Chinese versions of Korean variety shows such as “Running Man China.” Last year, the programme was No. 1 in terms of advertising revenue generated, followed by “Dad! Where are We Going?” and “I am a Singer” which took fourth place, both originally from Korea.

Such a trend is now facing another change. “There has been certain anxiety among Chinese producers and now they are trying to make programmes on their own, looking to the long term,” he said.

These days, Korea is producing dramas based on imported Chinese products. The drama, “Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart, Ryeo,” starring IU and Lee Joon-gi, is based on a Chinese drama’s storyline.

“With period dramas having a historical background, Koreans and Chinese became interested in each others’ culture and history,” Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Cho Yoon-sun said in a congratulatory address. “Moon Lovers” aired in the two countries simultaneously, and recorded 2 billion viewers on Chinese video channel Youku last month.

Participating panels also highlighted the interchange of culture as the future shape of hallyu. “I think hallyu can be sustained for the next few years, but only if it overcomes the stigma of being a unilateral export,” said Park Han-jin, president of the KOTRA Taipei Trade Center.

“Also, it has to improve its content. Currently, it’s limited to pop culture,” Park said. KOTRA supports small- and medium-sized businesses compete with conglomerate-centred hallyu businesses.
“We are finding ways to help small businesses to join product placement, the indirect advertisement market,” said Park.

Regarding China’s boycott of the Korean entertainment industry due to the conflict over THAAD, Zhou denied this was led by the government. “Of course, it’s hard to say there’s no correlation,” he said. “However, political factors are out of our hands. In the long term, we should focus on cultural aspects to be the global No. 1.”

Meanwhile, former chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea Moon Jae-in commented on the snowballing scandal around President Park Geun-hye. “Suspicion is growing that Park’s confidant Choi Soon-sil meddled in diplomatic and security affairs, which may cause problems with China.”