If we want to be serious about our future in the ‘Asian Century’ we will need to start with our media. The election of President Park Geun-Hye in ROK in December last year was a very significant event, but it passed in the Australian media with only the briefest of mentions. (The same could be said of the election of Prime Minister Abe in Japan in the same month.)
Contrast that with the overwhelming coverage we had last year of the US Republican primary, the US Presidential election and now the inauguration of President Obama. The media coverage of the Chinese National People’s Congress last year also paled into insignificance compared with the morning sickness problems of a British royal. Looking at our media, an outside observer would conclude that Australia is a large island moored off London and New York.
The new ROK President and her country are important for many reasons. The ROK is a great success story. It is a world leader in the digital economy. It is our fourth largest trading partner and our third largest export market in areas as diverse as minerals, energy, travel and education services. With ROK we have vital shared interests in resolving the tensions on the Korean peninsula. When the North Korean regime collapses there will be large numbers of refugees. We will be called on to cooperate particularly with the ROK. Like us, the ROK sent peacekeepers to Afghanistan, Iraq and Timor. Australian servicemen fought and died in Korea in the 1950s. We are fellow members of the G20.
Against that background the election of President Park Geun-Hye was very newsworthy. Personally, she has a very interesting and colourful background.
The election of a woman as President in a traditional patriarchal and Confusion society is a major breakthrough. As the daughter of former strongman, Park Chung-Hee, she symbolises the ROK’s translation from a ruthless dictatorship to a maturing democracy. As the ‘daughter of a dictator’ she experienced the assassination of her father by his intelligence chief. Her mother was killed by a North Korean assassin.
But all that significant and colourful history and more raised little interest in the Australian media. It was much easier to recycle UK and US material. Our media exert a stultifying cultural and information grip which is more about our past that our future – in Asia.