By Lee Tae-hoon
US President mentions Korea twice as many as Japan
It seems that “Korea” is a large part of President Barack Obama’s vocabulary and frequently used as a synonym as a prime example for success.
Korea has appeared in more than one in 10 key speeches that he has delivered since taking office in January 2009, much more frequently than many of his country’s key allies.
Obama has talked about Korea in 36 of his 342 public speeches, whereas he has only mentioned Japan and France in 17 of them, according to The Korea Times’s analysis of his past speeches collected on the website of the Washington Post.
The first African American President mentioned Australia and Britain, staunch allies of the United States, in just six and nine of his past speeches, respectively.
He talked about Singapore once, Taiwan twice, Italy and Turkey five times, Brazil 18 times, Germany 30 times, Russia 28 times and China 60 times.
Observers say both his wording and the sheer number of Korea references in his remarks reflect Obama’s deep interest and trust in Asia’s fourth largest economy, especially as a role model for economic success and education.
“South Korea is a great ally of ours. I mean, when I visited there, there's no country that is more committed to friendship on a whole range of fronts than South Korea,” he said in a speech given in Baltimore on Jan. 29.
Obama once compared Korea’s success with Kenya, his ancestral land, in a speech in July last year at the G8 Summit on Climate, Global Economy.
“When my father traveled to the United States from Kenya to study, at that time the per capita income and gross domestic product of Kenya was higher than South Korea's,” he said. “Today obviously South Korea is a highly developed and relatively wealthy country.”
In the speech, he attributed the extraordinary economic progress of Korea to its painstaking efforts to create a set of institutions that provide transparency and accountability and efficiency.
His respect for Korea’s economic success can also been seen in an interview with MSNBC on July 15, in which he thanked Korean firms for expanding business in the United States.
“Now when they look at Holland, Mich., and they say, `Instead of jobs moving overseas we're seeing jobs move from South Korea here to the United States,’ that's something that gives them a sense of a future,” Obama said.
He has also stressed the need to endorse a free trade agreement (FTA) with Korea in his several of his speeches.
“My administration will work to resolve outstanding issues regarding the United States-Korea free trade agreement by the time that I visit Korea in November,” Obama said on June 27 at the G20 Summit in Toronto.
“This will create new jobs and opportunity for people in both our countries, and enhance America’s competitiveness in the 21st century.”
Korea will be the first host and chair of the next G20 Summit, which will be held on Nov. 11 and 12, from the Asian region and by a developing country.
In a speech in Washington, D.C. on July 7, the U.S. President reiterated his willingness to conclude the bilateral FTA as a means to promote the world’s largest economy’s exports.
“I've instructed U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to begin discussions to help resolve outstanding issues with the pending Korean Free Trade Agreement before my visit to Korea in November,” he said.
As for education, he repeatedly expressed his envy on Korea’s zeal for education.
“They (Koreans) want their students learning everything ¬- math, science, foreign languages - all as soon as possible,” he said at a job training center in Lanham, Md., on Feb. 16.
He noted that Korean parents want their kids to excel because they understand that whichever country out-educates the other is going to outperform others in the future.
When he talks about education reform, Obama enjoys sharing an anecdote regarding a conversation with President Lee Myung-bak.
“When I visited South Korea last year - and I've told this story before - I had lunch with President Lee. And I asked him, ‘What's your biggest education challenge?’” Obama said in a speech delivered at the job training center.
“And he said, ‘My biggest issue, my toughest fight, is that Korean parents are too demanding. They want their children to learn English in first grade, and so I've had to ship in a whole bunch of foreign-speaking teachers to meet the demand.’”
S: Korea Times