REPORTING FROM SEOUL -- On his third visit to South Korea, President Obama seems to have caught the “Korean Wave.”
The term for the surge and spread of Korean pop culture -- “hallyu” in Korean -- popped up in the president’s speech on Monday, along with a sprinkle of other in-the-know references intended to show he could hang with the kids of Hankuk University, the audience for his otherwise policy-heavy speech.
Before launching into a review of his nuclear weapons policy, Obama name-checked South Korea’s hugely popular social networking sites -- Me2Day and Kakao Talk, the latter claiming to transmit 1 billion messages daily. He praised the young Koreans’ optimism and promise -- and tech savvy.
“It’s no wonder so many people around the world have caught the Korean Wave -- hallyu,” Obama said, in one of his biggest applause lines.
The president seems to be among them. With three presidential trips, Seoul gets the designation of Obama's most-visited foreign capitol. President Lee Myung-bak has come to the White House twice, once feted with a state dinner. The two leaders greeted each other warmly Sunday, Obama giving Lee a handshake and a back slap, as he arrived for a bilateral meeting.
In his remarks, Obama called South Korea a “modern miracle,” for its rise from war-ravaged dictatorship to a rich democracy. He declared the Koreans are “one people” and compared the peninsula’s division between the north and south to postwar Germany divided between east and west. Like the Germans, “the Korean people, at long last, will be whole and free,” Obama said.
Obama is in Seoul, along with leaders from more than 50 other nations, for a global summit on fighting nuclear terrorism. Despite the topic, the prime message so far has been solidarity with South Korea, particularly in its continued struggles with North Korea.
No matter what the challenge, "we go together," Obama said closing his remarks with the Korean translation: "Katchi kapshida!"
-- Kathleen B. Hennessey
Photo: President Obama arrives to speak at Hankuk University in Seoul on Monday. Credit: Susan Walsh / Associated Press