Football cements South Korea’s ‘New Southern Policy’

By Vo Van Thanh   December 17, 2018 | 08:29 pm PT
Park Hang-seo and the AFF Championship has been a godsend for South Korean diplomacy in Vietnam.
Vo Van Thanh, a journalist based in Hanoi

Vo Van Thanh, journalist

South Korean President Moon Jae-in uploaded a congratulatory message to Vietnam’s national men’s soccer team on his Facebook page on Monday, just two days after they beat Malaysia to win the AFF Suzuki Cup 2018.

You can see that his PR team has certainly been working hard: the message was written in Vietnamese as well. And it’s not hard to understand why, considering that Moon has been pressing ahead with his "New Southern Policy," aiming to deepen ties with Southeast Asian nations.

In his Facebook post, Moon emphasized how football has brought Vietnam and South Korea closer.

"To see how the Vietnamese people waved both their country’s and South Korean national flags during the AFF final yesterday night, I felt that football has made both nations closer friends."

"[Vietnam winning the Cup] is all the more meaningful when it was coach Park Hang-seo and his Vietnamese players who made it happen. I hope you guys will keep producing similar performances in the future," he wrote.

The South Korean president was right.

When reporters sent me pictures of Vietnamese fans storming the streets in celebration after the win, amidst the crimson sea of Vietnamese national flags, many South Korean ones were clearly seen.

Since the 1990s, the "Korean wave," otherwise known as the "Hallyu," an increase in popularity of South Korean culture, has swept the world, especially Southeast Asia. South Korean films, TV serials and music have spread far and wide, and this has been obvious in Vietnam.

But recently, something about this cultural wave has changed. It has started moving the other way.

Vietnamese players throw coach Park Hang-seo in the air after team won AFF championship on December 15, 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong

Vietnamese players throw coach Park Hang-seo in the air after team won AFF championship on December 15, 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong

Just last week, Park Hang-seo was named ‘Person of the Year’ by the Journalists Association of Korea for his outstanding contribution to the image of South Korea on the global stage.

The emotional journey that Park and his wards have been on, fighting their way through several key football tournaments, from the U23 Asian Cup final last year in Changzhou, China, to their hard-earned victory against Malaysia in the AFF Cup final in Hanoi last week has thrilled Vietnam, but also touched South Korean hearts.

The SBS, a national South Korean television and radio network, reserved a primetime slot to broadcast the Vietnam v. Malaysia match Saturday night, live. This wasn’t a decision made on a whim.

Is Moon’s "New Southern policy" riding the wave of Park Hang-seo and the rise of Vietnamese football? Looks like it.

Last month South Korea announced it would issue ten-year multi-entry visas to certain Vietnamese groups like lawyers, doctors or professors, and five-year multi-entry visas for citizens of Hanoi, Saigon and Da Nang. Coincidence? I think not.

Football has provided the headwind for Moon’s policy to soar in Vietnam. But how can its impacts be optimized by Vietnam? The ball is in our court now.

*Vo Van Thanh is a journalist based in Hanoi. The opinions expressed are his own.

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