Recently, I was browsing my Instagram feed and came across a post that surprised me. One of my Japanese friends posted a picture of a Korean pop idol along with a heartfelt birthday message to her, written in Korean. Given the historically bitter relations between the two countries, I was taken aback. Seeing a young person from one of these countries idolising the rival’s culture, and even making an effort to learn the language, is a very big deal, and a sign of changing times.
The diffusion of Asian pop culture is not limited to Japan and Korea. In Hong Kong, Japanese goods fill the shelves at Circle K, and young people take cues from the latest Korean fashion trends. From Hong Kong, to Taiwan, to Japan, to Korea, this pop culture exchange is in full swing in East Asia, spurred by the changing attitudes of the younger generation.
Even if two people are from two different countries and speak different languages, something small like a shared taste in music or movies can help build a positive relationship. On a national scale, this common ground can engender a sense of goodwill among countries.
I’m not proposing that by spreading pop culture, all the region’s political problems can be solved. All the K-pop songs in the world are not going to resolve complicated issues such as territorial disputes. However, I do believe that cultural exchange can create positive feelings, and persuade people to engage with one another. This is a good way to promote peace.
The principle behind this argument is actually very simple. If one has positive feelings about the culture of another country, one is more likely to support that country and its people. It simply doesn’t make sense to, for instance, love everything about Korean culture, but hate Korea and its people.
But not everyone is keen on this new trend of pop culture exchange. Some nationalist political parties see the growing popularity of foreign pop culture as a form of “invasion”. The Japanese and Taiwanese governments have introduced laws to stem the flow of Korean movies and TV shows. I think this is a big mistake; cultural exchange is inevitable, even more so now, thanks to the internet, so such laws are pointless.
What the politicians do not realise is that, in a way, pop culture exchange is helping them to do their jobs. It warms the perceptions of their nation’s younger generation towards the people and culture of other East Asian countries. It is time to realise the tangible value that pop culture brings to international relations and embrace it wholeheartedly. Anything that brings people together is ultimately a positive thing, so I for one would say: “Turn on the K-pop!”