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[Opinion] VANK: Cyber Diplomats

Posted October. 22, 2008 03:01,   


In 1999, college senior Park Ki-tae began correspondence with foreign friends through the Internet. As he got to know them more, he found a serious problem. Many of his foreign friends did not know where Korea was, and if they knew, they thought Korea was part of China. To promote correct data on Korea, he set up prkorea.com in May 1999, which was the birth of the Voluntary Agency Network of Korea, or VANK. Park is president of the network.

With 22,000 members at home and abroad, VANK has achieved remarkable success over the past nine years, showing what grassroots diplomacy is. In August 2000, the network sent an e-mail to protest the National Geographic Society’s use of the term “Sea of Japan” instead of the “East Sea.” The society agreed to use both the terms. World Atlas said it would follow suit in 2002. VANK also made the map portal “World Map” correct its description that the disputed Dokdo islets were part of Japan. Some even said the Korean government should do as much as VANK does.

VANK charges membership fees of 20,000 won (15 U.S. dollars) per person and has an annual budget of 200 million won (151,503 dollars). The group also holds events such as its Dokdo campaign with the help of companies, civic groups and the government. The Academy of Korean Studies has given 212 million won (160,593 dollars) to the network for a project to promote Korea since 2005. Whether the academy can continue such support remains to be seen because its project budget was cut almost 30 percent.

In contrast, certain civic groups that encouraged violence in anti-U.S. beef protests receive government support. Groups that participated in the People`s Association for Measures against Mad Cow Disease got 820 million won (621,165 dollars) last year from the previous Roh Moo-hyun administration, and will receive 464 million won (351,4888 dollars) this year. Who would want to pay taxes if the government offers financial aid to civic groups conducting illegal protests while stopping assistant to VANK?

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-taek (maypole@donga.com)