① A familiar nation
U.S. President Barack Obama came across Asian culture in Indonesia, where he spent his childhood, and in Hawaii in his teen years. He learned the Korean martial art taekwondo while an Illinois senator.
According to his half sister, he used to eat boiled rice with assorted vegetables, a traditional Korean dish, at least once a week while living in Hawaii. When someone asked him a question in his presidential campaign and said he came from Korea, Obama immediately gave a response in Korean.
In a phone conversation with President Lee Myung-bak immediately after his election, Obama said, I feel close to Korea since I met many Korean Americans while growing up in Hawaii. Id love Korean beef barbeque (bulgogi) and kimchi for lunch.
② Mixed feelings
While working as a community organizer in a Chicago slum, Obama grew to have mixed feelings on Korean Americans. In his autobiography, he quotes a community leader as saying, While non-locals make money by doing business in our district, they disregard our brothers and sisters. Those who do business here are either from Korea or the Arab region. If any Korean looks down on a local customer, we would immediately complain.
In his presidential campaign, Obama said, Korea exports hundreds of thousands of cars to the United States, which in turn only sends a few thousand cars to South Korea each year.
③ A country to learn from
Instead of blaming social structure per se for the poverty of the African-American community, Obama urged black families to stand on their own two feet. He condemned the reality of how black fathers abandon their families.
Obama often urged blacks to learn from the Korean commitment to education and community, saying, Korean children receive one more month of education (per year) as opposed to their American counterparts, or, Koreans are hard working and have strong sense of devotion to family and community values.
④ A country to watch out for
Whenever Obama stressed the need for reform in the American auto industry, he has always been conscious of Korea as a competitor. American automakers need to make energy efficient cars like their Japanese and Korean rivals, he said. While American automakers manufacture hybrid cars, their batteries are made in Korea.
⑤ An indispensible partner
American society since several years ago has had a tendency to view South Korea through the prism of North Korea. In particular, Pyongyangs latest provocations are the gravest challenge confronting the Obama administration. The chief executives aides and advisers have constantly stressed that a strong Seoul-Washington alliance is the most important element in tackling the crisis.