By Frank Ahrens
The South Korean government has debuted a short animated film titled “Innovation Is In Our DNA” designed to highlight the nation’s history of innovation from the invention of moveable metal type to today’s path-breaking coronavirus response, including drive-through testing.
Despite its status as the world’s 12th-largest economy and the home of global brands Samsung, LG, Hyundai and Kia, South Korea is often known by its splashiest cultural exports, such as Kpop, or it is defined by its relationship to North Korea.
This film seeks to change that by focusing on one of the nation’s signal characteristics – a knack for innovation that stretches back centuries. In recent decades, the nation institutionalized its aptitude for innovation by prioritizing education and corporate investment in R&D. For five years running – from 2015 to 2019 – South Korea was named the world’s most innovative nation by Bloomberg.
“From BTS to ‘Parasite’, from the COVID-19 response to President Moon Jae-in’s Korean New Deal investment plan, Korea is constantly looking for ways to innovate,” said Ambassador Lee Soo Hyuck from the Republic of Korea’s Embassy in Washington D.C., which produced the film. “Through this short film, I hope many Americans get to know more about Korea and our passion for innovation.”
President Moon has rolled out a $133 billion “New Deal” economic plan designed to help the nation recover from COVID-19 by reshaping the economy to focus on technology. The sweeping plan aims to create nearly 2 million new jobs in sectors including telecom, artificial intelligence, renewable energy and eco-friendly industries. The plan borrows the term from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s job-creation programs that helped lift the U.S. out of the Great Depression.
The innovation film goes back in time to showcase the invention of the Korean alphabet, hangul, by King Sejong the Great in the 15th century; the development of the Turtle Boat – a covered military vessel impervious to boarding – by Admiral Yi Sun-sin in the 16th century; the rise of the Republic of Korea’s ship-building industry that enabled the country to become an export powerhouse, and its world-leading technology, including 5G, robotics and AI.
“Since the very beginning, Koreans have innovated,” the film says. “Either out of necessity or to push the boundaries of knowledge, Koreans have found new and unexpected ways to answer problems.”
In 2019, South Korea became the world’s first country to roll out commercial 5G service. In addition to fueling startups, the super-fast internet allowed for the deployment of coronavirus-fighting mobile phone apps.
Over the course of the pandemic, South Korea’s efforts to test individuals for COVID-19, trace the movements of those who became infected and quickly contain outbreaks has received plaudits from experts and media around the world.
South Korea has provided millions of COVID-19 testing kits to the U.S., along with face masks to veterans of the Korean War and frontline healthcare workers.
Accordingly, the film explains how South Korea’s alliance with the U.S. became a necessary component to Korean innovation and a way for the two countries to work together on global challenges.
Despite excessive demands from the U.S. for South Korea to increase its portion of the cost-sharing burden for the stationing of 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea, 90 percent of citizens there still favor the presence of U.S. troops, according to a recent survey from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Frank Ahrens is a veteran global communicator and leading expert on Korea, the automobile industry and the East-West corporate culture clash.