Last week I attended the opening of a study center on the European Union at my university. The EU apparently opens these things all over the world at universities. The irony is just how weak the relationship between Korea and the EU actually is.
1. The EU ambassador to Korea doesn’t speak Korean. (By contrast the US consul in Busan can.) He spoke in English to a room with less than 10 westerners, and 100+ Koreans. Nor did he bow before speaking, nor even say ‘hello’ or ‘thank you’ in Korean (even I have learned that stuff). Come on already.
2. He told us about the ‘significance’ of the EU-Korea relationship, but two days later the EU-Korea FTA collapsed. I quietly laughed at that one…
3. These sorts of speeches usually reel off a list of statistics about how much such-and-such western state trades with Korea and vice versa. I am guilty too, but at least when Americans talk, we can expand on combined defense, shared values, a long-standing alliance. (I try to.) The EU ambassador, to his credit, didn’t even bother, because the EU just isn’t even trying out here anymore. After a few perfunctory words about the EU’s ‘commitment’ to peace on the Korean peninsula, it was all just economics and trade (how ‘bout those Samsung TVs?). If the significant relationship is just utilitarian, then the relationship with SK is not much different than that with Iran with whom European firms trade also.
4. The ambassador couldn’t even cough up a few words of solidarity over the imminent NK missile launch. That was a pretty glaring and sad omission.
All this made me think about my previous post about EU’s slow self-neutering of its hard power capability and its growing propensity to navel gaze. A few European states fought in the UN coalition of the war, but today it is all an American show. Does anyone really expect the Europeans do do anything to help SK if things get really hairy with the North, or worse, with China? The South Koreans surely don’t.
All this is a pretty disappointing commentary on the EU, its posturing about soft power, and its language of human rights and multilateralism against cowboy aggressiveness. Liberated from the Soviet threat, the EU can’t seem to find a few good words about another democracy threatened by the last bastion of stalinism. Liberalism in Korea is a philosophical transplant of European values. This is high praise for Europe’s heritage, as Confucian societies have struggled a good deal with the pluralism liberalism implies. How about a little Enlightenment solidarity with one of its strongest outposts in Asia?