South Korea activists, K-Pop artists put spotlight on unifying peninsula

By Elizabeth Shim Contact the Author   |   Aug. 15, 2017 at 9:14 AM
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SEOUL, South Korea, Aug. 15 (UPI) -- As escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula occupy center stage, a team of South Korean pop singers, a Grammy award-winning songwriting duo, and internationally known recording artists want to steal the limelight away from missile threats.

Their song of Korean unification, "Korean Dream," performed publicly for the first time in Manila, Philippines, in March, is being released by Seoul-based ONE K Global Campaign Organizing committee, headed by Seo In-taek, president of the Korea chapter of the Global Peace Foundation.

The lyrics, written by Grammy Award-winning songwriting duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, evoke a different vision for the Korean peninsula, a place where the people of the land walk "hand in hand," "without fear, spreading love."

It is a vision that is tough to imagine, as North Korea threatened again to create an "enveloping fire" around the U.S. territory of Guam.

The song has yet to be performed in the United States, but on Monday a coalition of K-pop artists and a Korea-born Australian singer took to a Seoul stage to sing of "strength in unity" at a time of deeply divisive rhetoric from Pyongyang.

Unification as an idea is old as the South Korean republic itself, but attempts to unify the two Koreas, either by force or peacefully, have yet to realize one Korea without borders.

There are other reasons to believe unification remains a remote goal.

A poll taken by South Korean television network KBS Aug. 3-5 showed 70 percent of 1,000 respondents held "extremely negative" views of the Kim Jong Un regime.

The deeply impoverished country also feels alien to wealthier South Koreans enjoying the privileges of living in a developed country.

Recent pushes to advance unification as a cause by the South Korean government, however, may be responsible for a substantially more forward-leaning view of unification than in the recent past: 46 percent of respondents said they would support unification if it is "not too burdensome," while nearly 30 percent said unification is "absolutely necessary."

Only about 10 percent of respondents said their country is better off without unification.

Activism has built awareness of unification as a national goal, but South Korean activists like Seo are harnessing the broad appeal of Korean pop music to go beyond domestic consciousness by tapping into an international pool of talent who can relay the message to a more global audience.

Can the soft power of K-Pop defeat the hard power of North Korea's weekly missile threats? Will the provocations actually serve as a catalyst to heighten global support for peaceful unification, rather than postponing what could be dismissed as a pipe dream?

Seo thinks so.

"Everyone is interested in issues of Korean unification, are they not?" Seo said, during a question-and-answer session after the musical performance. "Crisis is an opportunity to raise awareness."

South Korean singers and Korea-born Australian singer Dami Im agreed the global campaign song held special meaning.

"Music can tackle difficult subject matter," Im, a winner on The X Factor, an Australian television reality music competition, said Monday. "It gets the message across."

Im also said unification is personally significant -- one of her grandfathers left North Korea, then was unable to return after the division of the country.

Jung Dong-ha, a vocalist with Korean rock ban Boohwal, said his decision to partake in the song's production was an emotional one.

"My chest felt like bursting," Jung said, referring to the moment when he was asked to join the campaign. "I see it as an opportunity to discard prejudices that come with being a South Korean, or a North Korean."

"They are all the same people, but when seen from a far distance, [North Koreans] may look strange to [South Koreans]," Jung said, referring to the cultural divide. "We must first do away with our prejudice."

The Global Peace Foundation is affiliated with the ultimate holding company that owns United Press International.

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