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[Opinion] American Ambassador to Korea

Posted December. 09, 2002 22:56,   


Heading the American embassy in Korea is considered one of the key jobs in the American government. When Bush came to power early last year, a number of Americans including a head of a renowned think tank were in keen competition for the post. It is said that politically-motivated and ambitious people especially covet the job. Given such important issues as the relationship with North America, the ambassador will have a chance to stand out among some 160 American top diplomats worldwide by being competent on his or her job. In comparison, those who won the chance to become an American ambassador thanks to big campaign contributions they made tend to prefer to go to Europe where duties are relatively less tense and they can experience similar cultures.

▷In fact, the relationship between the American ambassador to Korea and the Korean government has mostly been a miniature of that between the two countries. Not to mention the first ambassador John Mucho, the fifth one Walter Mckanergi wielded a great influence here as to visit President Lee Seung-man to ask him to step down. Until the early 1990s, one of the top American diplomats used to say, ˝I can meet with Korean President at any time if necessary,˝ which suggests that Korean President was always ready to meet the American ambassador upon a request by the latter. It might be because of their stance that we still remember many of the names like James Lily, Donald Greg and Steven Borswarth….

▷One of the former ambassadors to Korea, William Gleysteen who passed away just last week, went through the turbulent times of Korean history - the controversy on withdrawal of American troops, assassination of Park Jung-hee, Dec. 12 coup and Gwangju democratic movement. He wrote the behind-the-scene politics between the American ambassador and the Korean government in his memoir `Massive Entanglement, Marginal Influence.` The book testified the American influence on the Korean government, describing what he calls `two hours of soft but tense discussion` with the then general Jeon Du-hwan at his residence two days after the Dec. 12 coup. He said that he wrote the book to make it clear ˝what had happened at that time as opposed to general misunderstanding about the American role or what the military government claimed.˝ But to most Korean readers, it is still a reminder of American influence.

▷With the 17th ambassador Thomas Harvard, however, things have begun to change. Despite Bush’s apology through the ambassador for the death of two schoolgirls, it has done little to pacify Koreans’ wrath. Although the Korean police keep vigil in front of the American Embassy, he might find it hard to do business as usual with candle light demonstrations continuing for more than a week. It is said that in the 1990s the ambassador at the time once woke up in the middle of night after an intrusion by of a group of anti-American student demonstrators and got so scared that he crept beneath his bed. We now hope that this time the bilateral relationship between the ambassador and the government here will improve going through a trial.

Bang Hyung-nam, Editorial Writer, hnbhang@donga.com