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[Editorial] Views on “Hong Seok-hyun, Ambassador to Washington”

[Editorial] Views on “Hong Seok-hyun, Ambassador to Washington”

Posted December. 17, 2004 23:04,   


Hong Seok-hyun, chairman of Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo, has been named the next ambassador to Washington. That means that the owner of a leading newspaper will assume responsibility for cooperating and managing the Korea-U.S. relations on the very front line. Cheong Wa Dae explained his nomination, “It was aimed at enhancing the image and understanding of Korea among the American public and intellectuals,” but there is a mixed response to selecting a media insider and the owner of a newspaper, to be specific, for a politically powerful position. History and experience always teaches us that it would be better to keep some distance between the media and political power.

Hong has a lot of work to do. First, he should gain the trust and support from American society to make it possible to efficiently form a new framework of the bilateral alliance. Over the past half century, bilateral relations were successful. It was a central pillar for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and Northeastern Asia. Korea’s security and economic development have been based on the alliance. In this regard, Hong should make an effort to prevent further troubles in the relations, and furthermore to make a new framework of the future bilateral relations for the coming half century.

What matters most is trust. Seoul and Washington should have trust in each other even if there are some radical ideologies or arguments from some corners of society. The cacophony surrounding the North Korean nuclear standoff actually stems from the lack of trust. The “strategic flexibility” issue of the U.S. Army stationed in Korea, an important pending issue, is also hard to be resolved without mutual trust. At this juncture, it is hoped that Hong’s various professional backgrounds and personal network will contribute to widening the basis of trust.

In a country lacking in tradition of bipartisan diplomacy, just like our own, the importance of the role of the ambassador to the U.S. cannot be overemphasized. Previous ambassadors have been criticized for populism (in the case of a politician-turn-ambassador) or inflexibility (a career diplomat-turn-ambassador). Some people say, “Hong was picked to be the national candidate for next U.N. secretary general,” or “It is a good strategy to utilize human and material resources of a specific large conglomerate in diplomacy with the U.S.” However, these talks are only giving birth to unnecessary misunderstanding. The ambassador to Washington is not a post to be utilized to boost a career background to become a candidate for the U.N. secretary general. It would be wise for the ambassador to focus on resolving the pending issues between Seoul and Washington.