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Mixed Reactions in Washington

Posted December. 17, 2004 22:59,   


On December 16, when JoongAng Ilbo Chairman Hong Seok-hyun’s nomination as South Korea’s new ambassador to the United States was announced, Korea experts in Washington expressed great interest in the background of the appointment while showing surprise that his nomination was somewhat unexpected.

The U.S. administration reacted similarly to President Roh Moo-hyun’s decision. An official from the U.S. administration explained the reactions in the U.S. government, “Chairman Hong was among the four most likely candidates for the post that had been mentioned for weeks. Yet, his nomination came as a shock to many U.S. officials as he is not familiar to those in the U.S. government.”

Some experts placed their hopes on President Roh Moo-hyun’s new approach to the U.S.-Korea relations, saying his designation of Chairman Hong as new envoy to the U.S. reflects the president’s acknowledgement of the currently unhealthy relations between the two countries.

Others noted that Chairman Hong is a novice in diplomacy, yet said it wouldn’t be of great concern if he receives ample confidence from the president.

Reactions from the Experts-

Robert Einhorn, senior adviser for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and former deputy secretary of the U.S. State Department, expressed his high hopes, “Chairman Hong, as publisher of a newspaper company, should have a deep knowledge on the recent changes that Korean society has gone through. His expertise will help him present Korea’s recent transition to Washington’s diplomatic circles.”

He observed, “Chairman Hong may not be familiar to U.S. experts in diplomacy and security or Korea experts, but, as far as I know, he has maintained an amicable relationship with the head family of the Washington Post.”

Diplomatic expert Don Oberdorfer, professor of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University`s Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), predicted, “As Hong is intimate with the top Korean government officials and is known widely to the U.S. administration, he will be able to perform his task effectively.”

He added, “Hong is believed to be able to handle the U.S.-Korea relations carefully as the job of an envoy requires the trust from the president more than one’s diplomatic experience.”

Balbina Hwang, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, provided her own evaluation, “Chairman Hong’s designation is surprising but in a good way,” adding, “President Roh’s decision to opt for Hong is an indication that the president is thinking in a positive and creative manner for the sake of an improved relationship with the U.S.”

Hwang continued, “The official relations between Seoul and Washington are very firm. Still the decision entails good implications in that Cheong Wa Dae also acknowledged that there exists a disparity in the way those who form and lead public opinions look at the situation.”

Larry Nixi, senior adviser to the U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS), advised, “Chairman Hong will have to try to understand how groups outside the Bush administration that provide a wide range of advice think while persuading them.”

Kenneth Quinones, former U.S. State Department`s North Korean affairs officer, said, “For successful handling of upcoming difficult tasks between the U.S. and Korea, proficient diplomatic skills are needed,” adding, “Eyes are on the issue whether Chairman Hong, a novice in foreign affairs, will receive strong support from the Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry and establish a practical relationship with the U.S. government successfully.”

Reactions in the Korean Embassy in the U.S.-

Officials in the Korean Embassy in the U.S. reacted that Ambassador Han Seung-joo’s leave itself had been largely expected, yet Chairman Hong’s designation caught them off guard.

Most diplomats working in the embassy refrained from offering any reactionary remark, while some questioned Hong’s ability, saying, “It remains to be seen how well Hong will perform his job as envoy at a time when the U.S.-Korean relations are sensitive and North Korea’s nuclear issues are at a critical point.”

In the meantime, Ambassador Han is known to have been notified about Chairman Hong’s appointment about a week ago, and the news is said to have been reported to the U.S. government unofficially.

Soon-Taek Kwon Jung-Ahn Kim maypole@donga.com credo@donga.com