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[Diplomatic News] U.S. Diplomats Married to Korean Women Are “Sons-In-Law of Korea”

[Diplomatic News] U.S. Diplomats Married to Korean Women Are “Sons-In-Law of Korea”

Posted October. 07, 2005 07:35,   


Among current and former professional U.S. diplomats who were or are in charge of policies toward the Korean peninsula, not a few are “sons-in-law of Korea” who married Korean women.

Charles Cartman (56), former secretary-general of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), who married Choi Yoon-hee (38, director of the Evergreen Pediatric Hospital in Bergen County, New Jersey), the eldest daughter of the former government administration minister, the late Choi Chang-yoon, on October 7 in Hawaii, is the highest-level official among these “sons-in-law of Korea.”

Former North Korean Affairs Officer Kenneth Quinones, who earned a doctorate at Harvard University and who later was specially employed by the U.S. Department of State (DOS), was the first U.S. diplomat to marry a Korean woman. He met his wife as an English teacher and a student, when he was serving his military service in Seoul as a Korean language specialist in the 1960s. At that time, his wife was working at the Bank of Korea (BOK).

Richard Christensen, the minister at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan who served in the Peace Corps in Mokpo, South Jeolla Province, is also one of the earliest diplomats to marry a Korean woman.

These “alliances by marriage” were concentrated in the 1980s. Following Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Eric John, who got married in Seoul with Dr. Quinones as the master of ceremonies, four or five couples got married between 1982 and 1986. During his service in Seoul, John met his future wife while taking a Korean culture course held at Jogyesa Temple.

The most common cases, however, were “in-company marriages” within the U.S. Embassy. Most Korean brides were highly-educated women hired by the embassy. Many of them had to date secretly because foreigners seeking to marry U.S. diplomats at that time had to undergo strict background checks.

Richard Walker, then-U.S. ambassador to Korea (1981-1986) who passed away several years ago, even joked in private, “It seems as if the Korean government has deliberately sent fabulous women to the U.S. Embassy in order to infiltrate secret agents to the U.S. government.” One diplomat who then served in the U.S. Embassy recalled, “There were up to seven ‘sons-in-law of Korea’ at the embassy at a time when the number of professional diplomats there stood at a mere 25.”

The situation has changed since the 1990s. Going through the first North Korean nuclear crisis in 1994, the U.S. Embassy in Korea expanded. This brought about an increase in the number of American unmarried male diplomats and Korean female employees, but the “alliances by marriage” sharply declined. The biggest reason for this is that more married women have been hired.

“Sons-in-law of Korea” have played a great role in enhancing mutual understandings between Korean and U.S. diplomatic channels. But it would not be fair to say that the Korean or U.S. government might make different judgments on important issues regarding the Korea-U.S. alliance just because of these “sons-in-law.”

Seung-Ryun Kim srkim@donga.com