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Kurt Campbell`s final visit to S.Korea

Posted January. 16, 2013 14:53,   


Christopher Hill, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia, was once popular in South Korea. After serving as ambassador to Korea, he became assistant secretary in April 2005. Even a rumor had it that “all North Korea issues lead to Hill.” The South Korean media covered his every move while he served as chief U.S. negotiator to the six-party nuclear talks because the negotiations played a pivotal role in tackling North Korea’s nuclear program at that time. Hill was the first U.S. ambassador to visit the memorial park for the victims of the 1980 Gwangju massacre and displayed his showmanship by eating "Baru Gongyang (Buddhist meal with traditional bowls)" at a temple. He had a good relationship with South Korean media as well. His practice of "door-stepping," or a short media interview in an open space after a meeting with South Korean officials, put his subordinates through “severe pain and suffering.”

Kurt Campbell, another U.S. assistant secretary of state who came to Seoul Tuesday, is also good at door-stepping. He voluntarily calls the media and stresses the perfect nature of the bilateral alliance with good manners and sophisticated words. If he feels good, he asks questions to reporters and holds a discussion. He also cares for reporters, asking at the end of the interview, “Any more questions?” Campbell would be the envy of reporters who are chasing members of the presidential transition committee day and night in Seoul`s Samcheong-dong neighborhood, where the committee is located.

Campbell made his 18th trip to South Korea this time, or a visit every 2.4 months on average. He had a specious memory, however. When President Lee Myung-bak offered his ambitious “grand bargain” to North Korea in September 2009, Campbell claimed to have no idea about it. Then the president expressed his discomfort, saying, “If you don’t know, who does?” Surprisingly, Campbell turned into President Lee’s evangelist after the conversation. He praised the leader, saying, “He is a man with positive and trustworthy leadership that no other world leader has shown,” and, “He is a person who expresses his thoughts most clearly.” Campbell is the first person who described bilateral relations as "couldn`t be better."

The diplomat used to be a Japan expert, and this is not surprising because Asian studies meant Japan in the past and China now. How fortunate that a man who returned to academia after his four-year service for the U.S. government has become a fan of South Korea. Since the start of the Obama administration, high-ranking U.S. officials visited South Korea first then Japan and China when on tours of Asia and spent more time in South Korea than Japan. He will see Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after holding a meeting with President-elect Park Geun-hye. Speculation is rising over what message he will deliver on behalf of the U.S. over rebuilding South Korea-Japan relations.

Editorial Writer Ha Tae-won (triplets@donga.com)