|Map from CIA World Factbook|
On June 24, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Sung Y. Kim to be Ambassador to the Republic of Korea. The WH released the following brief bio:
Sung Y. Kim became the Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks in July 2008 and was accorded the rank of Ambassador. A career Foreign Service Officer, Ambassador Kim headed the Office of Korean Affairs from 2006 to 2008. Previously, he was the Political-Military Unit Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul from 2002 to 2006. From 1999 to 2002, Ambassador Kim served as a Political Officer in Tokyo. Other overseas assignments include Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong. In Washington, Ambassador Kim worked in the Office of Chinese Affairs and served as Staff Assistant in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Ambassador Kim worked as a public prosecutor in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office. He earned his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and received a J.D. from Loyola University Law School as well as an LL.M. from the London School of Economics.
If confirmed, Ambassador Kim would be the first U.S. ambassador of Korean descent to serve in Seoul since diplomatic relations were established in 1883. He would succeed career diplomat Kathleen Stephens who was appointed to Seoul in 2008. Ambassador Kim’s nomination, was of course, big news in that part of the world even before it was officially announced.
Korea JoongAng Daily reports that Ambassador Kim was in seventh grade when he moved to the U.S. and acquired U.S. citizenship in 1980. Also:
“He migrated to the U.S. with his family in the mid-1970s when his father left his job as a public servant. Ambassador Kim’s father, according to this report, was the South Korean ambassador to Japan before he moved his family to the U.S. He had also been kidnapped by North Koreans and taken across the border after boarding a Korean National Airlines flight in 1958. KNA was South Korea’s first commercial cargo and passenger air carrier. Kim’s father was released 20 days later across the border through Panmunjom.”
The Chosun Ilbo reports that “After Obama’s appointment of Chinese-American Gary Locke as ambassador to China drew a positive response, U.S. officials began to consider Kim as envoy to South Korea.”
One going to Beijing is a politician, and the other intended for Seoul is a career diplomat, same difference, huh?! Read more here: U.S. Nuclear Envoy Tipped as Ambassador to Seoul
But perhaps the more striking piece I’ve seen about this nomination is an editorial in Korea Times entitled “New US ambassador | Substance is more important than symbolism.” Quick excerpt below:
His Korean heritage is both an asset and a liability. His appointment gives a sense of pride to Korean-Americans. He symbolizes the U.S. multiculturalism where talent, not racial background, is the key factor for success. He proved his talent as his career has been on fast-track even during the conservative Bush administration.
He will give Koreans a sense of comfort and ease, and sets a new milestone in the 129-year bilateral ties.
He has many issues to overcome during his service in Korea and so questions arise. The first is whether he has an easy access to the White House for sensitive and critical Korean issues. The next is how to manage the high Korean expectation that the American will better represent Korean interest. (italics added)
There is, of course, the South Korean Ambassador in Washington to represent Korean interests.
Ambassador Sung Y. Kim, a career U.S. diplomat has been nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to South Korea. If confirmed, he will served at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul to represent American interests in that country. To expect otherwise is crazy bad unrealistic.