Ahn Ho-Young (GRD ’83), the Republic of Korea’s ambassador to the United States, spoke in McGhee Library Wednesday about his 35 years in foreign service and about his experience as a Georgetown student in the Masters of Science in Foreign Service program.
“I have always believed that I was a very lucky person in my professional life, but my life here as an MSFS student from 1981 to 1983 was when I felt I was the luckiest,” Ahn said.
Appointed ambassador to the United States in May 2013 by South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Ahn has made great efforts to build and reinforce relations between the United States and South Korea.
“Looking back at my 35 years of experience in foreign affairs, I found that I have been mostly engaged in matters regarding the U.S., and this is because Korea and the U.S. are one of the strongest allies and partners today,” Ahn said.
Ahn mentioned that the Korea-U.S. relationship began only as a strategic military cooperation rooted in necessity.
“Since the truce of 1953 between South and North Korea, the U.S. has been intimately involved in Korea’s security issues,” Ahn said. “The partnership continued to grow substantially over time, but until the 1980s the relationship was mainly security focused.”
This partnership became more multifaceted as economic relations deepened and diplomatic ties were reinforced throughout the last two decades of the 20th century.
“In the 1980s, things changed since the Korea-U.S. relationship changed to the economic sector,” Ahn said. “And as Korea began normalizing relations with several other nations, we consulted the U.S. on many occasions, thereby strengthening our diplomatic ties as well.”
One manifestation of this economic collaboration is the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, which was officially implemented on March 15, 2012, and is currently seen as a big success for both South Korea and the United States.
“There is a saying in international trade that says there are no happy farmers,” Ahn said. “But my diplomatic trips to many different rural areas in the U.S. has confirmed that this was wrong. I met a lot of happy farmers who actually said their exports to Korea were exponentially growing.”
Asian Studies Program Director Victor Cha, who organized the event, noted that the success of the KORUS FTA has created debate about whether Korea’s negotiations on the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership will be as effective.
“The current economic discussion of the KORUS FTA leads us to a similar debate on the TPP,” Cha said. “The TPP has been increasingly discussed within Korea, but it is also an issue involving the U.S. to a significant degree.”
Ahn added that the discussion and concerns over Korea’s involvement in the TPP are because of a belief that such engagement is too hasty at a time when the effects of the KORUS FTA have not yet been fully assessed.
“We Koreans like to traditionally do one task at a time,” Ahn said. “That’s why this new talk on the TPP worries people who think that we will not be able to reap the benefits of neither the FTA nor the TPP if we get our hands too full.”
Ahn also took the time to focus on his personal experience as a Georgetown graduate student, something with which the attendees connected.
“I found it fascinating that he once used to be a Hoya, just like me,” Michelle Hur (SFS ’17) said. “I want to work for an NGO in the future to develop these Korea-U.S. ties further, and I find it very encouraging that Ambassador Ahn has paved the way for making my goals possible.”
Ahn continued to emphasize the unique perspective that Georgetown offers to its students, and especially how the SFS helps Georgetown students to shape a particular international political lens that helps assess events in professional life.
“Know that you are lucky to be sitting here, as I had felt before, and be responsible for the great education that you receive,” Ahn added. “My 35 years in foreign service, in building the relations between the U.S. and Korea, has been a very rewarding experience, and the School of Foreign Service helped me shape [my] abilit[ies] and unique perspective.”