Republic of Korea Ambassador to the United States Ahn Ho-Young (GRD ’83) emphasized the strong relationship between South Korea and the United States and Korea’s growing role in the world economy at the keynote address of the Fifth Annual Walsh Exchange Conference at the Mortara Center on Friday.
The Walsh Exchange, hosted by the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, is dedicated to undergraduate research around international affairs taking place in Washington, D.C., and allows undergraduate students to showcase their work.
Ahn was appointed ambassador to the United States in May 2013 after previously serving as Korea’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Ahn graduated from Seoul National University in 1979 with a degree in political science, and moved to Washington in 1981 to attend Georgetown University for his master’s.
“Important decisions are more conviction than science,” Ahn said. “When I was 16 or 17 years old I began to think that I wanted to do something meaningful in my life. I asked what career I would do and thought well, foreign service.”
Ahn cited four moments in the following 10 years of his life as having had a significant impact on his career: the fall of the Berlin Wall, the invasion of Kuwait, the South Korea-North Korean declaration on denuclearization in 1991 and the 1992 American presidential election.
“It was these three experiences I had as a young diplomat that provided a good basis from which I could become an ambassador,” Ahn said.
Ahn said his work shifted in focus from pure diplomacy to economics after the 2008 global financial crisis , where he saw an opportunity to make a difference for both Korea and the field of international economics as a whole.
“President Sarkozy came to the UN and said, ‘this financial crisis is unique. Previously they have been limited and contained—this is global,’”Ahn said. “I was listening to the speech and I thought maybe G7 would be too small, maybe we need something larger —opportunity for Korea!”
Ahn worked to get South Korea invited into the G20, an international forum for 20 major governments and central bank governors, in 1999. Korea was subsequently the first Asian country to host the G20 for its fifth meeting in 2010.
Khan said he has a deep appreciation for America’s values.
“Of course I love my country, but I deeply admire this country for many reasons,” Ahn said. “This is a powerful country with a marvelous economy… I also deeply admire America for your moral standards. I don’t think there has ever been a country in which the citizens hold the government to such high moral standards.”
Ahn said he expects relations between the United States and South Korea to continue to improve in the next five years.
“There is much cynicism and frustration about the situation and how it has been dealt with over the past 25 years,” Ahn said. “However, overall relations between Korea and America have been progressing positively over the past 60 years and should continue to do so.”
Ahn said Koreans in America will be important for the future of relations between the two nations.
“There are over 70,000 Korean students studying in America. This is proof of the friendship that Korea has built with the US and the confidence Korea has in its relationship with the US,” Ahn said.
Heitz Mathilde (COL ’17) said she came to see the ambassador speak because of her general interest in foreign relations.
“This is a great opportunity we have at Georgetown,” Mathilde said. “When you are a student and you see and listen to previous students like the ambassador, you can see concretely where you can go with your education.”