Han Duk-soo, Korean ambassador to the U.S., and Kathleen Stephens, former U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Korea, met Wednesday with BYU students and faculty for an ambassador dialogue on U.S.-Korean relations. The dialogue, which has come on the heels of many discussions regarding U.S. and Korean relations, was far from bleak.
Han began the dialogue by answering a question regarding the change in U.S. and Korean relations between the Bush and Obama administrations.
“Perception is different but there really is no substantial difference,” Han said.
Han also explained that the relationship between the U.S. and Korea is a treaty-bound relationship and that there are high levels of support in Korea for increased relations between the two countries.
Stephens mirrored Han’s comments by further explaining there are no strong differences between the Bush and Obama administrations.
“We are working to implement a lot of work that was started in the previous administration,” Stephens said.
As a specific example of such implementation, Stephens said the U.S. is making changes in its military forces that will return some important land to the Koreans while still maintaining a strong presence in Korea.
“Our future is in the Pacific,” Stephens said. “We need to secure our presence in Asia. We need to strengthen our alliances. We need to strengthen our key relationships and partnerships in Asia.”
Speaking of the future, Han answered a question regarding the youth of Korea. According to Han, some youth appear to be indifferent regarding Korea’s foreign relations, but he affirmed that the U.S. is the most important country for a lot of youth.
“Younger generations always have a much larger agenda than people over 50,” Han said. “Their future is always, I think, much more important than whether Korea has good relations with U.S and Japan … They have an urgent task at being successful.”
Matching Han’s positivity, Stephens said no country has made so much positive progress in such a short time as Korea.
Both Han and Stephens were asked what they wished the other country could know more about their counterpart. Han said he wished the general public in the U.S. understood what they were saying and trying to accomplish. Stephens said she wished Koreans, and Americans alike, knew more about their own history.
Han and Stephens agreed on many comments and perhaps one of the most important things they agreed upon was the future of U.S.-Korean relations, according to Stephens.
“I can’t predict the future but I do think that this relationship with us anchoring Asia is even more important going forward than it has been over the last … few years,” Stephens said.