[REPORTER’S DIARY]He went, he saw, he likedThe biggest topic during President Roh Moo-hyun’s weeklong visit to the United States was his conciliatory remarks toward Washington. Korean-Americans and Korean students studying in the United States agreed that the president is a lot “different” from what they had read or heard. Their curiosity was obviously stirred. The common question was : “Why is the president saying what he is saying?”
The “prepared” response was that the president was facing the issues of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and foreign investment in the South. What grabbed my attention was what Mr. Roh, who was visiting the United States for the first time in his life, saw and apparently felt. None of that was in the text distributed by the president’s team, so his on the spot comments are a window on his internal response.
Meeting in Washington with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, President Roh said, “I thought that I would see some things in New York City that I have not seen in Seoul, but I was wrong.” He joked that “Driving down the streets, I concluded that things in New York were not different from things in Seoul.” Mr. Roh then said, “But when I visited the New York Stock Exchange, I felt something tremendous, something that is not tangible.” Of the rich he said, “I thought rich people were not kind, but the rich people I have met [here] are kind.” Mr. Roh said, “I came to the United States with a good feeling in my mind, and since my arrival here, I’ve come to like it with my heart.”
What is that “intangible yet tremendous” thing of the United States Mr. Roh saw on Wall Street? He was briefed by his aides that about $10 trillion, or 40 percent, of the world stock markets’ capitalization, is traded on Wall Street, compared with $2 trillion traded in Japan and $250 billion, in South Korea. My understanding is Mr. Roh formed a new opinion of the power of capital, another important factor along with U.S. military prowess.
Meanwhile, those at the New York Stock Exchange did not show a whole lot of interest in Mr. Roh’s visit. One grandmother, who is an employee at the exchange, said, “So many heads of state come to visit us.”
The U.S. security team was strict in regulating Korean photographers. In the White House Rose Garden, Korean reporters and the presidential delegation were warned to turn their mobile phones off. No exceptions allowed.
The United States as seen in Korea and the United States as seen in the United States. The president’s comments in America are now a big debate domestically. Listen to what Shin Young-shik, who runs the Longwood Deli next to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, had to say.
“Korean-Americans have our share of discontent toward America. But before stressing independence, I think Korea needs to grow in national power and health,” Mr. Shin said.
by Choi Hoon
The writer is a Blue House reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.