The new Korean-American diplomatI heard an interesting story from a fellow journalist recently. Her father was a diplomat, and she spent her childhood in Brazil. When she was in fifth grade, her family moved to Japan. She still vividly remembers the first day at her new elementary school. She was shocked that everyone in her class had dark brown hair. Having lived in Brazil, where people have various ethnic backgrounds, it was natural to her that people had different hair, skin and eyes. By the time she returned to Korea, she had gotten used to the environment in Japan and adjusted easily.
While Korea is converting into a diversified society, some still feel uncomfortable when they see people without typical Korean features. At the same time, Koreans feel solidarity toward people with the same blood. Sometimes, these feelings lead to misunderstanding.
A few days ago, Sung Kim, the new U.S. ambassador to South Korea, arrived here, and his smiling face may evoke misleading emotions. Some media called the appointment of Kim a “glorious homecoming.” Since he grew up in Korea until he was in seventh grade, it is true that he has returned to his homeland. The prestige of the ambassadorship is certainly glorious. However, we must remember he was appointed by the U.S. government, and he will be working in the interest of the United States. It is only the proper duty of an American citizen who has pledged allegiance to the U.S.
Just like Kim, more and more ethnic Koreans will be doing important jobs in other countries. A few days ago, Mark Keam was reelected to the Virginia House of Delegates. Jean-Vincent Place, who was adopted to a French family when he was seven, was elected to the French Senate two months ago.
When a diplomat is sent to a country of his background, it is possible to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding from cultural differences. However, diplomacy is a process of modulating national interests, and it does not always end in favor of both parties. During the Joseon Dynasty, the court had a hard time when Yun Bong and Jeong Dong, who were originally from Joseon, became ministers of the Ming Dynasty.
Of course, Kim is not a minister of Ming. He is a Korean-American and an official of the U.S. government. What we must not forget is the fact that he is a U.S. citizen. We need to acknowledge that he prioritizes American interests. The emphasis of his Korean-American background should be on American, not Korean.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Noh Jae-hyun