Can Kang be Korea’s Albright?The most famous landmark on Wall Street is the Charging Bull. Two weeks ago, I went to see a new icon, the Fearless Girl.
The Fearless Girl statue stares at the bull, her arms akimbo and chin up. In March, the investment firm State Street Global Advisors commissioned the artwork. The company invests in 3,500 global companies, and 50 percent of the companies had less than 15 percent women in executive positions, and 25 percent had no female executives.
To advocate workplace gender diversity, the statue was placed on Wall Street, known for male-oriented corporate culture, for one month. The statue became wildly popular and the installation was extended by a year. Considering its huge impact and popularity, it is likely to stay permanently as a symbol of gender equality.
In July 2016, the Washington Post ranked the U.S. Secretaries of State since the Cold War, and the top three places went to women. There have been only three female secretaries of state in history: Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton, so that makes a 100 percent success rate.
Madeleine Albright was appointed in 1997 as the first woman to hold the post. She is a pioneer in many ways. She sent sensitive diplomatic messages with the use of brooch pins. When she was negotiating with Russia on an anti-ballistic missile treaty, she wore an arrow-shaped pin. When the Russian foreign minister asked, “Is that one of your interceptors?,” she responded, “Yes, we make them very small.” For her Middle East talks, she wore a bicycle pin. “It’s like a bicycle, you have to keep pedaling.” It was a message that they must not give up. When she visited North Korea, she showed off American power with an eagle pin.
Her diplomacy had style. It became the foundation for female leadership in diplomacy for eight years. When John Kerry started his first day as secretary of state, he joked, “Can a man actually run the state department?”
Kang Kyung-wha became the first woman to lead the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 70 years, and she resembles Madeleine Albright in many ways. They both lived abroad for years and have sophisticated demeanors. Kang worked for the United Nations for ten years, Albright for four years, on human rights and refugee issues. They became the heads of foreign policy in the early 60s, and they both have backgrounds in journalism, Kang with KBS and Albright with the Rolla Daily News. Instead of Four Powers diplomacy, experience with the United Nations is a major part of Kang’s resume.
Albright turned concerns for her being the first female secretary of state to high praise, as exemplified in statements like “Albright has done more in her first four weeks as secretary of state than Warren Christopher did in four years on the job.” She promoted Washington’s position on major issues like the expansion of NATO, sanctions on Iraq and freezing North Korea’s nuclear program. And she was never a mere “yes woman.” She personally got involved in the Bosnian War and exposed the human rights conditions, thereby contributing to ending the war.
Just as Albright has done, Kang has no other choice but to prove her competency with results. The Korea-U.S. summit on June 29-30 and the G-20 Summit on July 7-8 will be her decisive moments. Kang’s caliber will be proven with the soft-landing of Moon Jae-in diplomacy. Also, we need to watch closely whether she continues to approach the “comfort women” issue from a human rights point of view or whether she is a realist.
The Fearless Girl on Wall Street reminds me of Kang Kyung-wha. She is the female foreign minister facing a male-oriented government bureaucracy. The statue was about to be removed after a month, but more than 30,000 people, mostly women, petitioned to keep it in place. Kang was attacked in the confirmation hearing, but her nomination was saved with support from women’s groups, former comfort women and former foreign ministers.
The plaque below the statue states, “Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.” What difference will Kang make? Will she be the Albright of Korea? The citizens are all watching.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 27, Page 30
*The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.