South Korean Ambassador talks past and present

On Tuesday 28 November, the Republic of Korea’s London-based Ambassador, Joonkook Hwang, visited the university for a seminar on the establishment of Modern Korea.

The event was held in conjunction with the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures. Students including Connor Bok, Convener of the University of Edinburgh’s Business School Council, were involved in its organisation.

There was a full house in the auditorium, with chief faculty guests including Chair of Chinese Studies Natascha Gentz and Senior Lecturer in Korean Studies Dr Youngmi Kim. After Professor Gentz’s warm welcome, a lengthy applause was heard from the audience as the ambassador approached the stage to begin his hour-long seminar.

Hwang first presented Korea’s geopolitical situation. He explained that, positioned between China, Russia, Japan and the United States, the country is “surrounded by four big powers”. This then led to a short delve into Korea’s history, where the audience learned about the country’s colonisation by Japan, liberation in 1945, and path taken after the Korean War in 1953.

Comparing South Korea to North Korea, the ambassador emphasised that South Korea is currently “the 11th largest economy in the world”.

With one of the world’s leading information technology industries, Korean companies such as LG and Samsung have become major British household names. Additionally, he recognised that South Korea is now “the most dynamic democracy in Asia.”

The active sharing of public opinion has been demonstrated by the recent candlelight protests, leading to the ouster of corruption-tainted former President Park Geun-hye.

Despite their similar history, however, the political and economic system of the two Koreas is very different. “The average South Korean is ten centimetres taller and lives 11 years longer than the typical North Korean,” the ambassador noted.

Hwang then commented on the nation’s use of nuclear weapons: “North Korea carried out its sixth nuclear test this year, and it is the only country with a nuclear test in the 21st century”.

Unlike South Korea’s democracy, “a wide array of inhumane crimes have and are continuing to take place in North Korea.” The UK recognises North Korean defectors as refugees, having the largest North Korean defector community outwith the Korean peninsula.

The 50-minute presentation was followed by a 10-minute questions and answers session.

Questions touched upon included the hypothetical reunification of North and South Korea, Brexit benefits for South Korea and the rise of mobile phones in the North.

“With more than five million mobile phones in North Korea, external information is becoming even more important for bringing changes from the society”.

The BBC launched a new Korean language service this September in order to reach North Korean audiences.

 

Image: Sara Konradi

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