Northeast Asia Ambassadors Trilateral

I recently had the privilege of hosting my good friends, the U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus and the U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, here in Seoul.  South Korea, Japan, and China play incredibly important roles on the global stage, and a visit like this was the perfect opportunity to discuss issues that affect all of us while also sharing Korean culture with the visiting ambassadors.

After Ambassador Kennedy arrived, we both attended an International Poetry Exchange Program event in Seoul.  This program was created by Ambassador Kennedy and supported by Poongsan Chairman Jin Ryu in 2014 to serve as a bilateral forum for literary exchange between the U.S. and Japan, but it has since expanded to incorporate students and poets from Korea as well.  I thought that the event’s multi-cultural literary environment provided a terrific platform to build understanding and share ideas across the three countries.  I was very impressed by the skill and talent demonstrated by the young poets who participated.

The next day, I joined Ambassadors Kennedy and Baucus for a full schedule of meetings as well as cultural and commercial engagement activities.  First we went to the Yongsan Garrison to speak with General Vincent Brooks – Commander of United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command, and United States Forces Korea – about the situation in North Korea and other important issues affecting the entire region.  The meeting was productive, and General Brooks shared many interesting insights with us.

In order to help my fellow ambassadors learn more about the cultural offerings of Korea, I next took them to the Korean Food Experience Hall where we learned the art of making Korean food in a cooking class.  After eating a hearty meal, we had a tour of the Korean Food Experience Hall museum to gain a deeper understanding of the important role Korean cuisine plays in Korean culture and its role as an export product to China, Japan, and the United States. Mrs. Mel Hanes, Ambassador Baucus’ wife who accompanied the Ambassador to Korea, also joined the food adventure.

Later, we returned to Habib House to participate in a women’s empowerment forum with a group of well-known Korean women leaders.  Meeting with women leaders representing government, industry, academia, and civil society, we had an enlightening discussion about workplace equality, breaking gender stereotypes, and a range of issues that impact our daily lives.

Once the forum concluded, we traveled to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to meet with Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se.  There, we discussed regional security issues and various ways that we could all work together to ensure peace and stability in East Asia.

What trip to Korea would be complete without a delicious meal of Korean BBQ?  We ended the day by taking Ambassadors Baucus and Kennedy to eat Korean BBQ in Itaewon as part of a working dinner with First Deputy Director Cho Taeyong who provided us valuable insights on the regional situation.

The next day we started out bright and early by heading down to the Daniel School, a school for children with special needs and home to Korea’s top-ranked Special Olympics basketball team.  It is a great facility with excellent teachers and faculty doing their best to help the students reach their full potential.  After taking a tour of the classrooms, we met with the basketball team and were joined by American-Korean professional basketball player Jarod Stevenson Moon to shoot some hoops.  It was really great to spend some time with the students and see their skills in a wide variety of areas.

After saying goodbye to the students and staff at the Daniel School, we departed for the SM Entertainment headquarters.  K-pop is incredibly popular throughout the world, and a critical export both commercially and culturally.  Ambassador Baucus, Ambassador Kennedy and I met with the CEO of SM Entertainment for lunch.  We were also joined by Wendy and Joy, two members of the popular K-pop group Red Velvet.  Afterwards we took a tour of SM Town.  The six story building houses tons of memorabilia for K-pop fans from around the world to visit and view.  We even stopped by the gift shop and Ambassador Kennedy purchased a few things to take back to her family.  It was a great way to share another important aspect of Korean culture with the visiting ambassadors.

Finally, we took time to visit Deputy Prime Minister Yoo Il-ho.  During our meeting we discussed ways in which we could work together to strengthen cooperation and trade between our countries.  It was a great meeting with a lot of productive and positive discussion.

Overall, the several days I spent together with Ambassadors Baucus and Kennedy were filled with great moments, interesting discussions, and wonderful new cultural experiences.  I hope that they both enjoyed the visit as much as I did, and I look forward to continue working with them on important issues across the East Asia region.

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