Mark Minton: Helping the World Understand Modern Korea and Korea’s Place in Asia

author_book_mmMark Minton:
“Helping the World Understand Modern Korea and Korea’s Place in Asia”

Mark Minton is President of the Korea Society, and previously US Ambassador to Mongolia, as well as long-term diplomat in Korea and Japan.

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Understanding Korea and Koreans from the wider geopolitical context yields important insights into the newly confident nation we find today. Anyone doing business in this dynamic economy can expect to increase their effectiveness by learning about recent Korean history and its position in the region.

Mark Minton boasts of a long history in E. Asia, as a US diplomat in Japan and Korea, and later in Mongolia as US Ambassador. In this discussion with KBC host Tom Tucker, Ambassador Minton shares deep insights about modern Korea and doing business there.

Click the button to hear our exclusive interview, or download the mp3 to your computer:

Transcript of the interview by KBC’s Tom Tucker on June 17, 2011:

Tom: Hello. It is great to have you here with us today at for this latest discussion in our ongoing Korea Business Interview Series. I’m your host, Tom Tucker.

Our guest today is Mark Minton, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia from 2006 until 2009, after which he joined the Korea Society as president in 2010. Ambassador Minton was previously Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, and before that worked for nearly three decades in Washington, D.C., Tokyo, and Sapporo Japan, as well as New York City. He received his B.A. Degree from Columbia University and a Masters from Yale. Ambassador Minton speaks Japanese and Korean, and is also a veteran, having served three years in the United States Army.

Ambassador Minton, welcome and thanks for joining us. It’s great to have you with us today.

Ambassador Minton: Well, thank you very much, Tom. I’m very happy to be here.

Tom: You’ve lived for a long time all over the East Asia region, but have been back in the United States for the last two years. What is it like to be based out of New York City now, and was it a hard adjustment returning to life in North America?

Ambassador Minton: Well in personal terms, it really wasn’t a hard adjustment because I went to school, as you noted, in New York City at Columbia. I also worked here in my Foreign Service career of 35 years. I was stationed for about five years at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in New York in the 90s and the early part of the 2000s. I’m pretty comfortable here, in personal terms.

In professional terms, taking up the job as president of the Korea Society, I was amazed to find how much larger the profile is of Korean culture films, arts, awareness of things Korean in New York City. That’s been a notable change from the time I was here about eight years ago, last living and working.

Tom: Looking at your background it’s easy to see why the Korea Society is lucky to have you running the organization, but Korea is not your only area of interest and expertise. Why did you choose to focus your efforts right now on Korea and not Japan, or Mongolia, or elsewhere? What special place does Korea have in your heart?

Ambassador Minton: Well, to be frank, Tom, I’m working on Korea because I had an opportunity to become president of the Korea Society, the foremost American non-profit organization promoting understanding and exchange with Korea in the United States.

That turned me, of course, back towards work on Korea. I had worked on Korea and in Korea, several assignments, during my Foreign Service diplomatic career. It was mostly a case of opportunity, but it was a fortunate opportunity because I think there’s no more dynamic a place than the Republic of Korea. I think interactions between the United States and the Republic of Korea and between the people of those two countries are increasing and becoming ever more important to each other. It’s a real opportunity to work on a bilateral relationship I’m committed to, and one which is developing in very exciting ways.

As you may know, we are right now, for instance, awaiting approval by the American Congress and the National Assembly in Korea of the Free Trade Agreement between the two countries which, as we expect is approved this year, will greatly expand trade between Korea and the United States. It’s an exciting time to be working on Korea.

Tom: It certainly is, and we’ll talk about the Free Trade Agreement here in just a moment. Can you tell us a little bit about the Korea Society and its history? What does the organization do and what is the mission?

Ambassador Minton: The Korea Society, as I said, is the foremost and also the oldest non-profit private organization in the United States solely dedicated to expanding understanding of Korea in the United States and promoting exchange between the American people and the Korean people.

The society is going on 54 years in existence. It was begun after the Korean War by General Van Fleet, who had been an American General in the Korean War and other Americans who had experience of Korea during that period. They felt at that very early stage that Americans didn’t understand very well the country to which they had made such a commitment in the Korean War, and it would be good to develop understanding of Korea in the United States.

Over the last half century, the mission of the Korea Society has grown from that rather modest beginning. Of course Korea has become one of the major economic powers in the world and a full democracy in that intervening 50 years. It’s developed culture films, arts, design, architecture, which is very widely acknowledged to be cutting edge all over the world and in which there is great interest.

The relationship has grown and the society has grown with it. Today we sponsor film festivals, art exhibits, educational exchanges and policy programs, and we carry out regional programs throughout the United States, besides our regular programming in New York City where our headquarters are located. For instance, in the last year we’ve had regional programs in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and just last week in Chicago. We plan to go to Los Angeles later in the year.

Tom: You just mentioned a number of different things the organization is involved with. Are there other major initiatives that you did not talk about? Also, talk a little bit about your responsibilities as president.

Ambassador Minton: Well, there are a number of initiatives. This regional programming I mentioned is one of our major initiatives over the last year. We have just been doing this for about a year and we intend to continue it. We have also developed an extremely vigorous film program. You may know that Korean films are capturing awards in Cannes and Berlin Film Festivals. At the recent Tribeca Film Festival in New York, the Director’s Award went to a Korean director. There’s very great interest in Korean films, so one of our programs that has greatly developed over the last year is our film program.

We now have an ongoing program of Korean films with Museum of the Moving Image here in New York, and we have a very large annual film festival which we sponsor in September every year with the Museum of Modern Art here is our partner. Last year some 4,000 people came to see a week of Korean films, so this is another one of our major initiatives. We will have the program again with the Museum of Modern Art here this coming September, showing recently released Korean films, a first time in the United States.

My own responsibilities are just to try to think creatively and effectively about how we use the organization to promote greater understanding of Korea and the United States, of course to raise funds for that purpose, and to generally increase interest in Korea among American citizens. I direct about 20 other people who work for us at our headquarters in New York in pursuit of that and all the various program areas I just mentioned.

Tom: Let’s change gears for a little bit and let’s talk about the relationship between Korea and Japan. Most of our listeners will be familiar with the resentment that Koreans carry toward the Japanese, mainly about the 35 years that Korea was colonized by Japan. Based on your experience in both countries, what can you tell us about the perceptions of the Japanese toward Koreans, and how have these attitudes changed over time?

Ambassador Minton: Well, you’re quite right. There’s a historical record there which has been a difficult one in relations between the two countries. Perhaps that’s because they’re operating in such close proximity but are distinct cultures. I think this historical friction is dissipating very, very quickly. This is partly a generational thing. The younger generations in Korea and in Japan are extremely interested in each other. Japanese are very taken with Korean movies, Korean design, and Korean culture. Young Koreans are also very interested in Japanese culture.

There’s quite a lot of tourism now between the two countries, and of course most importantly the countries really have very profound common interests. Both Japan and Korea are democracies, they’re open societies, they’re economically successful societies, deeply engaged in international trade. So there are a lot of reasons for Koreans and Japanese to develop friendly and mutually understanding relations now, and I think that’s happening.

You asked me specifically about Japanese attitudes towards Koreans. I do think there’s another factor involved here, and that is the phenomenal success of Korea in the last 25 or 30 years; economically, politically, culturally, socially. Korea has served almost as the world’s foremost model of development. Watching this from just across a narrow band of water, the Japanese have looked at the Korean achievement and truly respect it and have been impressed by it.

Of course, when you respect what someone has accomplished, that increases your interest in them and it improves the relationship you have with them. Although there were, historically, difficulties between the two countries, the scale has tipped in the direction of building a strong positive relationship between the peoples of Japan and Korea these days.

Tom: You talk about the relationship between people. Talk a little bit about the relationship between governments. Do we see some of these same dynamics at play? Do we see improvement in the relationship between the two governments, Japan and Korea? What about how one side perceives the other as well, from a governmental level?

Ambassador Minton: I think you’ve seen that with governments, too. Both the Korean government in Seoul and the Japanese government in Tokyo understand that the relationship is a very important one. My perception is that President Lee Myung-bak of Korea has handled relations with Japan in an extremely mature, sophisticated, and sensitive way, which has greatly enhanced the relationship between the two countries.

Very fortunately, he has been met with an equal effort by the last several Prime Ministers of Japan to meet his very effective measure of the relationship. They have, on their side, tried to do the same thing. There’s been an increase in recent years in the effectiveness of the two governments in dealing with each other and keeping the relationship on a positive note.

Tom: In spite of the history between the two countries, or maybe even because of it, Korea has based its modern economic model on Japan. In many ways this has been a one-for-one imitation, but lately with the long-term economic stagnation in Japan, we find Koreans looking for new ways and models for doing business. Is Korea breaking out of Japan’s “little brother” complex that has followed it through its modern history of economic development, and what are some of the dynamics that you see at work here?

Ambassador Minton: It’s just a historical fact that Japan was the first East Asian country to very successfully modernize its economy and look to international models of engagement. It did that much earlier than any other Asian country.

Korea came much later, after a period of several wars – World War II, the Korean War – and after a period of colonization, quite frankly. Korea was a late-comer. Park Chung Hee, the great modernizing president of Korea in the ’60s and the ’70s, explicitly followed Japanese models. I think you have to say that he did realize that he was dealing with a different historical situation and a different culture, so he used Japanese models with Korean characteristics.

Now that the Korean economy has fully matured and is a world class economy and Korea is a great trading nation, of course it has to throw away the model book from any other country and it has to innovate on its own. Korean corporations are increasingly innovating on their own. If you look at some of the leading Korean consumer products companies, you can see that they are becoming renowned for their own research, development, and innovation. The Korean government, as far as the way it manages the Korea economy, now has to think of Korea as a major player internationally – both politically and economically.

Again, this causes Korean leaders to think in innovative terms and on their own. Of course, they’re very aware of the models of the past, including Japan’s model, but I don’t think Japan can provide the play book anymore, at this point, for the Korean economy or for Korea’s domestic social development.

Tom: Looking forward, what do you see in terms of business and diplomatic trends between Japan and Korea over the next 5 to 10 years, and maybe even 20 years?

Ambassador Minton: Well, it’s clear that there’s still a symbiotic relationship between Japan and Korea, as the recent tsunami/earthquake disaster in Japan has shown. Japan is still an important supplier for many Korean companies.

Although this will continue, I think the Koreans will expand even further to take on other partners. Obviously the relationship with China has grown very greatly. The economic and trading relationship with the United States is going to undergo a renaissance, probably in the next few years as the FTA comes into force, and there will be renewed opportunities for American business and Korean business to do much more with each other. Of course, the Korea reach now extends to India, which is a major market, to South America, to the Middle East, and to Europe.

I think Japan will remain a strong partner. There will be complimentarity there. To some extent there will be competition, as well. There will be competition in certain areas between China and Korea. Because Korea is developing as an international global player, I think it will be very successful in continuing its growth and its development as a trading nation all over the world.

Tom: Let’s talk a little bit about the relationship between Korea and Mongolia. You served as U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia for three years, from September 2006 until September of 2009. Mongolia isn’t a country that’s in the news all that often and even in Korea, other than a few T.V. documentaries, charity organizations, or other activities like that – maybe North Korean defectors passing through there – we don’t hear a lot about Mongolia or its connection with Korea.

What can you tell us about the history and current status of the bilateral relationship between Korea and Mongolia?

Ambassador Minton: Well, first of all staying with Mongolia, people are about to hear a lot more about it. As many of your listeners may know, Mongolia is the only true democracy between Korea and Japan and Eastern Europe, all across the northern expanse of the Eurasian continent. So politically and culturally, it’s quite unique in that respect.

As a matter of fact, the Mongolian president, Elbegdorj, was just in Washington yesterday and had a summit meeting with President Obama. That followed a visit to Russia where he met with Putin, and his prime minister was in Beijing at the same time. All these meeting are working out economic arrangements and political arrangements with major powers.

Mongolia is geographically between China on the south and Russia on the North. Those two countries constitute all of its neighbors along its border, so its basic foreign policy is to reach out to the broader world, economically, politically, and diplomatically, so that it has options. This isn’t a hostile approach. It is just an attempt to balance Mongolia’s relations so it will have good relations with a broad number of countries and the opportunities to do business with a broad number of economies. Mongolia has been very successful in this with us, with the Europeans, with the Indians, with the Japanese and, very significantly, with Korea.

Culturally, Mongolians consider Koreans to be the closest people in the world to them. In fact, historical records show there is a tie between Mongolia, Inner Asia, and Korea as far as migration is concerned, and many cultural characteristics are the same. Mongolians feel extremely comfortable dealing with Koreans.

Korean business is increasingly interested in the really big economic story in Mongolia which is that Mongolia is just beginning to develop really world class mineral assets. Mongolia has some of the largest undeveloped deposits of uranium, coal, and copper, gold. You name the mineral and Mongolia has it in great abundance.

Major mining companies are just now beginning to develop huge international class mines, starting with a Rio Tinto copper mine in the south of the country. I think Korea wants to be part of this process, not only as a consumer of these minerals from Mongolian mines, but because Korea has to think very carefully about diversifying its supply for raw materials, and it has to think about where it’s going to get these supplies of raw materials for its industrial complex in an evermore competitive world for mineral resources. Mongolia is a good resource for raw materials, minerals, for Korean economy and the resources nearby.

So Korea business people are increasingly noticing Mongolia’s site for investment and as a source for raw materials the Korean economy needs. This will drive the relationship economically to a closer interaction in the years to come.

Politically, of course, Korea’s a democracy and Mongolia’s a younger democracy. Mongolia finds inspiration and some instruction from watching the success of the Republic of Korea. The two countries have a lot in common and there’s going to be greater interaction between them in the future.

Tom: Talking about the mining opportunities and the other resource opportunities in Mongolia, what other business opportunities are in Mongolia for Korean corporations and other international corporations?

Ambassador Minton: Connected with mining, of course, as this comes online – and this is really, really huge – the experts, the IMF and other folks that watch this very carefully, predict that as these huge international mines come online over the next decade in Mongolia, that the Mongolian economy will start growing at about 10%. This will require a great deal of infrastructure to be built in the country: airports, roads, even whole cities near mining assets where minerals will be mined. Of course this is a lot of construction. Korea companies are renown, internationally, in the area of construction. I think there are some real opportunities for Korean companies in the future.

Another area where Mongolia will become evermore attractive, and specifically for Korea, is in the area of Korea is tourism. Ulan Bator, you know, is only about a two or two and a half hour flight from Seoul, and Korean Airlines flies between Ulan Bator and Seoul every day of the week. I think they take one day off. It varies. I think it’s Sunday, maybe, but there are regular flights on Korean Airlines. Mongolia remains an exotic country with a very unique culture, and I think it’s a natural destination for Korean tourists who hanker after something interesting, different, and maybe who hanker after a lot of open space and a lot of beautiful scenery.

There’s increasing opportunity for tourism, and that means building up and participating in tourist infrastructure in the country. That means direct flow of tourism from Korea to Mongolia. Quite frankly, I expect this to take off as facilities and opportunities for tourism in Mongolia grow rapidly over the next decade. I expect to see a very steep, upward pitch in creating tourism to Mongolia.

Tom: How does the presence of China influence the relationship between Korea and Mongolia?

Ambassador Minton: The significant thing, of course, China is the 800 pound gorilla in the living room for Mongolia. It is this huge, vibrant economy on its southern border. There’s no denying that the economics of the situation dictates that China will be the major customer for Mongolian mineral resources, so there’s a real synergy there between the two countries. But as I said before, and this is supported across the political spectrum in Mongolia and very broadly by the entire population, the Mongolians have this policy of diversifying their interests so that they have more than one or two partners. They call this their third neighbor policy.

Korea has a very, very important role in Mongolian efforts to diversify their politics, diplomatic, and economic relationships. So the Mongolians will always be very interested in relations with Korea as part of their overall policy to diversify relations broadly in Asia and to have options for partners, especially economically, beyond their immediate geographical neighbors.

Tom: Recently the Korea Society featured a seminar on the economic transformation brought about by Park Chung Hee in Korea. Can you tell us about President Park? What was his contribution to making Korea the modern economic powerhouse it is today and how does his life affect events in Korea today, even three decades after his death?

Ambassador Minton: That’s really a difficult question because, although I have a fairly good layman’s understanding of the Park Chung Hee era and recent Korean history, I’m not, myself, a historian and perhaps not prepared or well-equipped to make final judgments on such a large legacy. The program you referred to is really watershed in a very important book that was published by Harvard University Press called “The Park Chunk Hee Era,” which was co-edited by Kim Byung-Kook, who was actually a renowned academic and president of the Korea Foundation, and co-edited by Ezra Vogel of Harvard. It’s a marvelous book, and I would probably refer anyone interested in this topic to the assessments and judgments made in that book, which seem to me judicious.

But there’s no denying, historically, that Park Chung Hee is the modern figure that transformed Korean economy and, through his policies, created the foundation for what Korea has become economically today. Many would say that a huge political price was paid for that. There were human rights issues. Those were very, very tough years for the Korean people. In some cases, things occurred which I don’t think anyone would endorse or approve, or excuse. Nevertheless, the historical legacy of success with the economy is what it is. A very hot argument, I guess you’d say, among scholars and others is to what extent the central economic planning that occurred during the Park Chung Hee era, and which seems to have provided a successful foundation for what the Korean economy has since become – a major international trading economy – to what extent the political development of the country was implicated in that, retarded by the policies taken, or perhaps over time involved with the political developments of the country.

This economic development is thought to have created a middle class in Korea, which then could become politically active. As I said, I am not the person to make the final assessment of this, but a little bit of what I said about these issues that are involved in evaluating the Park Chung Hee era demonstrates what an interesting, extremely complex issue this is.

Perhaps with the focus of this book that we have been talking about, “The Park Chung Hee Era” which has just been published, there’s going to be continued in-depth assessment of this key era in modern Korean history. We will see this hotly debated for some years to come by scholars and others.

Tom: As we’re doing this interview in early summer, we can note that President Park’s original coup d’etat took place in May of 1961. This was only one of a number of transformative events that occurred around this time of year. The Korean War broke out in June, 1950, the Gwangju Uprising took place in June, 1980. Then there was also the June Democracy Movement of 1987. Did I miss any other June events in this list, and what is it about this time of year that seems to usher in new eras for modern Korea?

Ambassador Minton: Well, I don’t think all of those were happy events, of course. June does represent spring and new beginnings, so maybe there is something mystical there. I really don’t know why things would happen in that particular month, but it does seem to be the case as you mentioned.

Tom: Looking at these events that I just listed, what is the significance of each on the Korea of today? What lessons can we take away from these events as we look to understand modern Korea and Koreans?

Ambassador Minton: Well, this is a huge topic. It would be probably not possible to render a final historical assessment, particularly by me, in a short interview like this. There’s no doubt that, as you said, the Park Chung Hee coup d’etat in 1961 was the event that fired the trigger, literally, for a chain of events that led to the Korea we have today. It’s one of the most important domestic political events of the last 50, 60 years in Korea.

You also mentioned the Gwangju Uprising, which took place in June of 1980. This is the flipside of that coin. This tragedy brought home, as never before, the costs of the kind of political development and centrally forced economic development of the Park Chung Hee era. It brought forth the downside, the cost, of such a process. It was a wake-up call to the price that was being paid on the political and social side, which led in time to all the corrections that took place that allowed Korea, then, to become a democracy. Maybe Gwangju was the spark that led to an improvement in the social and political situation in the subsequent 20 and 30 years, as we have witnessed in the Democracy Movement and all the rest of it which, of course, is another event in ’87.

Perhaps what I would say about all these events is they’re all related. One event eventually set off and brought out another event as a response, and the subsequent events somewhat altered the effect of the earlier events. All of these events taken together, and the way they have changed and shaped modern Korean society, go a long way to explaining the dynamic we have in contemporary Korean society today. At least this is the stab of a non-historian to explain the significance of the inter-relationship of these events.

Tom: And in just a few minutes, as well. Let’s talk a little bit about KORUS, the Free Trade Agreement. We’ve got the Korea-EU Free Trade Agreement. And now, with KORUS as well, what do these Free Trade Agreements meant to Korea? Korea’s giving up a lot more in terms of tariff reductions than the others, so Korea must be seeing some additional significant benefits. Can you tell us about the Free Trade Agreements from a Korean perspective?

Ambassador Minton: Well first of all, just as a preamble as you said, the agreement is important for both countries. It’s going to be hugely advantageous for American business doing business in Korea, and it’s going to provide the confidence and the framework for Korean business to do more business in the United States. In that way it will draw the two countries’ two economies closer together, make them even closer partners, and have all sorts of positive payoffs and benefits for the relationship as a whole. More and more people will be involved in these activities, more Koreans will understand American ways of doing things, and more Americans in particular will understand Korean ways of doing things.

We also need the relationships that will flow out of the FTA to make sure that the Korea-U.S. relationship remains very, very strong and central, vis-à-vis other relationships that Korea is developing. You mentioned the economic arrangements with the EU. Korea’s business and trade involvement with China is growing very rapidly. To keep the bilateral Korea-U.S. relationship healthy, we need to enhance the economic arm of this relationship, as the FTA will do.

There is another way that the FTA is hugely advantageous to Korea in particular. This has been singled out in many of his talks here in the United States by Korean Ambassador Han Duk-soo. I don’t want to try to quote him but, in general, Ambassador Han’s point has been that the FTA with the United States is such a complex and well-considered document that reaches into so many regulations, laws, practices, and government practices in particular, that when it is implemented it will have an effect of enhancing the efficiency of the Korean domestic economy and the way it’s managed.

It will be a trigger for making the Korean economy operate by practices that are more in keeping with international economic activity, and therefore it will make it easier for Korean businesses and the Korean economy, as a whole, to operate more efficiently and at a higher level of profits, actually, with the international economy – starting with the economy of the United States.

In other words, the FTA will have a tonic effect on Korean government practices, regulations, and bureaucratic management of economic investment and trade issues. In that way it will be good for the Korean economy as a whole. That’s not a benefit that you can quantify, “Well, we’ll sell X number more of cars in the American economy or we will sell this much more of some other, T.V.s or that sort of thing, in the American economy.”

I believe the point that Ambassador Han has made is that this, nevertheless, will be a benefit for the Korean economy, this increase in transparency, in efficiency, of bureaucratic management of trade and investment issues, and this should pay dividends in the maturation and development of greater sophistication and efficiency in the domestic management of the Korean economy.

Tom: Hardly a day goes by that Korea isn’t trying to become a hub of something, whether it be a hub of finance, a hub for air flight, or a hub of Asian culture. You’ve served on both sides of Korea – Mongolia in the west and Japan in the east – so you’re more qualified than most to see Korea as being in the middle. What do you see is the significance and potential behind Korea’s efforts to become a hug in the region? Is it just a passing buzz word or is there more to this for Korea?

Ambassador Minton: No, Korea does have considerable assets to become a hub. In many ways, in northeast Asia, it already is. First of all, its geographic position in northeast Asia, which puts it more or less in the center of things. There is then, of course, this marvelous facility in Incheon, the airport, which has a lot more potential in it, also, or development. There’s no doubt that Incheon is a very convenient location for transshipment as a transportation hub.

It’s very, very notable that also, right next to Incheon, we have the development of the so-called Songdo project, which is an attempt to create virtually a complete new city oriented towards international commerce and business.

Of course, it’s at a very early stage in the development of Songdo in the sense that, I think, the basic infrastructure is there. But now it has to be brought online with people doing things there, and I think that’s happening. But at any rate, I think the fact that Songdo has taken off has also shown that there’s a lot of potential out there for the further development of Korea built around Incheon Airport as a hub for business in northeast Asia.

It’s worth mentioning the political dimension of this, too. People have probably noticed that Korea played a role as host of the last G20 meeting and will play host to a nuclear nonproliferation summit next year as well. Korea is increasingly becoming a kind of honest broker in international politics, as well, and diplomacy. Ban Ki-moon’s selection, and it looks very much like his re-election, as Secretary General of the United Nations is also another symbol of the importance of Korea and Koreans as honest brokers in international diplomacy.

Korea being a democracy, being very open to the rest of the world, trading with the rest of the world, and being willing to step up and take on responsibilities and the role of a convener or a mediator is emerging slowly. It is earning for Korea a role of not only being a center for commerce and transportation and that sort of thing, but also earning for Korea and northeast Asia a reputation as being a hub for diplomacy as well. I expect this kind of dimension of Korea’s capabilities to be developed, as well. When you talk about Korea as a hub, I expect it to become, in many senses, a diplomatic hub and, just not for northeast Asia, but perhaps in global diplomacy as well.

Tom: We’re getting close to wrapping up here. We had a recent discussion on Korea Business Central entitled “What one word would you use to represent Korea?” Words like Hon, Jung, passion, authenticity, faith, persistence have all been suggested by our members. What words would you use to represent or describe Korea?

Ambassador Minton: I don’t know. I’m not sure. In Korea, tradition is very, very important still. Of course the Koreans are unique in their culture and in their traditions and in their history. But when you think “Korea” these days, you inevitably think about something contemporary first, and something in Korean society that is very much in evidence in the contemporary world. What I think of is “successful innovation.” That is, whether it’s in economics here, or in political arrangements, or in the cultural area, or in international diplomacy.

The Koreans have been very quick and very successful to adjust to the climate they find, and to their partners, and especially to the opportunities presented to them to take advantage, not only to enrich and enhance their own society, but to build bridges with other cultures, other societies, other nations. When you think about contemporary Korea, this is what you have to think of first.

The Koreans are faster than almost anyone else in innovating and taking advantage of opportunities, and they have done this successfully. I wouldn’t say there’s 100% success rate for everything that’s been tried, but the success rate would be, I think, very high and certainly the envy of other countries who would like to be equally successful in innovating in a very rapidly evolving, globalized economy. The Koreans have been enormously successful at innovation.

Tom: Well, we’ve talked a lot about Korea and Japan, Korea and Mongolia, the significance of various events in modern history, and the aspirations that Korea has to become a greater center for global business, so we’ve covered a lot here. As we finish up, let’s talk briefly about your plans with the Korea Society over the next few years. Where do you see the organization’s role in terms of supporting its mission within the latest Korea-facing trends?

Ambassador Minton: Well, I’ve alluded to this indirectly several times before, but just to speak directly to it, we at the Korea Society feel that we’re running to keep up with the rapidly rising interest in the United States in all things Korean. There are many aspects to this: the economic area, deepening economic relationship, Korea’s growing international role. But another important dimension of this is the so called Korean Wave in cultural terms. Hallyu, in Korean. This is beginning to take hold in the United States as well.

There’s a growing awareness of the world of arts and design in Korea, Korean architecture, particularly Korean film, Korean literature. We’ve had several book events here highlighting Korean novels that have been translated into English. “Please Take Care of Mother” is one of them, a marvelous new novel from Korea that’s got attention and good review here in the United States. Another novel being “Your Republic is Calling You” by Kim Yung-ha, another marvelous contemporary novel that has gotten a lot of attention here in New York.

We’re really trying to do as much as we can to catch up with this growing American interest in Korea and provide programming that will address it and satisfy it. Our regional outreach of having programs, as I said before, in cities outside of New York – Atlanta, Chicago, Pittsburgh – is also part of this effort to satisfy an increasing, broad American interest in Korea. For the future we will just try to do more of the same because we have a great room for expansion in this dimension.

We don’t have to manufacture a rising interesting in Korea. I just think Korea Society has to think very hard and think very effectively about how we will meet this growing interest. We’ve done some things that have gone some ways to addressing this greater opportunity and greater interest in Korea, and we’ll continue to try to do more of this in coming years.

Tom: Any final thoughts in closing you’d like to leave our listeners with?

Ambassador Minton: No, I just appreciate very much the opportunity to talk with you and to especially share some information about what the Korea Society has been trying to do. I’m just very happy to have the opportunity to convey the sense to your listeners how much I feel in this job, sitting here in New York in the United States, that this is a time of growing interest in Korea and growing opportunity for both Americans and Koreas to deepen and broaden our traditionally strong relations. It’s an exciting time to be involved in Korea. It’s an exciting time to be involved in Korean-American relations, and we’re having fun doing that.

Tom: It sure sounds like it, and certainly does sound like a great time, a very exciting time for anyone to be involved directly in this emerging relationship between the two countries. You are certainly well-positioned to ride this wave and enjoy it. That’s for sure.

Well, thanks again to Ambassador Minton, president of the Korea Society and the former U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia for taking part in the interview today. Ambassador Minton, it was great to have you. Thanks for joining us.

Ambassador Minton: Thank you, Tom. I enjoyed it very much.

Tom: This has been the latest in our ongoing Korea Business Interview series. I’m your host, Tom Tucker, inviting you to improve your business results in Korea by joining today. Thanks for listening, and have a great day.

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