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South Korean ambassador praises Fulton, US in visit to Westminster

by Adam Brake | September 21, 2016 at 3:14 a.m. | Updated September 21, 2016 at 10:25 p.m.
South Korean Ambassador Ahn Ho Young, left, shakes hands with Fulton Mayor LeRoy Benton this week at Westminster College.

During his recent visit to Mid-Missouri, a diplomat from the Republic of Korea said Fulton holds a special place in his heart and those of his countrymen.

"I have to say, you are very lucky to live in and experience this historical place," Ambassador Ahn Ho Young said. "Fulton has a great significance in my mind and in the mind of many Koreans."

Ahn was a guest lecturer at Westminster College Monday evening. Visiting the college, he said, was especially rewarding because of the speech given by Winston Churchill on campus in 1946.

"In Churchill's speech, he tried to warn the whole world of expansionism of the Soviet Union," he said. "The reason why we in Korea feel so special about that speech is because we benefited from it."

Ahn also said Koreans have immense gratitude for the influence Churchill's visit to Fulton may have had on President Harry Truman.

"Churchill and Truman took a 10-hour train ride to Fulton," he said. "They spent the whole time playing poker, where Truman won $75 from Churchill. But it must have provided a sufficient time for Churchill to share his message in an eloquent manner. It must have played a role in convincing Truman that the U.S. should be engaging in Korea."

That meeting, Ahn said, may have prevented his native country from falling victim to communist expansion.

"Truman sent his forces (to South Korea)," he said. "Not only that, but then he went to the United Nations, and no less than 21 nations supported the U.S. in the fight against North Korea. Churchill's speech had a great impact on the Korean War."

Historic ties

Don Manzullo, former U.S. representative and president of the Korea Economic Institute of America, accompanied Ahn on Monday evening. He said the Korean story is as American as the American dream.

"I've always been fascinated by Korea," he said. "Seeing its rise from a struggling country to the 13th strongest economy in the world, Korea went from a recipient of foreign aid to a giver of foreign aid - the only country to do so."

U.S Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, also in attendance, said it was no mistake Churchill spoke about expansionism in his speech at Westminster.

"Seventy years ago, Churchill spoke of the threats communism poses to free nations," he said. "A few years after he spoke at Westminster College, North Korea invaded South Korea and started the Korean War."

The Korean War ran from 1950-53. The rise to power of South Korea, Luetkemeyer said, is a strong example of the power of democracy.

"South Korea stands as a testament to the strengths of freedom, democracy and human rights," he said. "The escalating provocations of the North Korean leader (Kim Jong-Un) indicates we need to maintain strong ties. I believe our opportunity for cooperation is bright and shines brightly for both countries."

Ahn started his career as a diplomat in Washington, D.C., long after the Korean War ended. The choice to become a diplomat was simple, he said.

"I said to myself, if I became a diplomat, I would be able to be happy and make a contribution to society," he said. "I thought to myself, I would be able to get the most out of it if I focused on one area, so I decided on international trade."

Throughout his career, Ahn said people's concern about the U.S.'s status as a world power would often surface.

"In 1990, I was a young diplomat in Washington D.C.," he said. "At that time, the real big question was, 'What will be the status of the U.S. in the (future)?' Today, I'm again back in D.C. 30 years later; I see many statements that seem to suggest the U.S. is exhausted and has to give it up. I don't think that's the case."

The stability of the U.S. has allowed for Korea and its allies to build strong, beneficial bonds, Ahn said.

"Korea is the sixth-largest trading partner for the U.S.," he added. "Korea is also a democracy, which you don't see a lot of in other parts of the world. Korea was with the U.S. in Iran and Iraq. That's what we're doing today, and we could only do it with the U.S."

The relationship goes deeper than a simple trade agreement, Ahn added.

"If we look at economic relations between Korea and the U.S., we need to look at services, trading and investment," he said. "Korean investment into the U.S. is increasing. It means the creation of well-paying jobs. If you put all these sectors together, we can say the Korean and U.S. (relationship) is working for both countries."

While South Korea currently enjoys a strong economy and global status, Ahn said the Korean people won't soon forget the role the U.S. played in helping them achieve success.

"After World War II, there were certain contributions the U.S. had as a nation to encourage countries around the world to develop into working democracies," he said. "Americans as a people are unique because they feel responsible for what's going on in the world."

North Korea

Ahn met with students during two sessions Monday. While fielding questions, students asked about Ahn's opinion on North Korea and its dictator, Kim Jong Un.

"North Korea has, no less than five times, done nuclear testing," he said. "At the same time, I don't think my concern with them is about testing. Let's look at North Korea and their human rights violations."

Ahn said while the threat of war can be exhausting, the inhumane treatment of North Korean citizens also should be of great concern.

"They have 1 percent of their population in concentration camps," he said. "But, the number doesn't really matter because the whole nation is a concentration camp. The number of executions of their citizens is beyond imagination."

The failing North Korean economy, Ahn added, should not be taken lightly either.

"We should also be thinking about the economic situation in North Korea," he said. "When the Cold War ended, their economy was 10 percent of South Korea's. Today, it's only 2 1/2 percent."

Ahn said it's impossible to know what Kim Jong Un will do. However, he added, it's important to focus on what South Korea can do to defend themselves.

"The challenge is there," he said. "At the same time, if we are capable enough, we can deal with the challenge. By strengthening our economy and becoming a super power on the global stage, we can prepare. We cannot control what is uncontrollable, so let's control what's controllable."

2018 Winter Olympics

The strained relationship between the two Koreas is not expected to negatively impact the Winter Olympic Games in 2018, which South Korea will host.

"There are three major international sports competitions in my mind: summer Olympics, winter Olympics and the World Cup," he said. "Summer Olympics, we hosted in 1988, and the World Cup in 2002. We are very honored to be hosting the Winter Olympic Games in 2018."

On the heels of the Sochi (Russia) and the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Ahn said his country is committed to making sure all venues are ready.

"One of the things Koreans are known for is speed," he said. "We'll build all the venues and have them tested long before any athletes arrive."

In addition to venues, Ahn added, a specific transportation project is piquing his interest.

"(Pyeongchang) needs infrastructure in terms of transport," he said. "We are building a high-speed train from Seoul to Pyongchang. I'm very excited about it because I used to ski a lot. This high-speed train, once it is completed, will cut travel times drastically."

Having successfully hosted two other major global events in the past 20 years, Ahn said he is confident these Olympics will proceed smoothly.

"The security threat arising from North Korea we are very conscious of," he said. "We will be prepared as we were for the summer Olympic Games and the World Cup."

Above all, Ahn said he is grateful for the influence the United States has had on his home.

"We appreciate their good will, and we were fortunate enough to have received that," he added. "That's the reason why it's been a mutually satisfactory relationship between the U.S. and Korea."

In addition to the various contributions the U.S. has made to South Korea, Ahn said he is particularly fond of a certain American gastronomical contribution.

"My favorite American food is a cobb salad," he said. "I don't think I could have it in any other part of the world. In America, you can find it anywhere."


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