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South Korean minister addresses Bush School students

Published: Sunday, November 11, 2012

Updated: Sunday, November 11, 2012 22:11

He and his wife had never visited Texas before. They had seen several adages of the Texan cowboy roaming the south in American media, but hadn’t actually seen one yet. The audience laughed and the political minister of South Korea, Joonkook Hwang, began his informal crash-course in Korean politics.

Hwang has been in politics since 1982. As of 2010, he was second in command at the South Korean Embassy in Washington D.C.

The event was open to representatives of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs — that held the event — and graduate students of the Bush School.

Hwang first spoke of the “Six-party Talks” — the efforts of North and South Korea, Russia, China, the U.S. and Japan — to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. He would later talk about North Korea’s treatment and indoctrination of its people. Within the context of these nations and world powers, Hwang said Korea feels a little small.

“We sometimes compare [South] Korea to a shrimp surrounded by whales,” Hwang said.

Hwang was referring to the Korean saying, “a small shrimp’s back is broken in a fight among whales.” It’s a saying established by Korea’s long and sometimes violent history with its larger surrounding countries.

But some people feel that this is not the case anymore.

“It is a misnomer,” said David Hobson, an international affairs graduate student. “South Korea has a strong economy and military.”

South Korea has the 13th largest gross domestic product in the world, has made leaps and bounds in the technology sectors, and has the sixth largest military.

Hwang also said that there are also the exchanges of power to consider. With the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, upcoming elections in both Japan and South Korea and trade involving China could affect relations with the U.S.

Hwang said China is North Korea’s lifeline, often giving aid to North Korea and at the same time pressing South Korea about its westernized stances. Hwang said he feels that South Korea’s northern brother is slowly being subjugated by China. With both North and South Korea’s over-arching goal to reunify the two countries, South Korea feels an uncomfortable push from China.

But the current issue is trade. In the past several years, China has risen as an economic giant and Hwang said the total trade that goes on between China and South Korea is larger than U.S.-Korean trade and Japan-Korean trade combined.

“It was a little concerning that the South Korean government was being criticized by China for their U.S. relations,” said Sam Hodges, senior political science major and member of the Corps of Cadets.

Hwang was quick to try and quell these thoughts. He said it is his belief that the relationship South Korea holds with China is completely different than its U.S. relationship, calling the U.S. South Korea’s natural ally.

The last point Hwang discussed was South Korea’s Japanese relations. Even though they are relatively close to one another, the relationship is a tense one brought about by things as simple as the naming of seas — the Sea of Japan — to harsh realities between Korea and Japan from the last world war. But it is because of these issues that Korea doesn’t hold Japan in the same light as it does the U.S.

Members of the Scowcroft Institute said minister Hwang’s visit a great success.

“To hear from the number two from the Korean embassy gave more credence to what was said,” said Don Bailey, assistant director of the Scowcroft Institute.

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