Pictured above is Nathan Cho, right, asking Ambassador Hahn and Jason Scorza, left, a question during the U.N. Pathways event.
Students, faculty and community members gathered in Lenfell Hall on the evening of Feb. 24 to hear from a United Nations ambassador about his country, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), and its connection to world affairs.
Deputy Permanent Representative Hahn Choong-hee was interviewed by Jason Scorza, vice provost for academic and international affairs, as part of FDU’s U.N. Pathways ambassador forums.
Scorza began by asking Hahn why he decided to get involved with the U.N. Hahn replied that South Korea has “a history of turmoil and division … and a lot of challenging issues,” from its national identity to relations with North Korea. Not only did Hahn want to help with these problems, but he also wanted to share his country’s recent democratic and educational achievements with the rest of the world.
“I am happy to be representing the government of the Republic of Korea,” Hahn said, “not only to promote our international policy, but at the same time to share with the international community about how [the country] has been developing.”
When asked about his diplomatic priorities, Hahn spoke of the “clear and present danger” that North Korea’s development of weapons presents to his country. He mentioned a new resolution in regards to North Korea that the Security Council is on the verge of adopting, but did not go into detail.
Hahn also spoke of peacekeeping operations and sustainable development goals that members of the U.N. are trying to find the best way to implement. He said there are a total of 17 goals, “comprised of important aspects of social and economic initiatives,” in areas such as education, gender equality and rural development.
The discussion returned again to the topic of North Korea when Hahn mentioned the human rights situation in the country and how various people have been working to raise awareness about it. Scorza asked about the difficulty in passing resolutions, due to China and Russia’s opposition, to which Hahn replied that four resolutions have already been adopted and that China has begun to change its mindset on the matter.
Scorza mentioned South Korea’s “ultimate goal of peaceful reunification,” and asked if it was possible to understand North Korea’s strategic goals. Hahn went into the history of Korea’s division in the 1940s and the opposing ideals of the north and the south. He described the “stark difference” between their politics and economic prosperity over the years, with South Korea fairing better due to its free market. He said he hopes that the two Koreas will become one again in the future, and that his country is asking the international community for help in finding a way to peacefully reunite them.
He then said that North Korea has continuously tried to occupy South Korea and that the country is trying to intimidate the U.S. with its weapons in order to get the U.S. to “come to the table” and establish a treaty that recognizes its regime.
When Scorza said that the Korean War never officially ended and that the current status is a truce, Hahn clarified that although an armistice agreement was reached in 1953, a meaningful peace treaty could not be established. However, he added that “a piece of paper cannot guarantee genuine peace … what is important is genuine intention of North Korea to abandon their nuclear ambition and then come up with reforms.”
Scorza then discussed the presence of thousands of American troops in South Korea who are working with the country’s military, saying he read that recently their training has been about being more proactive than in the past. Hahn refuted the idea, however, by saying that the joint military exercise is “purely defensive in nature” and that South Korea does not have plans to strike North Korea first.
Hahn spoke about the sacrifice of American soldiers who fought in the Korean War and said that the U.S. made the right decision in protecting South Korea, which helped it become the “prosperous and free society it is today.”
The two also discussed potential missile defense systems for South Korea. Then Scorza asked about communication between the north and south, and Hahn went on to describe a joint venture between the two countries that allowed North Korean workers to build South Korean technology at the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Although the complex was eventually closed because South Korea feared North Korea was using the revenue to fund its weapons development, Hahn viewed the project as a “symbol of fundamental cooperation” between the two countries.
After one final (and more light-hearted) question from Scorza, the floor was opened for questions from the audience.
One member asked questions – described by Scorza as “provocative and serious” – about South Korea’s partnership with the U.S. and whether or not it should be focused on a Eurasian vision instead, while also mentioning North Korea’s claims that it is developing nuclear weapons as a result of U.S. policy.
Hahn said that “every problem is coming from North Korea’s ambition to build nuclear weapons” and that their actions were the starting point for any U.S. or South Korean response. He cautioned people not to be “deceived by North Korean propaganda” and indicated that their claims were vague and unfounded.
He added that his country actually is interested in cooperation with China and Russia but that North Korea is making the situation more difficult.
Although people believe China wants to keep the status quo on the Korean peninsula, Hahn said that recently the country has begun to view North Korea as more of a liability.
He believes the upcoming resolution will send a message to North Korea that it cannot rely on China’s protection in every situation.
When FDU alumnus Marc Chalom asked if South Korea is sending any messages to North Korean citizens about the difference in lifestyles, Hahn said that pop culture (such as South Korean movies) has helped spread the word.
He also added that it was possible the workers at Kaesong were able to see the disparity between their lifestyles as well, but that the most important thing for South Korea to do is to make sure they treat North Korean refugees well.
After a few more questions, Hahn made closing remarks about the role of universities and students in helping to share knowledge while promoting mutual respect and cultural understanding.
“I encourage universities around the world, including Fairleigh Dickinson … to work together to make this world peaceful and prosperous,” Hahn said.
Afterwards, participants migrated to Hartman Lounge for a standing reception with food and the opportunity for discussion.
Chalom said he found the event “enlightening” and that the university should continue to have such events since “that is what a university is about – the exchange of ideas and the injection of people that [students, alumni and community members] wouldn’t normally come into contact with.”
Nathan Cho, an FDU MBA graduate student who received his undergraduate education in South Korea, also thought the event went well.
“I hope there are more opportunities to invite such prestigious people to the school in the future … especially since FDU is actively involved with the United Nations,” he said.
During the reception, Hahn said that the U.N. appealed to him because it helps protect the sovereignty of countries, manages global development strategies and champions human rights.
His advice to university students is, if you have a passion for something that you believe should be changed, then “you have to take action.”
“Complacency and cynicism are not the right way … you have to believe that your vision will prevail if it is right and you work with like-minded people,” Hahn said. “I encourage you to continue to put your energy and wisdom into meaningful issues.”