One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about Seoul is how seriously it takes its role as a “global city.” My colleagues who have lived in Seoul before tell me that this was not always the case. However, nowadays, whether I’m attending a professional baseball game featuring foreign players or enjoying a Belgian beer or Thai cuisine, it’s pretty clear that the whole world has come to Seoul. Food and sports aside, nowhere is this more apparent than in the sheer number of international organizations and global conferences hosted in the Seoul Metropolitan area. During my time here, I’ve had the chance to visit several, including the International Vaccine Institute, the new United Nations human rights field office, the Green Climate Fund, and the World Bank regional office.
In 2003, the International Vaccine Institute (IVI) opened its new headquarters in Seoul. Established with the lofty goal of reducing the spread of some of the world’s most dangerous infectious diseases, the good works of the IVI have saved countless lives and protected some of the world’s most vulnerable people from illness. The Republic of Korea not only hosts the organization in Seoul but has also been one of its biggest and most generous contributors, contributing 30% of their operating budget. Recently I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Jerome Kim, the IVI’s newest Director General, at his inauguration ceremony. Dr. Kim is not only one of the world’s most accomplished medical researchers. He also has a distinguished military career, serving in both the U.S. Army Medical Corps and U.S. Air Force. Dr. Kim is truly one of our most accomplished Americans of Korean descent. His appointment represents yet another success for the Korean-American community. On June 23rd, I attended the opening in Seoul of the newest United Nations human rights field office. For this event, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, H.E. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, made his very first visit to Asia as High Commissioner. Along with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, High Commissioner Al Hussein delivered opening remarks, pointing out the Republic of Korea’s increasing leadership on human rights on the international stage. The office was formed to comply with recommendations made by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The presence of the office in Seoul will bolster international efforts to publicize human rights violations against North Korea’s 25 million citizens. As many are aware, those who suffer the most under the DPRK regime are the DPRK people themselves.
At the International Vaccine Institute (IVI)
Nearby, Songdo is perhaps most famous for its successful efforts in attracting international universities to establish campuses here in Korea. But Songdo is also the host of the Green Climate Fund, showcasing the Republic of Korea’s leadership on environmental issues, particularly the mitigation of climate change. The Fund is doing innovative, creative, and groundbreaking work to ensure the protection of Mother Earth. For more on Secretary Kerry’s views on climate change, see here! Moreover, Songdo houses the World Bank Regional Office established in December 2013. As you know, the World Bank is represented by another successful Korean-American leader, Jim Yong Kim. I had a chance to visit these two wonderful sites in late April to witness this global presence in Songdo.
At Green Climate Fund and World Bank Regional Office in Songdo, IncheonThese are just a few examples of how Korea is not just a country with a dynamic national culture; in recent years it has emerged as a global capital with the skills and reach to solve international problems. Whereas the U.S.-Korea relationship was previously founded on our military alliance, we now work together as equal partners on some of the most important issues facing our world today. As the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, I am proud to work with South Korean officials on these and other issues as we strive to make the world a better place together.