South Korea served as the flash point of the beginning of the Cold War when the United States engaged in the first of many proxy wars with North Korean Communist forces backed by the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. In 1950, a series of onslaughts by North Korean troops overwhelmed South Korean and United States forces, which threatened to bring the entire Korean peninsula under communist rule. Led by the U.S. military, the United Nations responded with a counter assault that turned the tide of the conflict in favor of Western forces —that is until China’s entrance into the war. Under Mao Zedong, the Chinese government supplied hundreds of thousands of troops to the North Korean cause, reaching an ultimate count of more than two million troops to prevent the U.S. from taking control of Korea. Eventually, the war settled into a stalemate with the fighting ending after two years, but without a formal declaration of peace.
Although no significant fighting occurred after the end of the Korean War, the U.S. continued to station large numbers of American troops in South Korea near the North Korean border, for fear of another invasion during the Cold War. The U.S. continued to support the South Korean government even after its military seized power in the early 1960s and ruled the country for the next 20 years. Gradually, South Korea moved towards opening its political system in the 1980s, while at the same time developing its economy into a regional power that bloomed in the 1990s. Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has relaxed its military stature in South Korea, though a significant number of American infantry and aircraft are still stationed there, owing to North Korea’s unpredictable behavior. Relations between South Korea and the U.S. are fairly stable, though the conclusion of a free trade agreement prompted fears among many groups in South Korea over the importation of beef from the U.S. , following the mad cow disease controversy in 2003.
Lay of the Land: Located in northeast Asia, the Korean Peninsula juts south from Manchuria into the Pacific Ocean, dividing the Sea of Japan from the Yellow Sea. Mountains cover most of the northern and southwestern regions of the peninsula, and a coastal plain runs along the eastern coast.
: Korean (official)
South Korea came into being after World War II, the result of a 1945 agreement reached by the Allies at the Potsdam Conference. The 38th parallel was established at the boundary between a northern zone of the Korean peninsula, which was to be occupied by the USSR, and a southern zone that would be controlled by U.S, forces.
The first significant wave of immigration occurred in 1882, when Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. Deprived of cheap Chinese labor, Hawaiian agribusiness interests contacted Horace Allen, the American ambassador to Korea, asking for help in bringing over Koreans to work in the sugar plantations. Allen turned to David Deshler, a banker and entrepreneur who loaned as much as $100 to Koreans interested in emigrating (he also was paid $55 for each recruit, in contrast to the monthly wages of $14 paid to plantation laborers).
Other policymakers, however, felt that United States troops should gradually be leaving South Korea. They argued that South Korea in the late 1980s was more economically, militarily, and politically capable of coping with North Korea. Moreover, they doubted that Pyongyang could contemplate another military action, given its acrimonious relationships with Moscow and Beijing. In Washington, meanwhile, an increasing number of policymakers advocated gradual troop withdrawal for budgetary reasons. During Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney’s February 1990 visit to South Korea, consultations on restructuring the Washington-Seoul security relationship marked the beginning of the change in status of United States forces from a leading to a supporting role in South Korea’s defense. In addition, Seoul was asked to substantially increase its contribution to defense costs.
Trade and investment ties have become an increasingly important aspect of the US-South Korea relationship. Korea is the United States’ seventh-largest trading partner (ranking ahead of larger economies such as France and Italy), and there are significant flows of manufactured goods, agricultural products, services and technology between the two countries.
Free Trade Agreement Prompts Protests over US Beef Imports
The State Department reports that in 2008, the South Korean government continued to investigate incidents of possible abuse under the country’s former military regimes. Since the Commission for the Restoration of Honor and Compensation to Activists of the Democratization Movement’s creation in 2000, 11,241 of the 13,348 cases reported had been reviewed and determined that compensation was due for 8,908 of cases.
Lucius H. Foote
Appointment: Feb 27, 1883
Presentation of Credentials: May 20, 1883
Termination of Mission: Left post, Feb 19, 1885
The key U.S. Asian ally of South Korea has named a new ambassador to the United States who has served before in the U.S. Born March 29, 1948, Choi Young-jin earned a B.A. in Political Science and International Relations at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, in March 1973, and later earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in International Political Science at the University of Paris I, in 1980 and 1985, respectively. Before earning his undergraduate degree, Choi studied medicine at the Severance Medical College in South Korea for four years.
Choi joined the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs in August 1972, having passed the diplomatic service exam the previous May. Early career postings included service as second secretary at the South Korean Embassy in Dakar, Senegal, starting in November 1976; as second secretary at the embassy in Paris, France, starting in August 1978; as director of the Ministry’s Cultural Affairs Division, starting in August 1981; and as counselor at the South Korean embassy in Tunis, Tunisia, starting in February 1983. In April 1986, Choi was named director of the Ministry’s International Organizations Division, where he dealt mainly with non-governmental organizations until January 1987, when he was made aide to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Choi’s first posting to the U.S. came in December 1987, when he was named counselor at the embassy in Washington, DC, an appointment he kept for four years. Choi then served a series of Seoul-based jobs, including senior coordinator for Policy Development at the Ministry’s Office of Policy Planning, starting in May 1991; director-general of the Ministry’s International Economic Affairs Bureau, starting in December 1993; and starting in May 1995, deputy executive director of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, which was founded in March 1995 by the United States, South Korea, and Japan to implement the 1994 U.S.-North Korea Agreement that froze North Korea’s indigenous nuclear power program. His duties included overseeing a $5 billion project to construct two light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea.
In May 1998, Choi went to work for the United Nations as assistant secretary-general for Planning and Support in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, responsible for overseeing planning and support for 17 peacekeeping operations, including those in Kosovo, Timor-Leste, Sierra Leone and Congo.
He returned to South Korean government service in February 2000 as deputy minister for Policy Planning and International Organizations. Two years later, in February 2002, Choi was named ambassador to Austria and to Slovenia, and Permanent Representative to the International Organizations in Vienna, a posting he had only until April 2003, when he became chancellor of the Ministry’s Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.
In January 2004, Choi was appointed vice minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, followed in May 2005 with an appointment as South Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, a position he filled until 2007, when he took an appointment as a resident diplomat scholar at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
In October 2007, U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, also of South Korea, appointed Choi Special Representative for Côte d’Ivoire, mandated to certify the Ivorian presidential election of fall 2010 and defuse the political crisis which arose in its aftermath.
Choi has written numerous articles and books, including L’Asie de l’Est et le Rapprochement Sino-Américain (East Asia and the China-U.S. rapprochement) (1987) and East and West: Understanding the Rise of China (2010). Choi is married and has two sons.
Truth is the Starting Point: An Interview with Choi Young-jin (by Michael Fleshman, Africa Renewal)
Sung Y. Kim was nominated to be the United States’ next ambassador to South Korea in June, 2011, and received his Senate confirmation in October. He was sworn in on November 3 and arrived in Seoul a week later. He is the first American of Korean descent to serve as U.S. ambassador to South Korea.
Kathleen Stephens was nominated by President George W. Bush on January 23, 2008 and confirmed by the Senate on August 1, 2008,, to be the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea.