By Lee Kyung-sik, Publisher of The Korea Post media
There were a number of things that might merit attention at the Australia Day 2017 celebration party hosted by newly accredited Ambassador James Choi at the Grand Hyatt Seoul on Jan. 12, 2017. Hosted on the theme of ‘Innovation, Creativity and Inspiration,’ the reception stood out and made a clear distinction from other diplomatic functions.
Off hand, it was a really great party! The Grand Ballroom and the Regency Ball Room of Korea’s top-notch hotel had their partitions literally ‘removed,’ which offered an extremely large space as the center hall space between them was also added to accommodate the guests estimated at over 1,300 Korean and international guests as well as the Aussies.
Another clear distinction from other diplomatic functions was a huge board in the middle of the central hall between the two ballrooms, which showed the names of the companies and other organizations sponsoring the function. Ambassador Choi stood in front of the board and received each one of the distinguished guests, many of them ambassadors.
Among them were Ambassadors Mark W. Lippert of the United States of America, Stephan Auer of Germany, Charles John Hay of United Kingdom, Gonzalo Ortiz Diaz-Tortosa of Spain, Manisha Gunasekera of Sri Lanka, Sylvestre Kouassi Bile of Cote d'Ivoire, Tomas Husak of Czech Republic, Milton Alcides Magana Herrera of El Salvador, Archbishop Osvaldo Padilla of Holy See, Peteris Vaivars of Latvia, Thura Thet Oo Maung of Myanmar, Andrew Yamana of Papua New Guinea, and Mumba Smyth Kapumpa of Zambia.
The guest attendance from the Korean government and society was also very large and included Deputy Prime Minister Lee Joonsik, Minister Park Sung-choon of Patriots & Veterans Administration. There also were many Korean and international guests who included former Chairman Chung Mong-joon of Hyundai Heavy Industries, Chairman John Walker Am of Macquarie Group and Korea Country Manager Charlie Ko of Meat & Livestock Australia. From the Korean and international media came a number of publishers and editors as well as reporters, who included Publisher-Chairman Lee Kyung-sik of The Korea Post media, Vice Chairman-Editor Choe Nam-suk and Editor Linda Youn of its Korean-language edition.
Speaking to the guests, Ambassador Choi said, “Our focus tonight is highlighting innovative, creative and inspirational things about Australia of which you might not be aware.” Then he said, “Australia has many strengths: the people of Australia and their hard work; our bountiful resources; our beautiful and precious environment, and our openness, friendliness and optimism.” “We are a country that will continue to grow in population and economic size, and our future is promising,” he said. (See excerpts from his welcome speech toward the end of this article.)
Ambassador Choi’s welcome remarks were followed by a congratulatory message by Deputy Prime Minister Lee Joonsik who said, “With the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement that went into force in 2014, the two countries have been working more closely to maintain a strong economic relationship.” Then he said, “Australia has been one of the top countries for Korean students studying abroad and some 29,000 Korean students to go Australia to study in Australia annually.” DPM Lee then noted that Australian students are also interested in the Korean language and that more than 500 Australian students take the test of proficiency in Korean language annually. (See excerpts from the congratulatory speech by DPM Lee at the end of this article.)
There were many other distinguishing features at the reception from other diplomatic functions and they included an estimated dozen booths on one side of the main Grand
Ballroom. They included those from blackmores, Pepper Bank, Maquarie and Wilson Parking. Blackmore was “Australia's most trusted manufacturer and distributor of vitamins, minerals, and nutritional supplements,” Pepper Bank was a Australia-based savings bank in Korea, Macquarie was a global investment banking and financial services group in Sydney, and Wilson Parking an Australian car park management company. Along with half a dozen other books, the exhibition-business promotion booths attracted a considerable number of guests.
Ambassador Choi (47 years old) was born in Korea as in the case of former Ambassador Sung Kim of the United States. His Korean name is Choi Ung (崔雄) where Ung means ‘manliness’ or ‘male’ while Choi one of the popular Korean family names.
According to Korean-language newspaper reports, Choi was born in Seoul and lived in Gwangju, Daegu and various other places in Korea with his family where his father was an aircraft pilot. Choi is the first Korean-born Ambassador of Australia in Seoul.
Ambassador Choi is concurrently Australian ambassador to the People’s Democratic Republic of (North) Korea.
Excerpts from the welcome speech of Ambassador Choi:
I am delighted to be celebrating Australia Day 2017 in Seoul with you.
Australia Day is our way of celebrating the many things that the modern Australian nation contributes to the world.
Our focus tonight is highlighting innovative, creative and inspirational things about Australia of which you might not be aware.
Australia has many strengths: the people of Australia and their hard work; our bountiful resources; our beautiful and precious environment, and our openness, friendliness and optimism. We are a country that will continue to grow in population and economic size, and our future is promising.
All of these put together are what make Australia a great place to study, or visit, or do business with. And of course, Australia is a source of such fine food and wine some of which you will sample here tonight.
Of course, the opportunity to “Taste Australia” would not be possible without our gold sponsors and silver sponsors, and our partners.
I am grateful to them for providing an opportunity today for our guests to see the extent of the trading relationship between Australia and Korea.
I am also delighted that we have Cyrus with us here tonight, and I am very much looking forward to his performance soon. And I also wish to thank the participation of the ROK’s Navy Band, which is a meaningful symbol of the broader strategic cooperation between Korea and Australia.
It’s a pleasure to host this event tonight. Thank you again for coming and please enjoy Australia Day in Seoul.
Excerpts from the congratulatory speech by DPM Lee:
On behalf of the Government of the Republic of Korea and the people of Korea, I would like to extend my warmest congratulations on Australia Day 2017.
I want to thank His Excellency Mr. James Choi, Australian Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, for hosting the event tonight, as well as other distinguished guests.
Korea and Australia have been good friends and partners in political, economic, education and other areas since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1961.
With the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement (KAFTA) entering into force in 2014, both countries have been working more closely to maintain a strong economic relationship.
Australia has been one of the top countries for Korean students to study abroad and approximately 29,000 Korean students are studying in Australia annually.
Australian students are also interested in the Korean language as more than 500 Australian students take the test of proficiency in Korean annually.
“Innovation, Creativity, Inspiration"
Like the theme of the event tonight,
“Innovation, Creativity, Inspiration”
I look forward to making a better future together through strengthening our bilateral partnership in not only education but also the political, economic and cultural areas. Lastly, I would like to propose a toast with heartfelt wishes that the friendship between our two countries will become even stronger.
"For the eternal friendship of Korea and Australia!"
About Ambassador James Choi of Australia in Seoul:
Excerpts from a relevant announcement from the Australian government:
Australia and the Republic of Korea enjoy a warm relationship founded on common values and interests. The Republic of Korea is Australia’s fourth largest trading partner with two-way trade worth over $36 billion in 2015. Our trade relationship was bolstered by the signing of the Korea Australia Free Trade Agreement (KAFTA) in 2014, which is delivering strong results for business in both countries.
Australia and the Republic of Korea have strong education and tourism links. We also cooperate in multilateral fora as active members of the G20, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the East Asia Summit (EAS) and the MIKTA grouping.
Australia maintains diplomatic relations also with North Korea though the relationship is constrained by the North’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. Australia remains deeply concerned by human rights violations in the DPRK and the welfare of the general population. Australia provides limited humanitarian assistance through United Nations agencies to support vulnerable mothers and children.
Ambassador Choi is a senior career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of Australia. He has served overseas as Ambassador to Denmark, with earlier postings at the Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations, New York and at the Australian Embassy, Seoul.
In Canberra, Choi has held a variety of positions in DFAT, including Assistant Secretary of the Consular Operations Branch. He was seconded to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet as Senior Adviser, Asia (2005-2008) and has also been Senior Adviser in the Office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Ambassador Choi holds a Bachelor of Economics and a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Sydney.