South Korea maintains a complex relationship with the United States. While many South Koreans remain grateful for their liberation from Japanese rule in 1945 and consider proximity with the United States a proven catalyst for security and prosperity, others believe the U.S. often behaves as a condescending hegemon, and that its military presence is preventing Korean reunification from ever taking place.
As a result, South Korea is a country where several anti-American demonstrations took place but where at the same time, U.S. ambassador Mark Lippert received outpours of support when he was assaulted by a knife-wielding man in March 2015.
To make sense of this dichotomy, we had the pleasure of hosting for this episode David Straub, the author of the recently published book: Anti-Americanism in Democratizing South Korea (Brookings Institution Press), which focuses on anti-American protests between 1999 and 2002..
David Straub is the associate director of the Korea Program at Stanford University’s Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center. He retired in 2006 from his role as a U.S. senior diplomat after a 30-year career focused on Northeast Asia. He worked over 12 years on Korean affairs, first arriving in Seoul in 1979.
Among various distinguished postings, Mr. Straub served as head of the political section at the U.S. embassy in Seoul from 1999 to 2002 during popular protests against the United States, and he played a key working-level role in the Six-Party Talks on North Korea’s nuclear program as the State Department’s Korea country desk director from 2002 to 2004. He also served eight years at the U.S. embassy in Japan and received his final assignment as Japan country desk director in Washington from 2004 to 2006.
David Straub taught U.S.-Korean relations at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies in 2006 and at Seoul National University’s Graduate School of International Studies in 2007. He has published a number of papers on U.S.-Korean relations and is fluent in both Korean and Japanese – as well as German.
During the past hundred years or so, the Korean nation has suffered so many traumas and they have developed a narrative about themselves and about others that basically consists of South Korea being a victim of major powers. And while, in fact, most South Koreans have pretty good feelings towards the United States, especially these days, when they look at the United States they also tend to see the U.S. as being like other foreign powers, willing at times to take advantage of the Korean people just as other big powers have historically. So that’s why the South Korean people’s sense of their own identity has some significant connection to the way they look at the United States — but it’s not just the United States, it’s also with China, Japan and others.
The interview was recorded on November 18th in Seoul.