“There has been a drumbeat around this for the last several months, and it is now growing more louder,” a former senior official in government said. It’s becoming an issue.
Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA officer, said that South Korean officials brought it up with American officials multiple times. “They bring this up in many conversations in all settings.”
One congressional official stated that the South Koreans were insulted by the fact that no one had been nominated yet and that there wasn’t even a name being rumored to be an ambassador.
At a crucial moment in relations on the Korean Peninsula, the U.S. ambassador to Seoul is absent. Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s President, stated this week at a news conference that North and South Korea have reached an agreement with the U.S. on principle to declare a formal end of the Korean War. The truce was established in 1953.
The Biden administration hasn’t confirmed its participation, but the State Department stated this week that the U.S. is “committed to achieving lasting Peace on the Korean Peninsula through Dialog and Diplomacy with DPRK.” Using North Korea’s formal name. According to the State Department, the U.S. is “prepared to meet without conditions” and hopes that North Korea will “respond positively to our outreach.”
An ex-White House official pointed out that South Korea’s March presidential election is another reason why it’s inopportune to have no ambassador. With South Korea’s future approach towards diplomacy with North Korea in doubt, this could be a deciding factor in South Korea’s diplomatic strategy. Moon Jae-in, the current officeholder, is currently on a term-limited basis.
South Korea’s government was shocked at the way Donald Trump, the predecessor to Biden, openly challenged the U.S.-South Korean alliance, and the need for thousands of U.S. soldiers in South Korea. This broke with a bipartisan tradition that had been supported by successive U.S. presidents.
Seoul officials were hopeful after Biden’s election. The former vice president had promised to fix U.S. alliances around the globe and build partnerships with other countries, including South Korea, during his campaign. Biden administration officials repeatedly emphasized the importance of the relationship with South Korea since then.
The U.S. currently has a Seoul Charge d’Affaires Christopher del Corso, acting ambassador.
The fact that Japan and China are two of Seoul’s neighbours, only adds to the tension. Biden has nominated a nominee for Beijing and Tokyo in August when he appointed Nicholas Burns, a veteran diplomat, and Rahm Emanuel, formerly of Chicago, to be ambassadors to China. Both are well-respected figures whose selection indicated that the Biden administration was serious about relations with these countries.
A former official in the administration stated that “having [a nominee] Tokyo and one Beijing without any nominee for Seoul is insulting.”
According to a senior South Korean official, South Korea is not the only country where the U.S. Ambassador has not been nominated or appointed yet. We also understand that the U.S. government must follow certain processes. The fact that the U.S. ambassador to Japan and China has been chosen does not make it any more than the process.
He said, “But it would have been good to have the U.S. ambassador in South Korea to be determined soon for practical reasons,”
When asked about the vacancy, and South Korean concerns, a senior Biden administration official stated that there had been no announcements of personnel to preview.
The South Korean Embassy in Washington, D.C. did not immediately respond when we asked for comment.
Stalling in Congress, vacancies across the globe
Emanuel, Burns joined the dozens of other options for national security posts and ambassadorships that have been blocked in the Senate since they were selected for Japan and China. In an attempt to force Biden to make decisions on foreign policy issues like Russia and China, a few Republican senators, mainly Ted Cruz of Texas, and Josh Hawley from Missouri, have blocked almost all Biden picks. Marco Rubio from Florida demanded that Burns be voted on by the entire Senate.
Antony Blinken, Secretary of State, stated in Jakarta this week that the U.S. waits for ambassadors to “into many countries.”
“As of last Wednesday, only 16 per cent of our ambassadors had been confirmed. The number of ambassadors was 70-90 percent in the previous three administrations. Important posts such as Beijing are still vacant.
Blinken stated that “this is a major problem.” “We are hampered by the lack of our full national security team and foreign policy team, which hinders us in almost every challenge we face, such as dealing with Russia and China with non-state actors. The Senate must act for our national security.
Despite historically low confirmation rates, it is notable that nearly half of the 186 current ambassadorial vacancies have yet to be filled by the Biden administration. This includes top diplomatic positions in countries that play an important role in U.S. international policy, such as Australia, the U.K and Saudi Arabia.
One congressional official stated that even though any nominee for South Korea will likely be delayed by Republicans, the nomination would help build confidence and show the administration’s commitment toward the South Koreans.
Sue Mi Terry, the Wilson Center’s Hyundai Motor Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy director, is in agreement. “Alliance management can be very important. Name at least one person. While it’s fine for nominations to be delayed, at least identify someone who is committed to the alliance.
“The Koreans look to Japan and China for ambassador status. One former official in the administration said that if Burns and Emanuel are confirmed, frustration with the U.S. would get worse.
Former administration officials said that while the failure to name an ambassador to South Korea was disappointing and disappointing, it doesn’t mean that the alliance is over.
One former official in the administration stated that South Koreans believe that the U.S. doesn’t pay attention to them. They are not happy with the situation, but it isn’t going to end their relationship.”