US ambassador to Korea charms public with blog and dog

US ambassador to Korea charms public with blog and dog
U.S. Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert (right) and his wife Robyn try pork bulgogi and tofu stew at a restaurant in Seoul.

The United States’ top envoy to Korea has decided to take a smart approach to his public relations ― putting his blog and dog at the forefront of his efforts to connect with South Koreans.

Mark Lippert, who was sworn in on Oct. 30 as the 22nd U.S. ambassador to Korea, has been drawing a positive response online with his blog ― “The Lipperts in Korea” ― which shows his efforts to immerse himself in Korean society.

Lippert also manages a Twitter account for his basset hound Grigsby. The short-legged canine, who was responsible for delaying his arrival to Korea in early November, is becoming a celebrity in his own right ― he is greeted by Seoulites eager to cuddle him everywhere he goes on his doggy turf patrols.

Written in both Korean and English, Lippert says on his blog, “I am working hard on my Korean studies (I take about an hour of classes almost every day and dutifully do my homework!), but my writing skills are not to that level yet, so the team at the Embassy is helping me with the translation.”

From trying out Korean foods to attending a kimchi-making festival, Lippert and his wife are availing themselves of the ever-present social network services to connect with the wireless, tireless Korean public.

Lippert has publicly expressed his love of Korean foods. Regarding bulgogi (grilled marinated meat), Lippert says that he is a “fan of the way the different flavors and textures are successfully interwoven in such a flavorful way.”

In another picture, Lippert is trying the “baseball cuisine” of “chimaek” (the word “chicken” combined with the Korean word for beer) at a ball game between the Samsung Lions and the Nexen Heroes with his wife.

On Nov. 12, the day of the College Scholastic Aptitude Test, known here as the Suneung, Lippert put up a photograph of himself giving a thumbs up while holding a piece of paper that reads “Suneung Fighting!” and “It will all work out!!”

He added that “The interns at the embassy had very interesting backgrounds and were well-travelled, having lived and studied abroad. They are indicative of the well-qualified and talented Korean citizens. Our intern programme definitely attracts some of the best and brightest globally minded youths from the large pool of English-speaking, intelligent students in Seoul.”

The 41-year-old wunderkind from Washington is the youngest U.S. ambassador to Korea. Unlike most of his successors, who were career diplomats, he is a political appointee, having previously served as an adviser to the U.S. defence secretary and Navy Seals “Team Six” intelligence officer in Iraq.

Besides being President Barack Obama’s basketball partner, Lippert was Obama’s confidant in foreign policy for the Asia-Pacific region, with their ties going back to 2005 when Obama was a senator. He is credited with helping the president develop his views on transnational security issues, particularly on weapons of mass destruction.

Out of the 190 ambassadors and consuls stationed in Korea, few have as much clout as the U.S. ambassador. Due to the special Korea-U.S. relations, American ambassadors were effectively dubbed “Korea Governors” in the old days.

As a “direct line” to both the White House and the Pentagon, Lippert could wield extra influence here at a time when high-powered geopolitical factors are redrawing traditional lines between friends and foes in East Asia.

In a world still predominantly shaped and driven by hard-power politics, Lippert’s soft-power diplomacy is expected to gain traction within South Korean society. Lippert said in his confirmation hearing that he would put public diplomacy on the top of his agenda and promote people-to-people exchanges in cultural and academic areas.

Alexander Vershbow, who held the ambassadorial post in Korea from 2005 to 2008, got himself and his country into hot water for saying that “Koreans should learn more about science” ― his comment was made when Korea was embroiled in a nationwide debate over the safety of importing American beef due to mad cow disease.

Lippert, who has scored points from his charm offensive, will not be so easygoing toward the North Korean regime. In a press conference upon his arrival in late October, Lippert pledged to “achieve the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea and prevent proliferation of key technologies,” adding that Washington takes North Korea’s nuclear threats “very seriously.”

He stressed that the U.S. had strengthened its missile defence system in Alaska and expanded its Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system in Guam, which is capable of intercepting missiles at 150 km above the earth’s surface.

On the topic of Seoul-Washington ties, he said these go “beyond just security, economic policy or political interests. Simply put, our destinies have been intertwined, are intertwined and will continue to be intertwined into the 21st century.”

Lippert expressed hope that the two sides will be more prosperous and secure nations by the time his tenure is over.

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