Ambassador Yu’s primary task is to help Jeju become a free international city.
Yu Ji-eun has been a diplomat since 1980, when he first joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He spent a total of 15 years living and working outside of Korea, returning in 2009.
He has served primarily in Latin American, including Mexico, Peru, Paraguay and Guatemala, plus a two-year stint in Spain to learn the language. He was also Vice Consul in Toronto for a period.
“I’m considered somewhat of an expert on Latin America,” he said, “one of very few such in the Korean diplomatic community.”
Yu, 53, has been in Jeju since October of last year, when he was assigned here by the ministry in Seoul. His full title: Ambassador advisor for International Relations.
In that role, he is meant to support Jeju’s globalization efforts and to build relationships between Jeju and foreign cities and nations, especially in regard to commerce and trade.
“To help develop a free international city, I must obtain the cooperation of Korean embassies around the world,” he explained. “I also develop sister city relationships, especially with those similar to Jeju, such as Bali, Hainan, and Okinawa.”
Yu also reported that another primary responsibility of his includes fostering the development of the Jeju Global Education City, up to and including its opening this autumn. Toward that end, he supervises the overall operations and negotiates with foreign private schools who are potential investors, working closely with the Jeju Free International City Development Center (JDC).
When asked how best he might help Jeju become a global city, he first praised the provincial government and the JDC for “working very hard for internationalization.”
He then cited the need for infrastructure, including accessibility in terms of direct international flights and public transportation, suggesting that this is a particularly important issue as regards efforts to increase the MICE industry (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, and Exhibitions).
Yu further identified the “mindset of the Jeju people” and the need for cultural competence, including foreign language ability.
He described Jeju as a culture traditionaly closed to foreigners and stated that Jeju people need to become more open-minded and embrace other cultures in order to become an international city.
“The youth are the key to language and intercultural awareness in Jeju society,” he stated. He further recommended overseas experience for students in the form of humanitarian volunteer efforts.
From the time he returned to Korea in 2009 until he arrived on Jeju last fall, Yu served as the vice president of KOICA, or Korea International Cooperation Agency.
KOICA, somewhat like the US Peace Corps, assigns youth to two-year overseas humanitarian projects. While they have on average a thousand volunteers each year, Jeju’s participation in the program is notoriously low.
When asked to relate one of his more colorful stories from his life as a diplomat, Yu spoke of his experience in Guatemala.
“There are more than 10,000 Korean residents there,” he began, “most of them businessmen producing textiles and clothing in more than 150 Korean-owned factories, and exporting these goods to the US,” he reported.
“There are also gangs, and a high crime rate with limited security, and during my tenure there as ambassador, there were seven murders of Korean businessmen and eight kidnappings.”
He explained he negotiate for the release of each kidnapping victim, all eight of which were returned for ransom but without harm. He said that this was a very stressful time for him.
As to what’s next after Jeju? Yu thinks he must return to Latin America, as few others are qualified to do so, largely on the basis of language and regional expertise.
Finally, this ambassador advisor for International Relations was asked his opinion about the need for a Foreign Advisory Committee to work with the provincial government.
“Jeju needs many reforms in order to become international, changes which should be made according to international standards,” he expressed. “This could easily be realized according to the point of view of insiders, Jeju citizens. But to successfully carry it out the viewpoint of outsiders, of foreigners, is necessary.”
“I sincerely hope this committee will be formed as soon as possible and that they provide good advice to Jeju’s government,” he concluded.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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