Four Decades of Korea, In & Out: Rob Rapson (Part 1)
In 2023, KEI has set out on its “Rethinking Korea initiative,” which explores the evolution of U.S.-Korea relations, Korea’s place in the world, and rapid changes in Korean society itself. The initiative involves both retrospective inquiry as well as prospective analysis about future trends. Our guest today is someone who was present for and a direct participant in the evolution of the U.S.-South Korea Alliance and remains a keen observer of the relationship and the region.
Rob Rapson, Senior U.S. Diplomat (Ret.) and Korea and Asia Specialist, served as a diplomat and foreign service officer for 39 years from 1982 to 2022. During his time in the foreign service, Rob served in a range of positions focused on Korea, including as the Vice Consul, U.S. Embassy Seoul/U.S. Consulate Busan, Korea (1984-86); Senior Trade Officer & Deputy Economic Counselor, U.S. Embassy Seoul (1997-2000); Director Office of Korean Affairs, Washington, DC (2012-15); Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Seoul (2018-2021); and, finally, as the Charges d’Affaires (acting Ambassador), U.S. Embassy Seoul (Jan-July 2021). In addition, Rob served in Japan, India, Afghanistan, and Southeast Asia.
Our conversation is split into two parts, the first of which focuses on Rob’s time before joining the Korea Desk in 2012. We cover a wide range of experiences and issues, from Rob’s path to the foreign service and first impressions of South Korea to Seoul’s transition from dictatorial rule to democratization, its navigation of the “IMF” or East Asian financial crisis, and its remarkable transformation into a middle power and one of the world’s most advanced economies.
The second part of our conversation, due for later release, will cover his time at the Korea Desk (2012-2015) up to the present day.