Four Decades of Korea, In & Out: Rob Rapson (Part 2)
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 throughout Southeast Asia.
This second part of our conversation covers Rob’s time at the Korea Desk (2012-2015) up to his final assignment as the Charges d’Affaires (acting Ambassador) in the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. Our discussion traverses a range of events and topics, including multiple transitions between progressive and conservative leaders in Seoul; the Obama administration’s “Pivot to Asia”; the difference in perspective working on Korea from Washington DC as opposed to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul; and the fast-paced transition from “fire and fury” to historic if ultimately stalemated diplomacy between the two Koreas and the United States and North Korea.
Finally, Rob provides some forward-looking analysis (48:39) on where the alliance could be headed amidst a rapidly shifting regional environment and worsening U.S.-China relations and evolving bilateral relations between Seoul and Tokyo, and touches on key alliance issues in the run-up to President Yoon’s coming state visit.