New British ambassador speaks Korean for deeper alliance

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Mar 15, 2015 - 18:41
  • Updated : Mar 15, 2015 - 18:41

New British Ambassador to Korea Charles Hay will combine a comprehensive approach to diplomacy with an earnest study of Korean culture, he told reporters during a press conference last week.

Speaking to journalists at the embassy’s residence in Seoul, the United Kingdom’s top envoy to Korea expressed his full support for the evolving alliance between Britain and Korea.

“Britain and Korea established diplomatic relations 132 years ago and it would be safe to say that our relations have never been as good as they are now,” Hay spoke in Korean with deft fluency.

Immediately switching back to his comfortable English, he said, “I’m gonna stop speaking Korean here.” Then he let out a hearty laugh. 

New British Ambassador to Korea Charles Hay (center) speaks to journalists at the British Embassy residence in Seoul last Wednesday. (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)

Before starting his post last month, Hay said he studied Korean for seven months in London, six months in Seoul and three weeks at a homestay in Busan. “So I don’t have a Gyeongsang provincial accent,” he quipped.

The ambassador commented on the residence, which is next to Deoksugung Palace in Seoul.

“This house was built in 1890 and embodies the history of our relations,” he said. “The British diplomatic representation has been on this spot ever since and this building incorporates the length and strength of our friendship.”

The career diplomat said Korean President Park Geun-hye’s visit to the U.K. last year was not only symbolically important, but practically important as it produced a number of signed agreements.

“A lot of our diplomatic mission builds on the achievements of her visit,” Hay explained, adding that British Trade Minister Ian Livingston would visit Korea this week to take part in the Joint Economic Trade Committee and CEO forum established during Park’s visit.

Since the EU-Korea free trade agreement came into force in July 2011, trade and investment have increased significantly in both directions, Hay said. Annual U.K. exports to Korea more than doubled to 4.8 billion pounds ($7 billion) in 2013 from 2.2 billion pounds in 2010, according to the British government. Korea was the third-largest destination in Asia and Oceania for U.K. exports in 2013.

“The embassy can create opportunities for individuals and businesses to prosper by dealing with not only the big companies but also small and medium-sized enterprises that want to break into the Korean economy,” he said.

Hay mentioned his recent visit to Geojedo Island in South Gyeongsang Province, where he saw Korean small and medium-sized companies building a ship for the British Royal Navy.

“I also met a trade mission from Wales composed of small businesses with incredibly niche products. They found Korean business partners through this mission,” he added.

Previous to his posting in Seoul, Hay was a director of consular services in London in charge of crisis response. His other posts include: assistant director of human resources, deputy head of mission and counselor at the British Embassy in Madrid, and first secretary of the U.K.’s permanent representation to the EU.

Hay also served in the British Army as an officer with the Gordon Highlanders.

The ambassador said there was great synergy to be gained between Korea’s technological expertise and Britain’s creative industries. The growing interest around the world in Korean culture will open up more opportunities for creative partnerships, innovation and education, Hay said.

“The physical distance between the U.K. and Korea is quite large, but knowledge of Korea is growing in the U.K. thanks to Korean popular culture and food,” he said.

“Recent developments in promoting aspects of Korean culture have brought knowledge of Korea higher in the consciousness of British people.”

A growing number of British students are interested in learning the Korean language, according to the ambassador.

“I have been struck by the depth and scope of our relations in science, innovation and education,” he added. “I will do all that I can to move forward these relationships as an ambassador.”

Hay also thanked the British Council in Korea for doing a “tremendously important job” of boosting educational exchanges between the two countries.

Regarding scientific exchanges, Hay noted, “There are two areas of science with high potential for collaboration ― basic scientific research and innovative research for market application.”

In the U.K., the Royal Society and the Institute of Basic Science are working together to foster industry collaboration. “Given the structure of Korea’s industries, there seems to be huge potential for cooperation in health care, advanced materials and the energy sectors,” Hay said.

Britain and Korea are increasingly working together to solve global problems, Hay stressed.

“We worked very closely together last year through the U.N. Security Council where the U.K. is a permanent member. We have a strategic dialogue at the foreign-minister level.”

Hay said it was important that Britain and Korea worked together as part of a global coalition to eliminate the Islamic State terrorist group, which poses grave threats to civilized societies worldwide. The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in December will be another key area for cooperation, he said.

By Joel Lee (