British envoy leaves Korea with peace of mind, optimism for tomorrow

By Joel Lee
  • Published : Mar 5, 2018 - 17:17
  • Updated : Mar 5, 2018 - 17:20
British Ambassador Charles Hay wrapped up his three-year tenure in Korea, having helped enhance all-encompassing bilateral relations from trade and investment to defense, culture and education.

Hay, a former director of consular services in London in charge of crisis response prior to his posting here, began his ambassadorship in February 2015. He left Korea last week.

In a media interview at the embassy on Wednesday, the career diplomat said he had a “remarkable” three years in the country, witnessing the change of government through candlelit protests in front of the diplomatic mission in central Seoul, as well as taking part in the PyeongChang Winter Games, where he escorted Princess Anne, the second child and only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.

The envoy also said it was “a wonderful honor” for him to receive the honorary citizenship of Seoul on Tuesday.

“I had a very enjoyable time in Korea. Some of my very fun experiences included making kimchi and green tea in Jirisan Mountains,” he said.

“It was an amazing time not only for me, but also for my family, with my wife (Pascale) teaching (at Ewha Womans University’s Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation) and older daughter acquiring a black belt in Taekwondo. We even rescued a dog (from a dog meat farm as our pet through the nongovernmental organization Humane Society International).” 

Former British Ambassador to Korea Charles Hay (British Embassy)

Hay listed the following gains in commerce as his primary achievements in Korea: increase in the export of British automobiles to Korea by 40 percent as part of the “Automotive is Great” initiative; Korean investments in the UK’s renewable energy sector, including CS Wind Corp.’s construction of offshore wind towers in Scotland, Samsung C&T Corp.’s engineering, procurement and construction of a biomass combined heat and power plant in North-East England, and a joint partnership between the two governments to launch smart energy systems; and growing cooperation in the high-tech sector, encompassing the creative industries, science and innovation and nuclear energy.

On the defense side, the bilateral cooperation had grown in substance as well as significance, he noted, with British soldiers, navy ships and air force fighter jets participating in annual bilateral exercises. The Korean Navy purchased Wildcat Helicopters, while Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering constructed oil tankers for the Royal Navy Fleet. British veterans of the 1950-53 Korean War have come back to the country annually through the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, witnessing the dramatic change South Korea has experienced with the sacrifice of British servicepersons.

“Cultural relations are as strong as ever,” said Hay. “The UK-Korea Year 2017-18 has been very successful starting with concerts by the London Symphony Orchestra and finishing at the time of the 2018 Paralympics with a dance company from the UK, Canduco. Fantastic arts and cultural events throughout the year have garnered widespread interest from the Korean people.”

The envoy also mentioned the return of a 100-meter road between the embassy and Deoksugung to the Seoul Metropolitan Government in August last year, a narrow strip of land that was originally owned by the Seoul government and occupied by the diplomatic compound since the 1950s. The walkway, called “Doldamgil,” is now accessible to the public.

Turning to the two countries’ future trading relationship following Britain’s scheduled departure from the European Union in March next year, the diplomat said he hoped for enlargement of and improvements in the services sector, as the British economy is largely dependent on it and thus remains globally competitive.

“One personal regret is that we did not achieve a greater opening up of the Korean legal sector. This would have helped both sides,” according to Hay. “I mentioned future opportunities for Korean shipyards to bid for other Royal Navy ships, and I hope that the Korean Navy will look to the UK when buying new helicopters.”

The ambassador said he would be in London for at least a year awaiting his next assignment. Before Korea, Hay was an assistant director of human resources, deputy head of mission and counselor at the British Embassy in Madrid, and first secretary of the United Kingdom’s permanent representation to the European Union.

“My advice to my successor would be to enjoy Korea and travel throughout the country as much as you can. One of my big regrets is not having traveled more,” he said. “The one area in which we could do better is in academic exchanges. I would love to see more Koreans studying in the UK and more Brits studying in Korea.”

Touching on North Korea, the envoy argued against relaxing pressure on the communist regime until tangible progress is made on its denuclearization.

“As a professional diplomat I believe fundamentally in the importance of dialogue, but both sides (North Korea and South Korea) should approach the dialogue in a constructive way,” said Hay. “It is for the South Korean government working with its key international partners to decide what form of dialogue to take.”

By Joel Lee (