The Korea Herald


Ban Ki-moon man of faith and diligence

By 박한나

Published : June 22, 2011 - 18:52

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Ban Ki-moon, who succeeded in securing his second term as the U.N. chief on Tuesday, is well known for his diligence and sincerity.

U.N. diplomats who have assisted the South Korean U.N. secretary-general for four and a half years all cite his “tireless efforts” in steering the global organization. They say Ban made them realize that diligence and perseverance are the most important values of all.

Ban has said that he is not an excellent leader, but just a man trying to do his best.

Regarded as a “bookworm” or a “greasy grind” in his childhood, he gained another nickname after becoming a diplomat in 1970: “workaholic.”

He was famous for not taking summer vacations in his early years as a diplomat. He often worked on Sundays and till late at night on weekdays, a practice he continues even now.

His former Korean colleagues also describe him as mild-tempered, humble and sincere, with a keen sense of humor. When it comes to work, he is said to be extremely meticulous and strict.

His hard-working style helped him win a number of major positions in the South Korean government ― as director of the foreign ministry’s American affairs bureau and foreign policy planning office, chief presidential secretary on foreign affairs and vice foreign minister.

He got a chance to become familiar with the U.N. in 2001 when then Foreign Minister Han Seung-soo assumed the rotational chair of the U.N. General Assembly. As the chief secretary to Han, Ban gained experience in establishing U.N.-led anti-terrorism measures and mediating between contentious powers, which eventually helped him pursue the position of U.N. secretary-general.

Aside from his diligence and experience, many say his balanced political views helped him take up important posts.

In 2003 when he was working as President Roh Moo-hyun’s adviser for foreign affairs, Ban often engaged in intense debates with Roh’s aides, mostly former student radicals who fought for the country’s democracy, over the path of foreign policy. But Roh named him foreign minister in recognition of his mediating ability and balanced views.

His diplomatic career of more than 40 years helped him not only become a smooth talker but also develop the skill of dodging questions on sensitive issues. He was called a “slippery eel” by an anchor of the U.S. television network ABC for that skill.

He is also known for his strict self-control.

For the past four and a half years, Ban has rarely imbibed alcoholic beverages, save the occasional glass or two of wine. It’s not that he’s a lightweight or simply does not like drinking ― after all, he was able to handle 10 boilermakers per drinking session during his days in Korea. But as secretary-general, he says he should exercise extreme self-control to prepare for each day.

“It is often hard to understand issues of security and peace in such world regions as Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and South America if I don’t study peculiar situations there beforehand,” Ban said in a recent interview. “I also cannot catch up on such issues as climate change and development agendas if I don’t study them in my spare time because they require very professional knowledge and common sense to understand.” (Yonhap News)

Ban was born to a poor family in the rural county of Eumseong, North Chungcheong Province, in 1944 when Korea was under Japan’s colonial rule. The country regained its independence the following year. His father was a low-income employee at a rice mill. Ban was raised in Eumseong until he moved to the nearby city of Chungju together with his family when he was 12.

Despite his humble self-evaluation, Ban always was an excellent student. In 1962, in his third year of high school, he won a prize in an English-language speech contest sponsored by the U.S. government and was able to visit the United States as a prize.

He met then U.S. President John F. Kennedy during an event arranged by the U.S. Red Cross in Washington, and consolidated his long-held dream of becoming a diplomat.

The following year, Ban entered Seoul National University as a foreign relations major. He passed the state exam for career diplomats in 1970.

Ban has since served in postings around the world, including India, the U.S. and Austria. Before becoming foreign minister, he was the ambassador to Austria and South Korea’s permanent representative to the U.N. in New York.

Ban speaks English and French. He has a wife, whom he met during a camp for student council members in his high school years, two daughters and a son.

His second daughter, Hyeon-hi, works in Kenya for the U.N. International Children’s Emergency Fund.

Over the next five years, the entire world will continue to watch closely how this boy from the country will change international diplomacy. 

(Yonhap News)