Sung Kim, a lifelong diplomat, has been appointed acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, which makes him one of the highest ranking Korean Americans in the federal government today.
In his new job, Kim will oversee policies involving South Korea, China, Japan and the East Asia and Pacific region for the Biden administration. Until this appointment, Sung Kim was the US Ambassador to Indonesia.
You may remember him when he became the US Ambassador to Korea in 2011, which was a groundbreaking moment for the the US and Korea because he was the first Asian to ever be appointed to the position. It was also remarkable because his arrival in Korea as ambassador was a “returning home” of sorts for a Korean American immigrant.
Sung Kim was born in Seoul, Korea in 1960, and moved to the US at the age of 13. He grew up in LA, and went to college in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania, then went on to law school at Loyola Marymount University.
Sung Kim and Kim Jong Un in Singapore
More recently, you may have seen him with President Trump when he met with Kim Jong Un in Singapore during the North Korean nuclear crisis. Ambassador Kim was able to provide language, cultural, and political insight to the North Korean government and its eccentric leader.
He was “one of the rare career Foreign Service officers playing a high profile role in the summit planning — and one of the few with experience, having served as a special envoy in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations”, according to NPR.
“Possibly no one in the new U.S. government will know about North Korea-related issues better than Sung Kim,” said Park Won-gon, an international relations professor at Handong Global University in an interview with the Korea Times. The professor noted that the fact Kim has no “employment gap” under three administrations ― Barack Obama, Donald Trump and now Biden ― makes him “dependable and trustworthy.”
I have known Sung for 40 years since he was just a tall, good-looking college student with style and charisma. But, what I admired most about him was his intense interest in Soren Kierkegaard, as we were both Philosophy majors in college. We actually did not know any other Koreans who studied philosophy in college.
Sung was always deep and thoughtful yet funny with his self-deprecating humor. Despite his immense success as a diplomat, these wonderful traits have remained deep within him.
Diplomacy in Sung Kim’s blood
Sung comes from a family of diplomacy. His father was a diplomat for the Korean government. As such, I am not surprised that he has now been a public servant for the US government for over 30 years. When I went to visit Korea during his ambassadorship, he was considered the most popular government official in all of South Korea, including South Korean politicians!
I know he has been given all kinds of opportunities to become a part of the private sector, which would have certainly put him on a better financial footing. But, he is a public servant through and through we need more leaders like Sung in our government. The fact that he is a Korean American is just icing on the cake.
We should all be immensely proud of Sung Kim’s achievements and the well-deserved recognition that this appointment provides. We need more Korean American public servants like Sung Kim and Andy Kim.