The Korea Times 칼럼

Sung Kim, the American (2011년 7월 30일)

divicom 2011. 7. 30. 08:22

Informed readers may heave a sigh of disapproval as soon as they see my headline, but there is a justifiable reason to reiterate this simple truth. Do I assume that my readers don’t know Sung Kim is the U.S. ambassador-designate to Korea who just finished a confirmation hearing at the U.S. Senate? No. I am well aware that my readers know the fact.

Still, I feel the need to reaffirm Kim’s American identity because the career diplomat happens to have a Korean background and many people in the nation seem to regard him as half-Korean even if they know him as the U.S. ambassador-designate. If this perception persists unchecked, Kim may have a hard time doing his job as the top American official stationed in Seoul and the warm-hearted yet wishful-thinking Koreans may suffer a boomerang effect of disappointment before long.

Ever since he became the U.S.’s special envoy for the six-party talks on July 31, 2008, Kim drew the keenest attention from the Korean public owing to his ties with the nation. Of course, the six-party talks mean the multi-national negotiations to resolve North Korea’s nuclear weapons issue. The six participants are South and North Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.

Internet portal sites are flooded with information about Kim and his family, particularly his deceased father, Jae-kwon Kim. In sum, Sung Kim was born in Korea in 1960 as Kim Sung-yong and attended an elementary school in Seoul. When he was a third-grader, his family moved to Japan as his father was assigned to work at the Korean Embassy in Tokyo. After the senior Kim resigned as a minister at the embassy following his implication in the 1973 kidnapping of the late President Kim Dae-jung, the family immigrated to America ― that was 35 years ago. Whether the senior Kim sympathized with the late President is not clearly known.

Sung Kim became a U.S. citizen in 1980. He graduated from University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. and Loyola Law School with a J.D. He did his master’s degree at the London School of Economics. Before joining the Foreign Service, Kim worked as a public prosecutor in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office. As a Foreign Service official, he worked as staff assistant in the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs in Washington D.C., and as the chief of political military affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. He later served in Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong. From August 2006 through July 2008, he was the director at the Office of Korean Affairs at the U.S. State Department.

His biography leaves no room to doubt his American identity. His designation as ambassador to Korea testifies to the firmness of his loyalty to his adoptive country. Top diplomats are plain-clothes warriors ready to fight for their national interests in a war without guns but of negotiations and wrangling.

For all this overwhelming proof telling who and what Sung Kim is, more than a few Koreans tend to view him as one of them and the mass media encourages, if not masterminds, this tendency. As my journalist friend Kwon Tae-sun pointed out, the media refers to him as ``성 김” not ``성 킴” in Korean. As is well-known, ``Kim,” the most popular surname here, is written ``김” in Korean whereas ``Kim” in foreign, e.g. American, names is spelled ``킴.” Therefore, ``Kim” in Kim Dae-jung is written ``김” whereas ``Kim” in Kim Basinger is transcribed into ``킴.” Accordingly, Sung Kim should be identified as ``성 킴” not ``성 김” in the Korean press.

After the Senate hearing on July 21, a Korean journalist asked Kim in Korean how he felt and Kim responded in English. The journalist openly wondered why Kim used English despite his good command of Korean: ``The reason must be either because he thought when he publicly speaks, it would be safer for him to speak in English in which he is more fluent, or because he wanted to affirm that he is not a Korean but the U.S. ambassador.” I am glad the journalist figured out why, though late.


If Kim’s nomination is confirmed and he comes here to lead the 575-member mission, I would welcome him not because he is a Korean-American but because I believe he is a competent diplomat based on my brief working encounter with him back in the early 2000s. I have my own expectations of him and the most important is the hope that he will offer a new perspective to Korean-Koreans about blood ties. I hope he will encourage my fellow citizens to drop the last remaining ``idols of the tribe” by preempting any attempt to seek ``brotherly” favors and by abstaining from doing the same.

Although the world has changed inside out over the past five centuries since Francis Bacon warned against these idols, they still wield power over some people as proven by the terrorist attacks in Norway last week. By the time Sung Kim ends his assignment here, I hope, more Koreans will understand that the words ``blood ties” apply not only to the people of a nation but to the entire human race through whose arteries and veins flow the liquid called blood.


차기 주한 미국대사가 지명되어 지난 주에 상원청문회를 거쳤습니다. 역사상 최초로 한국계 미국인 성 킴이 임명되었습니다. 우리나라의 언론이 그의 임명 사실을 대서특필하고 그의 가족사를 파헤치는 건 당연할지 모릅니다. 우리 언론이 성 킴을 다루는 기사에는 타지에서 성공한 아들이나 사촌을 대하는 따스함이 있습니다.


우리 언론은 늘 '한국 혈통 찾기'에 혈안입니다. 부모나 조부모는 한국인이어도 본인은 미국적 사고와 미국 시민권을 가진 미국인인 경우에도 우리 언론은 그 사람 속의 '한국 피'에 집착합니다. 그런 '미국인'에게 부모가 지어준, 그러나 본인은 사용하지 않는 한국 이름까지 들먹이며 그가 한국인인 것처럼 보도합니다. 미국 골프선수 미셸 위를 굳이 위성미라고 부르는 게 좋은 예입니다.


1960년에 서울에서 김성용으로 태어나 초등학교를 다녔으나 1970년대 중반 미국으로 이민, 1980년에 미국 시민권을 획득한 성 킴도 미국인입니다. 보통 미국인도 아니고 미국 공무원이며 보통 공무원도 아니고 외교관입니다. 외교관은 군복 대신 양복을 입고 총 대신 혀로 제 나라의 이익을 위해 싸우는 전사입니다. 어떤 나라도 아무나 외교관을 시키지 않습니다. 나라에 대한 충성심이 확고한 사람만이 타국에 대사로 나갈 수 있습니다. 


우리 언론이 그를 한국인으로 보고 싶어한다는 건 그의 이름을 쓰는 방식에서부터 드러납니다. 한겨레신문의 권태선 편집인이 사석에서 얘기한 것처럼 '성 킴' 대신 '성 김'으로 쓰는 잘못을 저지르고 있습니다. 한국인의 성 'Kim'은 '김'이지만 외국인 이름의 'Kim'은 '킴'입니다. 'Kim Dae-jung'의 'Kim'은 '김'이지만 미국 여배우 'Kim Basinger'의 'Kim'은 '킴'으로 쓰는 게 맞습니다. 


성 킴이 주한 미국대사로 확정되어 부임하면 저는 그를 환영할 것입니다. 그건 그가 '한국계' 미국인이어서가 아니라 2000년대 초 잠깐 함께 일했을 때 그에게서 본 합리적이고 예의바른 태도 때문입니다. 그가 한국에서 근무하는 동안 '혈연'에 대한 제 동료 한국인들의 고정관념을 바꾸는데 기여해주기 바랍니다.  


16세기 영국 철학자 프란시스 베이컨 (Francis Bacon)이 '민족의 우상(idols of the tribe)'을 버리라고 설파한 지 500년이 되어가고 우리 사회는 이미 오래 전부터 여러 민족이 어우러진 모자이크 사회로 변해가고 있지만, 우리 언론만은 아직도 '민족'과 '혈연'에 집착하며 부추기고 있습니다. 그러나 최근 노르웨이를 뒤흔든 테러사건이 보여주듯 민족에의 집착은 시대착오적일 뿐만 아니라 위험합니다.  


성 킴이 대사직을 성공적으로 수행하고 떠나갈 때쯤엔 우리 언론의 혈연관이 바뀌어 있길 바랍니다. '혈연'은 한국에 살거나 한국인을 부모나 조상으로 둔 사람들의 관계만을 뜻하는 게 아니고, 붉은 피 덕에 생명을 유지하는 모든 지구인들의 관계를 뜻하는 것이라고 생각하게 되길 바랍니다.