Impact Player: Woo Yoon-keun
September 19, 2017
Who is he?
On September 5, 2017, Woo Yoon-keun was nominated as the new ambassador of the Republic of Korea (ROK) to the Russian Federation. Woo will replace the current ambassador, Park Roh-byuk. Woo Yoon-keun currently serves as secretary general of the National Assembly, a position he has held since June 2016.
Woo is a veteran politician who has held several major posts in the National Assembly during his three consecutive terms as a lawmaker since 2004. Prior to assuming the position as secretary general, he served as a representative of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), now the Democratic Party of Korea, from October 2014 to May 2015. After the April 16, 2014, Sewol ferry incident, Woo was at the forefront of efforts to develop the “Special Bills on the Sewol Ferry Incident” as a chief policymaker of the NPAD. In 2012, he directed the presidential campaign for the current president, Moon Jae-in, who was then running as the Democratic Party of Korea’s nominee. Woo was first elected as a lawmaker in 2004 for the 17th National Assembly in his home city, Gwangyang, South Jeolla Province.
Before he started his career as a politician, Woo was a lawyer and worked as a chief attorney at the law firm European & Russian from 1999 to 2002. He specialized in trade law with Russia and served as a legal adviser in the Russian embassy in South Korea from 1997 to 2003. Woo still holds many leadership positions related to Russia, including the Korea-Russia Dialogue and the Meeting of Speakers of Eurasian Countries’ Parliaments. He also taught law as an adjunct professor at Chosun University in 2002.
Woo received his master’s and doctoral degrees in 1999 in law and his bachelor’s degree from Chonnam National University. He obtained his second master’s degree in international relations at Russia’s Saint Petersburg University in 2006.
Why has he been in the news?
Woo’s nomination was made shortly before President Moon’s visit to Vladivostok, Russia, for the third Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) on September 6–7, 2017. The EEF, which was initiated by Russian president Vladimir Putin, could be a platform to increase economic cooperation between the two countries.
President Moon earlier nominated three out of four ambassadors to major Northeast Asian countries: Noh Young-min for China, Cho Yoon-je for the United States, and Lee Su-hun for Japan. It is the first time in history that all four ambassadors to these key countries in the region are noncareer diplomats. Woo said in an interview on September 11 that the current situation necessitates important political decisions and that he will communicate and cooperate better with President Moon given their historical working relationship than a career diplomat might.
What can we expect from him?
Woo, is expected to play a significant role in economic cooperation with Moscow and in promoting cooperation on North Korean issues. President Moon has recently created the Northern Economic Cooperation Committee to enhance Korea’s position in development projects in the Russian Far East. During the EEF in early September, Presidents Moon and Putin also decided to initiate a Korean-Russian Regional Cooperation Forum in the beginning of 2018.