When Ahn Ho-Young presented his credentials as South Korea’s ambassador to the United States to President Barack Obama on July 18, 2013, it represented a change in policy by the Korean government. In general, South Korea has sent politicians or military experts to represent it in Washington. In Ahn, however, South Korea has a trade expert conveying its views to the Obama administration.
Ahn was born July 5, 1956. He attended Seoul National University, graduating in 1978 with a degree in political science and soon thereafter joined South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1981, he came to the United States to study at Georgetown University. Ahn received his Master’s from the university’s School of Foreign Service in 1983.
India was the site of Ahn’s first foreign posting, serving as second secretary in Korea’s embassy beginning in 1984. Ahn returned to the United States in 1990 as first secretary of the Korean embassy, serving in that post until the end of 1992.
Ahn returned home in 1993, serving as director of treaties in a division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1994, he was made director of international trade in another division of the ministry.
Ahn went to Paris in 1996 as counsellor to Korea’s permanent mission to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. There, he negotiated the terms of South Korea's accession to the OECD. He stayed in that post until moving to Switzerland in 1998 as counselor to South Korea’s permanent mission to the United Nations Secretariat and International Organizations in Geneva, working on dispute settlement and rules issues.
Ahn was brought home in January 2002 to assume the post of deputy director of the international trade law division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He remained at the ministry for several years, advancing to posts as director general in the multilateral trade bureau, director general of the economic cooperation bureau.
In May 2008, Ahn was named deputy minister for trade. In this post he served as “sherpa,” laying the groundwork for South Korean President Lee Myung-bak during run-ups to G20 and G8 trade conferences.
In March 2011, Ahn was named as South Korea’s ambassador to Belgium and head of its mission to the European Union.
In February 2012, Ahn became South Korea’s first vice minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. Among the issues he addressed in this post was pressing Japan for reparations for that country’s practice of using Korean women as sex slaves, or so-called “comfort women,” during World War II.
Since being named ambassador to the United States, Ahn has lobbied some state officials over what to call the body of water east of the Korean peninsula in textbooks. In most books, it’s referred to as the Sea of Japan, but Korea prefers it to be known as the East Sea. Despite counterlobbying by the Japanese government, Ahn was successful in Virginia. That state’s textbooks will use both names for the body of water.
Ahn is married with two sons.
To Learn More:
Official Biography (pdf)
The Leaderboard: Ahn Ho-Young (CogitASIA)