[Herald Interview] ‘Australia will bring passion from down under to PyeongChang’

By Joel Lee

The Korean people’s perception of Australia is often limited to its beaches, deserts, rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef, Ambassador James Choi said, calling Australia a passionate nation that loves both summer and winter sports.

  • Published : Jan 15, 2018 - 18:16
  • Updated : Jan 15, 2018 - 18:20

Australian Ambassador James Choi wakes up at 5:30 a.m. for his daily run. 

“Running gives me a sense of purpose, motivation and energy,” he told The Korea Herald, stressing that a marathon requires half a year of training. “The training and discipline required for a marathon directly translate into how I go about my professional career.”

Choi, his country’s first Korean-Australian ambassador, ran the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Torch Relay on Sunday morning with embassy staff and the Australian and Korean public. Receiving the torch flame from Choi was Sam Hammington, an Australian comedian working in Korea.

Animated by boisterous hurrahs from a throng of spectators, who cheered for Australia’s success at the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games from Feb. 9-25 and March 9-18, respectively, the participants ran a 3-kilometer loop around the main palace Gyeongbokgung in Seoul.

Australian Ambassador to Korea James Choi (left) poses with Australian comedian Sam Hammington at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Torch Relay on Sunday morning in Seoul. (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)
The PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Torch Relay and Marathon on Sunday morning in Seoul (Australian Embassy)

“The Australian government hopes that the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and Paralympics will indeed be remembered as the games of peace,” the envoy said in an interview at the embassy following the relay. “As Australian ambassador and a sports-loving person, it was a great honor being the torchbearer for the relay. It was very memorable being able to interact with people on the streets.”

Of the 11 Olympic competitions to which Australia will send 60 athletes, medals could come from snowboarding and freestyle skiing, including aerial skiing and mogul skiing, forecast Choi. Fifteen Australian athletes will participate in the Paralympics, with Australian Minister for Sport Bridget McKenzie scheduled to visit the international event.

The Korean people’s perception of Australia is often limited to its beaches, deserts, rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef, Choi said, calling Australia a passionate nation that loves both summer and winter sports.

“There are fantastic ski resorts in the southeast across Victoria and New South Wales. Our ski team is strong in some fields as a result of excellent training and facilities,” he said. “Our system of sports management supports young talents coming through from an early age, and makes sure they receive the best possible training and take part in competitions worldwide.”

Joey the Kangaroo -- a boxing kangaroo that serves as the official mascot for the Australian Olympic Committee and which represents many Australian sporting organizations -- symbolizes his compatriots’ tenacious and competitive spirit, the diplomat said. 

Joey the Boxing Kangaroo (Wikipedia)
Australian Ambassador to Korea James Choi (left) poses with Korean students and Australian comedian Sam Hammington following the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Torch Relay on Sunday morning at the embassy in Seoul. (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)

Turning to priorities this year, Choi said he plans to devote much of his energy to following up on the “2+2” meeting of foreign and defense ministers of Australia and Korea, which took place in Seoul last October. During the third biannual dialogue on Oct. 13, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and her counterpart Kang Kyung-wha, with Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne and her counterpart Song Young-moo, discussed the two countries’ mutual interests and challenges in the regional and global arenas and ways to bolster their policy coordination.

“There will be a range of initiatives following from the ‘2+2’ meeting throughout this year. What’s important is to have our leaders adopt some outcomes of the meeting this year through two-way government-to-government meetings,” according to the ambassador.

Choi turned the attention to the Indo-Pacific region, which is officially the centerpiece of Canberra’s foreign policy.

“Our Foreign Policy White Paper released in November last year states the Indo-Pacific region as the centerpiece of our international policy. We have been using it at least since 2013,” he noted. “It’s based on recognizing the reality that the center of the world’s economic weight, particularly in Asia, is shifting southwestward from Japan, South Korea and China to Southeast Asian countries, particularly Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, and further west to India.”

Mentioning the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s “New Southern Policy,” aimed at strengthening relations with ASEAN, the Australian said he expected latent economic opportunities and synergies to be gained between the Indo-Pacific strategy and Seoul’s new Southeast Asian policy. 

Australian Ambassador to Korea James Choi (left) poses with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (center) and Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne at the "2+2" meeting in Seoul last October. (Yonhap)
(From left) Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Korean Defense Minister Song Yong-moo (Yonhap)

With the Donald Trump administration scuttling the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, designed under former President Barack Obama, the multilateral free trade accord’s remaining 11 member states have decided to press ahead without the world’s heftiest US economy.

Renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, Australia wants to make sure that the liberal trade framework will be smoothly up and running, according to Choi. The CPTPP is being renegotiated after Washington’s withdrawal, with the 11 members having reached a partial agreement on Nov. 11.

Canberra and Seoul have a bilateral free trade agreement that entered into force on Dec. 12, 2014.

Should Seoul decide to seek membership in the CPTPP, the scope of economic collaboration between all the member states as well as between Australia and Korea will broaden and deepen, the envoy projected.

Furthermore, he noted that assisting various Australian services firms make inroads into the Korean market this year will be high on his list of priorities.

“Contrary to popular belief, the Australian economy is heavily dependent on the services sector, comprising some 80 percent of the domestic economy. We are a strong services economy,” he said.

Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets -- the world’s largest infrastructure asset manager with portfolios in real estate, agriculture and energy -- has a strong presence in Korea, according to Choi. IFM Investors -- a firm providing investment services across infrastructure, debt investments, listed equities and private equity -- recently opened an office here.

“There are significant opportunities for Australia’s services sector, particularly the finance, legal and other professional services, to contribute to the Korean economy’s further development,” he argued.

By Joel Lee (