Even over the phone, you can feel your arm being twisted. So when Sylvia Park rang me a couple of weeks ago to cajole me in to rounding up some guests for the Anglo Korean Society Dinner at the House of Commons I knew I couldn’t say no.
My chosen guests were Korean Artists Association chairman Park Sunnee, visiting singer songwriter Kwak Younee, and Jeon Sung-min, who is one of LKL’s most reliable links in to the New Malden Korean community. Both Sunnee and Younee were there to network and surreptitiously promote their upcoming events: the KAA’s evening of performance at the KCC on 16 October and Younee’s series of gigs. Sung-min was there because I owe him for numerous things, not least of which was fixing and translating LKL’s interview with Sunflower. And all three are very amiable and charming guests.
As ever, the House of Commons tour is informative and interesting. Even if you have been on it before there’s usually some new anecdote which the knowledgeable guides have not told you before. And there was plenty of mingling time before dinner to greet old friends and make new ones.
Frank Cook MP welcomed the diners, recalling the previous historic occasion when he had hosted the Society: the Four Ambassadors evening in March this year. Sadly, this will be the last annual dinner which Mr Cook will be able to host: regardless of the result of the next general election, Mr Cook has been deselected by his party. His humour and long experience of Korea will be missed.
There were welcomes too from Sir Stephen Brown, but the main event was a speech by Ambassador Chun who was slightly delayed by his journey down from Manchester where he had been attending a party conference.
Ambassador Chun recalled the strong links between the UK and Korea: the latter had just taken over the presidency of the G20 from the former, and at the G20 summit in London earlier this year had been one of the closest countries to the UK in terms of policy responses to the financial crisis – such as fiscal stimulus initiatives and opposition to protectionist measures.
He noted with some pride that Korea was the first OECD country to re-emerge into growth from the current crisis, an outcome which was doubly pleasurable because it proved the UK press wrong. It should be remembered that Korea seems to have a particular beef about the UK press, particularly the FT, for being negative about the country, but it was the Economist which Ambassador Chun singled out as having had to write a long mea culpa article, confessing to having been wrong about the Korean economy.
Moving on to relations with the North, which are going through an upturn at the moment, Ambassador Chun suggested that strong, effective sanctions seemed to be a language which was getting through to Pyongyang, to the extent that the recent Chuseok cross-border family reunions were the first ever to have taken place without an up-front cash payment from the South. “The first reunions on credit”, he joked.
He did not rule out the possibility of denuclearisation north of the border. “The North’s current stance is penny wise, but pound foolish. You cannot eat plutonium. The sooner denuclearisation and reconciliation occurs, the sooner everyone will be better off”.
The speech over, attention turned to bread and butter pudding with custard. Younee spotted her opportunity, working her way round high table like a pro, with flyers for her gigs and the occasional free CD for the VIPs. Park Sunnee followed her example with advertisements for the KAA’s evening on Friday 16th. I haven’t seen such a slick sales operation in ages, all done with the utmost of charm. Soon all flyers were exhausted.
The dinner was the best attended ever, and if everyone comes along on Friday 16th, or to Pizza Express on the same night, it will be standing room only1. Secure your places by registering for Friday with the KAA on firstname.lastname@example.org and by booking for Younee’s gigs on the Pizza Jazz website.
Thanks as ever to the indomitable Sylvia Park for making it all happen.
The Anglo-Korean Society’s annual House of Commons dinner was on 8 October 2009. All photos of the dinner above are courtesy of the AKS official photographer. Original source of the image of the House of Commons chamber is unknown.
- Anglo Korean Society website
- Korean Artists Association website
- Younee London website
- On the rebound, Economist, 13 August 2009 – possibly the article that the ambassador was referring to (HT to Matthew Jackson for tracking this down)
- Update: The KAA event WAS standing room only. A massive success, a huge turnout