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Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs

Local Diplomacy and Global Challenges with Beatriz Vivas and Woong-ghee Cha

In this episode, two foreign career diplomats explain why facilitating communication and cooperation between their homelands and the communities of Chicago is essential, and the role of local diplomacy in addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 17, which is partnership for the goals. The current Consulate General of the Republic of Argentina in Chicago, Beatriz Vivas, and former Deputy Consul General of the Korean Consulate in Chicago, Woong-ghee Cha, share their insights.


Woong-ghee Cha headshot

I think there is much more need for increasing roles universities and scholars can play in fostering closer ties between our nations and to working together to address global challenges. They can become a reservoir of the knowledge and ideas and a bridge between the government and the academic world.”

– Woong-ghee Cha, Visiting Scholar at the Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs, Former Deputy Consul General of the Korean Consulate in Chicago

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Read the transcript of this show

Annelise Riles [00:00:03] Welcome to the Breaking Boundaries podcast. I'm Annelise Riles, executive director of Northwestern University's Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs. The Northwestern Buffett Institute is dedicated to breaking through traditional silos of expertise, geography, culture and language to surface novel solutions to pressing global challenges. Chicago is a metropolis with more than 80 foreign consular officers and a vibrant, active international community evident in its business, political and cultural landscapes. And perhaps no one has an understanding of the intersections between local and global issues more than foreign diplomats whose goal is to facilitate communication and cooperation between their homelands and the communities of Chicago. Today, we're going to hear from two veteran diplomats who call Chicago home.  Beatriz Vivas, consul general at the consulate of Argentina in Chicago, and Woong-ghee Cha, who is former deputy consul general of a Korean consulate. Both are joining me to discuss the role of local diplomacy in addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, especially goal number 17, which is partnership for the goals. First, we welcome Beatriz Vivas, the consul general of Argentina, to the show. Welcome, Beatriz, and thank you so much for joining us. 


Beatriz Vivas [00:01:30] Thank you, Annelise. I'm happy to be here and with your audience. 


Annelise Riles [00:01:34] So, Beatriz, you have spent decades working in foreign diplomacy at all levels in your home capital, at the United Nations, in cities around the world, and now here in Chicago. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey, the path that led you to this position now being the consul general of Argentina in Chicago? 


Beatriz Vivas [00:01:53] Yes, sure. I'm a career diplomat, so that's the first difference. There are like honorary consul and career diplomats. And so I joined the Foreign Service 35 years ago. You do it normally after college studies, and then you do like a series of exam. And then you work in your capital and then you go to different countries. I lived extensively in Europe and Latin America, but this is the first time in the U.S. working, as a diplomat. So, that was a very interesting experience for me after 30 years of career. I really enjoyed very much because there are cultural differences that make my job very interesting. 


Annelise Riles [00:02:35] What got you started thinking that you wanted to be a diplomat 35 years ago. What was it that excited you about this career? 


Beatriz Vivas [00:02:43] Well, I'm very interested in some issues. I went to law school. I was trained as a lawyer, and I started seeing that there were some changes that are very slow at international level, but with a steady pace. So I thought that I wanted to be part of that. I don't like particularly big changes, sudden changes, but I do like a steady what I understand progress. I wanted to be part of that. And for that the international arena is the perfect place. You can have experiences and you can be exposed to different experiences and you can also shape part of the mindset of your country being a foreign diplomat. 


Annelise Riles [00:03:23] Tell us a little bit about why Chicago? Why is Chicago an important presence for Argentina? And can you tell us a little bit about what your goals are as consul general here in Chicago? 


Beatriz Vivas [00:03:36] Why Chicago? Because it's one of the most vibrant cities and very, very steady growth in business and academics related with Argentina. There is a lot of researchers cooperation and university cooperations with Argentinian universities and at universities here like Northwestern, your Institute. So that's why Chicago. And the way I understand my partnership, for example, now we have an Argentine space in North Michigan Avenue that we made with a partnership with the city of Chicago and business Chicago. And we are helping and we are doing a cultural promotion and tourism. And there are also three great Argentine businessmen selling their products. And that's the way to help to reanimate the city of Chicago and the businesses after the pandemic. So it's very goal oriented. My mission, and I enjoy that. 


Annelise Riles [00:04:36] That is such an interesting project. I saw news about it and just it's a whole new kind of diplomacy, I guess, in a way. It's really exciting. You mentioned before that there are cultural differences between the United States and Argentina, other places you've lived. What are some of the cultural differences that have really struck you the most? 


Beatriz Vivas [00:04:57] Well, precisely that goal oriented diplomacy. You are right, this diplomacy of what we did at the Argentine space in North Michigan Avenue by the Wrigley Building is completely new. But that's how in my mind U.S. works. I feel that you are very quick to attest to changes, and I think you are very much goal oriented and result oriented. So if the city of Chicago sees that there is something that needs reactivation, well, they contact their 87 consulates and they propose a program. And we applied and when finally we had this space and I think that that's one of the things that I would mention how quickly the U.S. actors react to different challenges. And if it works okay, and if it doesn't, you change and you try something different. 


Annelise Riles [00:05:52] Well, that's very kind. I think that many of us would see many, many lessons to be learned from the culture of Argentina as well. I want to ask you a question about the current situation in Argentina. Inflation this year has increased by 70%, so it seems the economic situation is quite dire in some ways. Can you tell us about some of the causes of this crisis and how should we be understanding it in the United States? 


Beatriz Vivas [00:06:18] Well, I think that government is trying to control the inflation. And there the situation is fragile, but it's going better. And we had experienced before about inflation. We know that is something that we have to attack. But like everything in life, it requires a lot of decisions that are tough for the population and the government is worried about the effects. So that's why it's being attacked slowly. But I think we are going in the good direction. 


Annelise Riles [00:06:51] And you mentioned before that one of the aspects of your role here as consul general is to build stronger ties between universities. What do you see as the role of universities in fostering closer ties between the United States and Argentina, or in working together to address some of those great global challenges, like the Sustainable Development Goals? 


Beatriz Vivas [00:07:14] Well, the way I see it and the way my government sees is that the academic community is key to solve one of the main concerns that we have to attack globally. And I also can tell that Argentine universities are the best of South America and they are really good institutions with great academicians and great researchers, and they do a lot of work with universities from the Midwest. And I can see that there are on climate, on droughts, on seeds, how to attack different diseases. Argentina is a leader on agriculture products and food manufacturers. So we have a great cooperation with the Midwest in those fields. Scientists are in the first role to help with many things. We consult them for policy making. We trust very much our scientists. 


Annelise Riles [00:08:11] Finally, Beatriz, I want to ask you a question that I ask all of our guests on this podcast, which is, as you look at our world today, from your unique vantage point as a diplomat, what worries you the most? What keeps you up at night? And also what gives you the greatest amount of hope? 


Beatriz Vivas [00:08:29] Well, my biggest amount of hope is seeing that the world has become better in many ways, at least since I started in the Foreign Service. And I'm seeing how more people are contributing. For example, we were talking about researchers. So there is a broader base of people involved in, and I think that small victories are victories. So I'm seeing that there are small victories and I'm okay with that because we never have hundred percent of what we have. But I also think that we are more involved and we have to be involved because nothing happens unless we really work for that. So I think there are many positive things to be taken into account. And as for the worries and the challenges to work all together, that's really hard. But it's hard at every level. So I am not surprised. It's hard and I'm confident that is going to be solved with the more involvement of all of the people who have an actual interest in those issues. 


Annelise Riles [00:09:33] Beatriz Vivas, you enrich our community here in Chicago so much with your presence and your brilliance and your creativity and your positivity. And we here at Buffett just are so grateful for you and for all that you do. And please consider us a strong ally in any of this wonderful work that you're doing. Thank you for being with us today. 


Beatriz Vivas [00:09:54] Thank you. Annelise. It's my pleasure. 


Annelise Riles [00:09:57] Well, Woong-ghee. You are a visiting scholar now at Northwestern Buffett. After serving for almost three years as deputy consul general of a Korean consulate in Chicago. Can you tell us a little bit about your own career path and how you first were attracted to diplomacy? 


Woong-ghee Cha [00:10:16] I started my career at the Foreign Ministry with the Republic of Korea in 2000 as assistant director at the Division of Multilateral Trade Cooperation. After three years of overseas training in Japan and the United States, I was posted abroad five times before I came to Chicago. I worked as director of Overseas Nationals Protection and ASEAN Cooperation. So I would just say I was blessed with precious opportunities to so many countries and to work in diverse areas of the interest. What initially attracted me to international diplomacy was, first of all, my major in diplomacy and international relations in college. One of the professors who wrote me a letter of recommendation for graduate school later became foreign minister. Additionally, I thought what was attractive in becoming a diplomat was to be able to work on the broadest stage imaginable in the world, among the professions representing his or her own country. Specifically, a diplomat can be engaged in various activities across the nations and the communications with the officials and the professionals in other countries. So my goal in life as a diplomat, as a humble person, is to become a peacemaker in whatever situation I may be played. And I'm very thankful to be able to work for the goal. 


Annelise Riles [00:11:40] There's so many different kinds of diplomats at multilateral organizations like the U.N., as you were yourself working in your capital in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Can you tell us a little bit about what is different or special about working for a consulate like you did in Chicago and in Venezuela and how that works serves Korea's interests? 


Woong-ghee Cha [00:12:01] Well, the current Korean government, which was inaugurated last May under the leadership of President Yoon Suk Yeol, is seeking to realize the national vision of becoming a global pivotal state or GPS in short, So cooperation with the international community is essential for realizing the vision and implementing the national strategy. And the Korea is endeavoring to upgrade its ties of friendship and cooperation with the countries worldwide. In this sense, I think diplomatic missions like the Korea consulate all around the globe, including the consulate in Chicago, are so important as to serve as a close and effective outpost and as a breach of communications and the collaboration between Korea and the host country. There are a lot of the international missions and then goals that we advance, including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which were adopted at the U.N. General Assembly in September 2015. Korea has been trying to achieve the goals not just within the country, but also cooperating with the other countries and international organizations to discuss effective ways to implement them and assist developing countries in their approaches to attain the goals. When I worked at the Korean Embassy in Indonesia, the Korean government, in collaboration with the Indonesian government and partners, helped local governments develop their own e-government system for the more efficient management of the administration. So there are a lot of good examples of advancing the international missions, as well as promoting the national interest of the Korean government. 


Annelise Riles [00:13:49] So interesting in this phrase, global pivotal state is just brilliant. It really captures what is unique about Korea as both hard power and soft power in the world today. What about Chicago specifically? What are some of the ways that the Korean consulate in Chicago interacts with our community here and what kinds of partnerships towards those U.N. goals were you part of here in Chicago? 


Woong-ghee Cha [00:14:14] Economic cooperation between Korea and the Midwestern community has been a strength to the benefit of both sides in the area of not just the longstanding automobile industries in Michigan, but also emerging technologies and a state of the art products. I know the President Biden visited the SK Siltron in Michigan in late November to emphasize US commitment to the revival of the manufacturing industry, including the semi-sector. As the two countries of the bilateral relationships have evolved from a traditional military alliance to an economic security and technological alliance. I expect economic and business ties will be enhanced for the two nations. 


Annelise Riles [00:14:59] I want to ask you about something in current affairs, because I think many of us have been watching with concern as North Korea has escalated military tensions with the world. The recent firing of missiles, the recent explicit threats of nuclear conflict are quite frightening to many of us. How do you feel these incidents should be understood by Americans? Can you help us as an expert to think in a more sophisticated way? What should we know about these conflicts? 


Woong-ghee Cha [00:15:33] North Korea's recent missile launches with the unprecedented frequency and intensity combined with even the threat of use of the tactical nuclear weapons, posed a grave security threat to not just the Korean Peninsula, but also to the region and the entire world. North Korea is now ready to conduct a seventh nuclear test at any time. I think these provocations and the threat by North Korea have increased levels of concerns and alarm among not just officials and politicians in the U.S. administration and Congress, but also the American public in general. And that made them feel the need to respond, those reckless provocations in a stronger and a more unified way in cooperation with allies and partners. According to a survey conducted in July, more than half of the U.S. public still say those Korea's nuclear program is a critical threat to U.S. security interest. Also, Americans have the strongly negative views of North Korea, along with China, Iran and Russia. So I would say security threats and the human rights situation in North Korea are attributable to the lingering negative perceptions. Additionally, a large majority of Americans favor maintaining long term military bases in South Korea as a response to North Korea threat and the provocations. I would emphasize the acceptance of North Korea as a nuclear state does not just undermine diplomatic efforts of the international community to dissuade North Korea's development of nuclear and missile programs, but also compromise the global system of nonproliferation by sending the wrong message to North Korea and the other countries of a potential nuclear capabilities. I would like to stress that to resolve issues of international concern like that of North Korea as a military threat requires a long term and consistent efforts of international community. The Korean and the U.S. government's on the same page with no daylight in dealing with North Korea as a security threat with the three d strategies of deterrence persuasion in dialog. It is undeniable that because of developing and upgrading into weapons of mass destruction, North Korea has become more vulnerable in tandem security, more isolated in terms of diplomacy and the more difficult in terms of the economy. So if North Korea gives up on nuclear and missile programs and return to the negotiating table with the sincere and genuine attitude, South Korea and the U.S. and international community would welcome it and be ready to provide whatever assistance North Korea needs to improve the livelihood of the North Korean people and develop the country. 


Annelise Riles [00:18:30] Turning now to your current role here as a scholar at Northwestern Buffett. I was interested that you mentioned that it was a professor who got you started in your career in diplomacy. And of course, I think we all know well how much Koreans as a society respect universities and academics. And so I'm just wondering if you have any thoughts on the role universities can play in addressing these really challenging diplomatic issues? 


Woong-ghee Cha [00:19:00] Well, I think there is much more need for increasing roles universities and scholars can play in fostering closer ties between our nations and to working together to address global challenges. They can become a reservoir of the knowledge and ideas and a bridge between the government and the academic world. For example, that the Korean-American Scientists and Engineers Association, which was established more than 50 years ago in 1971, has been playing pioneering roles in promoting cooperation in science and technology. It hosted an annual meeting called the U.S. Korea Conference to share ideas about and suggest ways to tackle pressing global challenges. I understand this year's conference was held in Virginia in August with the theme of science and technology in the wake of the pandemic and served as a platform for scholars, businesspeople and the government officials to exchange opinions about the status of the post-pandemic era and the ways forward. I know the good example that I had found when I was at the Buffett Institute is the U7 plus alliance of World universities led by Northwestern University in the U.S. I understand it is the first coalition of the university president aimed at defining concrete actions universities can take to collectively address global challenges in coordination with the government leaders in G7 countries and beyond, including Korea. I would say that what I learned about history, politics and the economy has laid the foundation for my career. 


Annelise Riles [00:20:45] So finally, I just want to ask you the question that I ask all of our guests, which is, well, Woon-ghee, as you look at the world right now, what keeps you up at night? What do you worry about the most? What are you concerned about? And also, what gives you the greatest amount of hope? 


Woong-ghee Cha [00:21:02] What worries me the most is the status and the levels of disorder and instability in the environment with domestic politics and international relations. We have seen many cases in which political division, the widening gap between rich and poor, social disintegration in many countries, and the cross-border threat and the rivalry between nations. But democracy has continues to experience threat around the world with the negation of election results and the increasing trend in the repression of freedom and the violations of human rights, to name just a few. I do not want to see the future where what we have taken for granted in life will not be regarded as such any longer, and it will require too much energy and cost to restore order and stability left that such a future should come. I think it is important for each one of us as a member of the community. Where we belong to is fundamental values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, and to make continued efforts to ingrain those values in the political and social system, then we can sleep very well. Well, on the other hand, what gives me hope is my belief in the collective intellect and the wisdom and the positive attitudes of the man kind in the ultimate stage. I firmly believe, as world history has witnessed, to continue the progress in many areas of political democracy, economic growth and social development, even with occasional setbacks in the process. The future will still be bright in the face of many challenges now, although it has never been, and it will never be easy to solve those difficult issues and respond to those daunting challenges with one magic wand. I would like to believe the human race can and will overcome the difficulties and turn the challenges into new opportunities. Though sometimes with the many sacrifices and effort required. 


Annelise Riles [00:23:13] Well, Woong-ghee Cha. Thank you so much. 


Woong-ghee Cha [00:23:15] Yeah, Thank you. It's my pleasure to share my small insight. 


Annelise Riles [00:23:22] For more information on this episode and on the Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs, visit us at Buffett.Northwestern.Edu.