COLUMBIA — Attendees of MU's ninth Truman Conference on U.S.-Korean Relations were honored by the presence of Park Kye-dong, the secretary general of the Korean National Assembly.
Park is well-respected in his country for making government officials aware of a slush fund created by former Korean President Roh Tae-woo.
Although it was Park's first time attending the biennial conference, it was not his first time in Columbia. He was a distinguished visiting scholar at MU in 1996.
Scholars from the United States and Korea offered presentations on various aspects of Korean politics, agriculture and economics. About 100 people came to hear the day's lectures and discuss U.S.-Korean relations over lunch.
The conference did not only allow scholars to discuss the important issues, it also underscored MU's long relationship with the Korean peninsula. Presenter Greg Scarlatoiu, director of public affairs and business issues at the Korean Economic Institute in Washington, D.C., said MU was the ideal place for such a conference, given its large population of South Korean students, its long history with the country and its strong academic reputation worldwide, specifically in agriculture and journalism.
Though the conference had an atmosphere of academic exchange, there was an undercurrent of deep concern about relations between the two nations, with considerable discussion about the world's relationship with North Korea.
Yu Suk-ryul, a professor emeritus of the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, has attended all nine Truman conferences. Yu said this is an important time to discuss relations between Korea and the U.S., citing the 2008 U.S. presidential election and recent developments in North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
"This is a time to discuss those specific issues," he said. "It's the start of the Obama administration and the end of the Bush administration, and (North Korea's nuclear research is) a world concern."
MU and the Korean Alumni Association have hosted the biennial conference since 1992. It was named to honor former President Harry S. Truman, who helped MU offer free tuition to Korean students after the Korean War.
Mary Jo Herde of the university's Asian Affairs Center said the next conference will probably take place in Korea.
Park said he was glad to be able to attend the conference.
"It's very important to make a connection between Korea and the U.S.," he said.