On November 25, I had the opportunity to experience firsthand the new Korea Train Express (KTX) line connecting Seoul (and Incheon International Airport) with the eastern city of Gangneung, the main transportation hub for all of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Foreign Minister Kang invited hundreds of foreign diplomats and business and other leaders – including U.S. Forces Korea’s Commander, General Vincent Brooks, and myself – to try the new KTX route from Seoul. Less than two hours and 220 kilometers later, we arrived in Gangneung. After our arrival, we toured several Winter Olympics venues. It was a great day, and I thank Foreign Minister Kang and the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games for their warm hospitality.
I was amazed by the speed and the engineering of this new KTX line and while awestruck by the beautiful Olympic venues, I was not surprised. For me, this trip to PyeongChang highlighted the story of the Republic of Korea, and is the culmination of what it has achieved over the last several decades. Left in ruins in the aftermath of the Korean War, this country has transformed itself into a successful democratic nation in a short time. Just as President Trump said during his speech to the National Assembly, “What you have built is truly an inspiration.”
Another great symbol of Korea’s remarkable transformation is the U.S. Embassy building itself. When it was being constructed in the early 1960s (back then it was used as a headquarters by USAID to coordinate reconstruction efforts in the Republic of Korea), local Korean contractors did not have the capability or the resources to erect multi-story buildings. Instead, a construction company from the Philippines was brought in to handle the job. This was hard for me to believe considering the Republic of Korea now, with its world-renowned multinational conglomerates, high-rise residential apartments and commercial office space, and its continuous rate of economic growth.
From all of us here at the U.S. Embassy, I’d like to extend our congratulations to the Republic of Korea on the completion of all Olympics-related venues and infrastructure. It’s clear that the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games are on track to be a fantastic showcase of not only human athletic performance at its peak, but also yet another example of the Miracle of the Han River, as the world marvels at Korea’s incredible accomplishments.