Maryland First Lady Yumi Hogan in South Korea as nuclear tensions rise

As the U.N. Security Council gathered in New York Monday to discuss North Korea’s latest nuclear test, Maryland’s first lady, Yumi Hogan, was in South Korea, promoting the state, its flagship university and one of its most prominent businesses.

Hogan, the wife of Gov. Larry Hogan, met with South Korea’s first lady, Kim Jung-sook, in Seoul on Monday as part of a trade mission led by the Maryland Commerce Department and the Office of the Secretary of State. She met earlier with University of Maryland alumni at an Under Armour store in the South Korean capital.

The visit, which follows Governor Hogan’s 2015 trade mission to South Korea, Japan and China, comes at a moment of rising tension on the peninsula.

North Korea said it detonated a hydrogen bomb underground on Sunday, its sixth nuclear test since 2006. It was eight times as large as the device that destroyed Hiroshima at the end of World War II.

North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan last week.

The U.N. Security Council called an emergency session Monday, its second in less than a week, to discuss next steps. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley called for more sanctions against North Korea, and new sanctions against countries that do business with it.

Kim Jong Un’s “abusive use of missiles and his nuclear threats shows that he is begging for war,’’ Haley said. “The United States will look at every country that does business with North Korea as a country that is giving aid to their reckless and dangerous nuclear intentions.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned Sunday that the United States would answer any threat from the North with a "massive military response — a response both effective and overwhelming.”

At the same time, Trump has worried elected officials and business leaders by indicating that he is considering withdrawing from a free trade pact with Korea.

In a rare show of bipartisanship, Republican and Democratic members of Congress released a joint statement on Tuesday encouraging the administration to remain in the agreement.

“North Korea’s latest nuclear test underscores yet again the vital importance of the strong alliance between the United States and South Korea. The U.S.-South Korea agreement (KORUS), negotiated under two presidents and approved by Congress, is a central element of that alliance,” reads the statement from the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee leaders from both parties. “Just as important, South Korea is a significant economic partner, our seventh largest export market, and a vital customer for U.S. manufacturers, services providers, farmers, and ranchers.”

The statement acknowledged that the pact has “presented frustrations for some important U.S. industries,” but that negotiations could improve the deal.

“To be effective and constructive, however, we must not withdraw from the agreement while we do so,” it states. “We welcome bilateral discussions to strengthen the economic ties between South Korea and the United States, and we reiterate the importance of transparency and close consultation by the administration with Congress and American businesses and workers.”

Yumi Hogan, who was born in Naju, South Korea, met Kim Jung-sook at the Blue House, the official residence of the South Korean president. Aides to the governor said the first ladies “discussed opportunities for South Korea’s new presidential administration to engage with Maryland, as well as the continuing economic, cultural, and educational ties between Maryland and South Korea.”

Kim’s husband, Moon Jae-in, was elected president in May after his predecessor was impeached and removed in a corruption scandal. Aides to the governor said Kim invited Hogan to Seoul when the couples met in Washington in July.

“Maryland has a special relationship with South Korea,” Yumi Hogan said in a statement released by the governor’s office. “We hope to continue to work together to find ways to strengthen the already flourishing relationship between our regions.”

On Tuesday, Maryland Secretary of State John Wobensmith signed an agreement to establish a sister-state relationship between the state and South Korean province of Jeollanam-do, the home province of Yumi Hogan.

The agreement aims to promote trade, business and entrepreneurship; expand educational opportunities; and foster cultural and artistic exchange, according to a press release from Hogan administration.

The first lady and Secretary Wobensmith are expected to return this weekend from the trade and diplomatic mission to South Korea.

“I am proud to be the first Korean American First Lady in the United States, and have been delighted to promote the Korean culture in that role over the past two and a half years,” said the First Lady. “Through this meaningful ceremony, I hope our two regions can continue their many beneficial exchanges, and cooperate to build a strong sister-state relationship.”

Aides posted nearly 50 photos on the governor’s Facebook page Sunday showing the first lady’s visit with Maryland alumni at Under Armour's store in the upscale Gangnam shopping district of Seoul. The location is the Baltimore company's largest in Asia, and second largest in the world.

As those photos were being posted, President Donald J. Trump tweeted Sunday that North Korea’s “words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States.”

“South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!” he tweeted. He said the United States was “considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea.”

Los Angeles Times reporter Barbara Demick and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

ddonovan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/dougdonovan

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