Joseph Y. Yun

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Joseph Y. Yun
Ambyun official.jpg
United States Special Representative for North Korea Policy
In office
October 17, 2016 – March 2, 2018
PresidentBarack Obama
Donald Trump
Preceded bySung Kim
Succeeded byStephen Biegun
United States Ambassador to Malaysia
In office
October 2, 2013 – October 14, 2016
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byPaul W. Jones
Succeeded byKamala Shirin Lakhdhir
Personal details
Born1954 (age 65–66)
Seoul, South Korea
Spouse(s)Melanie Billings
EducationCardiff University
London School of Economics

Joseph Yuosang Yun (born 1954)[1] is a former top American diplomat and one of the nation's leading experts on North Korea.[2] From October 2016 to March 2018, he served as the United States Special Representative for North Korea Policy and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Korea and Japan.[3]

Previous senior diplomatic assignments include United States Ambassador to Malaysia, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the State Department Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Deputy Assistant Secretary.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Seoul, Yun left South Korea for Nigeria in 1964, following his father, a doctor with the World Health Organization. Yun was educated from middle school on in the United Kingdom, earning his bachelor's degree from Cardiff University in 1976, and Master of Science and Master of Philosophy degrees from the London School of Economics. He met his wife, Melanie Billings-Yun, at LSE and they were married in 1977. They have one son, Matthew Yun.

Diplomatic career[edit]

Yun joined the United States Foreign Service in 1985. In 2000, following tours in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Washington, DC, Paris, and Seoul, he was appointed Economic Counselor in the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, managing economic, labor and environmental issues. In 2004 he attended the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, then took a 6-month assignment as senior adviser on the State Department Korea Desk. He returned to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, in 2005 as the Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs, in charge of domestic, regional, and bilateral political issues.

In 2009 Yun was posted back in Washington as Director of the State Department Office of Maritime Southeast Asia. The following year he was named Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southeast Asia, and in 2011 he was appointed Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP).[5] During his time in EAP, Yun worked closely on President Obama's Asian rebalance policy,[6][7] especially in Southeast Asia. Notable accomplishments included the diplomatic normalization of American relations with Myanmar,[8] the establishment of a US mission for ASEAN, and the inauguration of United States participation in the annual East Asian Summit.[9]

For his work, the State Department has honored him with a Presidential Meritorious Service Award, three Superior Honors Awards, and nine Foreign Service Performance Awards.[10]

Ambassador to Malaysia[edit]

Nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as Ambassador to Malaysia on July 23, 2013, Yun was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on August 1. As Ambassador, Yun emphasized stronger bilateral ties between the United States and Malaysia in all aspects: security, diplomatic, economic and people-to-people.[11] During his three-year tenure, President Obama visited Malaysia twice, in 2014[12] and 2015.[13] Prior to those trips, the last US President to visit Malaysia was Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966.[14] During his 2014 visit, President Obama and Prime Minister Najib Razak signed the Comprehensive Partnership Agreement, pledging the United State and Malaysia to work closely together on security, business, education and technology issues.[15] Yun also inaugurated the Oregon-Sabah Collaborative,[16] bringing together private citizens, local governments, universities and civil society from the two states to promote educational exchange, forest and wildlife conservation, and business ties.[17] For his work in this area, Yun received the Individual Achievement Award from the Oregon Consular Corps in 2016.[18]

North Korea Policy[edit]

On October 17, 2016, Yun assumed the office of United States Special Representative for North Korea Policy, heading all coordination and implementation of US policy toward North Korea, especially concerned with denuclearization. Concurrently, he held the office Deputy Assistant Secretary for Korea and Japan, managing relations with America's principal allies in developing a coordinated policy toward North Korea.

Yun was the key diplomat securing the release of American student Otto Warmbier who had been imprisoned in North Korea for nearly a year and a half.[19] In May 2017, Yun met secretly in Oslo with North Korean officials to gain diplomatic access to the four American prisoners held in Pyongyang. Learning on June 6 that Warmbier had been in a coma for the past 15 months, Yun flew with a medical team on an emergency mission to Pyongyang to secure his immediate release on "humanitarian grounds".[20] He and the team returned Warmbier to his parents' care in the United States on June 12. While in Pyongyang, Yun also conducted a consular visit with the remaining American prisoners, the first since March 2016.[21]

Post–State Department[edit]

Yun retired from the US State Department on March 2, 2018.[22] He is now a Senior Advisor with The Asia Group and the United States Institute of Peace, and is a Global Affairs Analyst for CNN.

Release of American prisoners in North Korea[edit]

Yun played a key role in the negotiations for freeing the American citizens who were jailed in North Korea between 2016 and 2018. In the case of Otto Warmbier there are reports [23] that Yun, on behalf of the American administration, signed a contract pledging 2 million USD to North Korean authority upon the release of the prisoner. Otto Warmbier was freed on 13 June 2017 but Trump stated that US did not pay the money to North Korea. In April 2019 John Bolton also confirmed in an interview with Fox News that US did not pay the money to North Korea that was promised on the signed document between American officials (Yun) and North Korean officials. [24] Yun said he that he believes the United States should meet their end of the pledge and pay the 2 million USD the North Koreans for Otto Warmbier's release. [25] [26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Joseph Yousang Yun - People - Department History - Office of the Historian". Retrieved September 10, 2019.
  2. ^ Persio, Sofia Lotto (February 27, 2018). "Who is Joseph Yun? State Department loses another top expert on North Korea at a Crucial Time for Diplomacy>"". Newsweek. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
  3. ^ "Yun, Joseph Y." U.S. Department of State. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
  4. ^ Spero, Domani (July 22, 2013). "Officially In: Joseph Y. Yun – From EAP to Malaysia". Diplopundit. Retrieved January 16, 2017.
  5. ^ Spero, Domani (July 22, 2013). "Officially In: Joseph Y. Yun – From EAP to Malaysia". Diplopundit. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  6. ^ "The Rebalance to Asia: Why South Asia Matters (Part 1)". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  7. ^ "Rebalance to Asia II: Security and Defense: Cooperation and Challenges". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  8. ^ "US official in Burma to assess prospects for change". BBC News. December 7, 2010. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  9. ^ "The United States and the East Asia Summit: a new beginning?". East Asia Forum. November 20, 2011. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  10. ^ "Report for the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate" (PDF). March 6, 2013.
  11. ^ "US Ambassador-designate wants stronger ties". Malay Mail. August 9, 2013. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  12. ^ "Obama in landmark Malaysia visit". BBC News. April 26, 2014. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  13. ^ "Obama back in Malaysia this November". Malay Mail. June 19, 2015. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  14. ^ Parsons, Christi (April 26, 2014). "Obama becomes first U.S. president to visit Malaysia since Johnson". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  15. ^ "Joint Statement By President Obama And Prime Minister Najib Of Malaysia". April 27, 2014. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  16. ^ "Ambassador Yun Joins Portland Delegation in Visit to Sabah | U.S. Embassy in Malaysia". U.S. Embassy in Malaysia. January 15, 2016. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  17. ^ "Envoy: Oregon-Sabah Collaborative will grow". Daily Express Newspaper. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  18. ^ "World Trade Week Event Recognizes Seven Oregon Companies and Individuals". Oregon Consular Corps. May 19, 2016. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  19. ^ "US Official's "Quiet Diplomacy" Led to Warmbier's Release". US News & World Report. June 15, 2017. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
  20. ^ "High-level U.S. visit leads North Korea to free student in coma". Reuters. June 14, 2017. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  21. ^ Fifield, Anna (June 14, 2017). "State Dept. official met with the 3 Americans still being held in North Korea". Washington Post. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
  22. ^ Fifield, Anna (February 26, 2018). "State Department point man on North Korea, Joe Yun, to retire Friday". Washington Post. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  23. ^ "Trump says U.S. paid no money to North Korea in Otto Warmbier release". The Japan Times Online. April 27, 2019. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  24. ^ "John Bolton calls Iran foreign minister's accusations 'propaganda'". April 28, 2019. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  25. ^ "Former US-North Korea envoy says Trump approved plan to pay $2 million to free American student". CNN Online. April 29, 2019. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  26. ^ "Ex-government official confirms signing $2M pledge". CNN Online. April 29, 2019. Retrieved April 29, 2019.

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Paul W. Jones
United States Ambassador to Malaysia
Succeeded by
Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir
Preceded by
Sung Kim
United States Special Representative for North Korea Policy
Succeeded by
Stephen Biegun