V. K. Wellington Koo
Born in 1888 in Jiading, a suburb of Shanghai, China, Wellington Koo was China’s key diplomat throughout the first half of the 20th century, serving as ambassador to England, France, and the United States, and operating as foreign minister several times. His education in international law at Columbia University enabled him to engage with the international community to help China become an active participant in the world community. He is well known for his role at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, where he argued eloquently against ceding Shandong Province to Japan. When conference leaders decided to accommodate Japan’s request, Koo led China’s refusal to sign the treaty—the first time China had said “no” to the world’s powers. This action had a major impact in China, leading to changes in Chinese internal and external policies.
Throughout his career, Koo played an important role in building a strong relationship between the United States and China. The relationship he advocated became China’s state policy in the late 1930s. He was actively involved with America’s presidents, working with Woodrow Wilson on the League of Nations, with Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II and on the founding of the United Nations, and later with Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
He signed the United Nations Charter on behalf of China in 1945 and successfully worked to have China appointed as a permanent member of the Security Council, confirming China’s position as a key nation in the world community. Beyond his eloquence and charm, grounded in his expertise with international law, Koo believed strongly in the role of diplomacy in world affairs, based on the philosophy that holding “firm to one’s principles and being unwilling to compromise may be a good personal motto, but is unsuitable in diplomacy. In foreign affairs, one should aim for 51 percent of his goals and should be quite happy with 60 percent or more.”
As his final official position, Koo was elected by the UN General Assembly to serve as a judge on the International Court of Justice in The Hague, where he became vice president. Upon retirement, he chose New York as his home with his beloved wife, Juliana Young Koo. In New York, surrounded by his large family circle of Youngs and Koos, he enjoyed revisiting his Chinese roots through his interests in calligraphy, poetry, and the classics.