Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Lee So-Jung of Korean Broadcasting System

INTERVIEW
ANTONY J. BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE
SEOUL, KOREA
CHIEF OF MISSION RESIDENCE
MARCH 18, 2021

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) So first, you picked Korea and Japan as your first nations to visit after you took office as the Secretary of State.  Of course, you spent some time in Korea in 2016 as the deputy secretary, but this time, when you came back here, you were the head of the Department of State.

So now, we’re – thank you very much for taking this time to have an interview with us at KBS.  So I’m sure this visit is happening when widespread North Korean policy review is going – ongoing back in D.C. within your administration and they’re discussing a lot of the direction of the North Korean policy to take in the coming years.  So we would focus our questions on those aspects.

So first, North Korea is saying that the attempt to have a contact with them is basically a tactic to make some time and space.  What do you think of that aspect or comment by North Korea on that aspect?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, it’s really an incredible pleasure to be back in Korea, and the fact that this is the first trip that I’m making with our Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the first trip we’re both making overseas in our new jobs, is very deliberate.  It’s not an accident that we’re here.

President Biden thought it was very important for us to highlight and underscore the importance we attach to the alliance and to the United States and the Republic of Korea, an alliance that has done important things for both of our peoples in – over many years, and one we not only want to reaffirm, but build on, and we have had a very good 24 hours here working with our counterparts to do just that.

With regard to North Korea, you’re right.  We’re engaged in a review of the policy, and what’s so important that we’re undertaking in our review is to do that in close consultation with South Korea, with other partners like Japan.  So I’ve heard what was said in Pyongyang, but the voices I’m interested in listening to right now are those of our close partners as we conduct the review.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) And yesterday and today, you made a statement about North Korea being authoritarian state who’s having this widespread, repressive action against its own people, and human rights is one of those issues that North Korea takes very personally and feel very sensitive about, and I’m sure how North Korea would react to your comment by – through their reactions.  I’m sure you already expected it.  So are you saying that the contact or engagement between North Korea and the U.S., do you think that can be pushed back a little bit?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  President Biden has been very clear from day one that he was determined to put human rights and democracy back at the center of American foreign policy, and we can’t do that on a selective basis.  We speak to it, we speak to concerns about human rights wherever we see them.  And certainly, North Korea unfortunately is one of the most egregious human rights situations that we know around the world.

But what’s – what we’re focused on right now is completing the review, doing that in close consultation with our partners in South Korea as well as other partners like Japan, and then carrying – once we completed the review, working in very close coordination with our partners to carry it forward.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) So back in the Trump – under the Trump administration, there was a Singapore agreement, and that was an agreement between a nation and a nation.  So I was just wondering whether Biden administration is thinking of succeeding that agreement or just letting go of that agreement.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So I don’t want to get ahead of the – of our review or the results of the review.  Again, what I can tell you, especially based on the time we spent here, is that we’re conducting that review, listening very carefully to our partners here in South Korea to make sure that we’re fully informed by their views, their perspectives, as we do the review.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) Then would I assume that it’s one of those items on the list of the North Korean policy review?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think you can assume that, again, we’re taking to heart everything we’re hearing from our closest partners, starting with – starting with (inaudible).

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) So Foreign Minister Chung of Republic of Korea said for North Korea policy, the strategy should be very well, tightly coordinated between the South Korea and the United States.  And the U.S. is, of course, emphasizing tight coordination between three countries: Korea, Japan, and the United States.  But of course, as you know, there are some policy difference in terms of North Korea between Korea and Japan.  So would that mean that you would somewhat respect the different opinions or stances between each countries involved in that matter?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we’re listening very carefully to all of our partners, including Japan, already in the course of this review.  We’ve had a meeting among the three of us led by former American Ambassador to Korea Sung Kim, who is one of the – he’s the most senior advisor to the State Department on Asian matters right now.

And so I think it’s very important that we get all of these different perspectives, but I also have to tell you that from my own experience of working on these issues when I was deputy secretary of state, being able to work on them with the ROK and Japan in a trilateral setting was very, very productive and very (inaudible).  I think we were particularly effective when we’re all in close coordination on this issue, and that’s why we’ve been working with both countries, but also the three of us together as we’re doing this review.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) So you mentioned trilateral cooperation and, of course, it’s very important for North Korea’s denuclearization.  But as you know, there is historical burden between Korea and Japan, and there is a huge dispute over a court ruling about some North – Korea and Japan’s historical matter.  Of course, you can say cooperation is important, but that sounds a little principled.  So how would you practically try to elicit this cooperation between three countries?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, again, we’re already seeing the three of us come together, all three of us, to talk about North Korea policy in the context of our review.  And of course, we recognize that there are very difficult and sensitive issues in the history between the two countries.  We strongly encouraged in the past and continue to encourage our close friends and partners, Korea and Japan, to try to work through and address these issues in the spirit of reconciliation.  And at the same time, we’re also dealing with the challenges of today and the challenges of tomorrow.  And so finding ways to cooperate, coordinate on those issues remains very important.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) I think you’re somewhat evading the definite answer, but although South Korean Government is approaching Japanese Government for talks, they’re somewhat trying to stay away from that.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, again, I mean, as a close friend to both countries, close allies both, what we’ve done, what we’ll continue to do is to encourage them to find a way forward in dealing with these challenging issues and history, again, in this – in the spirit of reconciliation.

But I think we also have a present imperative to work together on the issues of today that are challenges for our people and challenges for us.  And we’ve already had the experience in the context of the review that we’re doing to see the three countries come together on that, and I hope we can do more going forward.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) So this is the last question.  I’m sure you know this matter very well because you were involved in the comfort women issue and the agreement on it from 2015.  So this is a very grievous crime – war crime – and it’s also a matter of abusing human rights.  But there is some paper from a professor about this matter which is very contentious right now.  I don’t know whether you know about it, but what do you think of that matter?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m not aware of the paper that you’re referring to, but what I can tell you is that we’ve long said that the sexual exploitation of women is an egregious violation of human rights, including by the Japanese military in World War II.  And as I said, we know these are difficult issues from the past that – again, we encourage our friends to work through them, and we hope that that will happen.  We’ve certainly seen important progress on this issue in the past.  I hope that can be the case going forward.

And again, from my experience, working together with Korea, working together with Japan, I found when we were working on this trilateral cooperation in the past, we used to have so many issues in common, so many common challenges.  And it was not just dealing with North Korea.  Almost across the board, there were items on the agenda that will make a real difference in the lives of people in all three countries, whether it’s the pandemic, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s dealing with the challenges posed by emerging technologies.

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is what we have in common, the interests we have in common, the values that we have in common today I think far outweigh any differences that we have, and I hope we can all (inaudible).

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.