Remarks by Chargé d’Affaires Marc Knapper at Korean-American Club Forum

Monday, April 2, 2018 (12:00-1:00 p.m.)

Thank you very much. It’s really a great pleasure to be here. Thank you, Chairman Lee. David, thank you. Distinguished members of the Hanmi Club, and we have the Kwanhun Club here as well, it’s really a great opportunity to see all of you again: old friends, new friends. Thank you so much for this chance to be with you today.

It’s an honor today to be with so many opinion leaders, leaders of journalism here, and others to share my thoughts on the strong relationship the United States and the Republic of Korea currently enjoy.

Since Dr. Pong founded the Hanmi Club in 2006, the club has worked tirelessly to advance the partnership between our two countries and has also promoted professionalism among journalists, a key element for any democratic society to thrive.

In addition to all the great work the Hanmi Club does every day, I want to thank the club and its leadership for joining with the Embassy over the past two years to present the Don Oberdorfer Award. We very much value this collaboration in recognizing Korean journalists who have promoted understanding between our two countries and demonstrated excellence in reporting.

I also would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Republic of Korea for successfully hosting the Olympics and the Paralympics. I was lucky enough to spend a considerable amount of time out at Pyeongchang and at the various venues, visiting the competitions, sometimes with my family – I attended with three presidential delegations – and without exception, every person who went out to the Games spoke about Korea’s meticulous preparation and well-oiled implementation. It was truly, truly impressive, and Korea has much to be proud of.

And let me please also take this opportunity to express our concern about the reported kidnapping of three Korean sailors last week off the coast of Africa. We are in close and continuing contact with the Korean government regarding this and are working very closely with the Republic of Korea, the EU, and countries in the region to bring about these sailors’ and the others’ safe return.

I think this high level of cooperation between the U.S. and Korea really is a natural thing for our two countries. And it’s reflected in the high level of contacts that our two governments have on a daily basis and, really, over the past fourteen/fifteen months, since the beginning of the Trump Administration. Just during the Olympics alone, we had Vice President Pence, we had Senior Adviser Ivanka Trump, we had the Secretary of Homeland Security here. Normally this would be a challenge for any embassy, but this is an embassy that is used to supporting high-level visits and welcoming them to Korea.

Of course, it goes without saying that last year we had President Trump here, we had Vice President Pence here for his first visit; we had two visits by Secretary Mattis; former Secretary Tillerson, of course, was here; General Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was here, etc. My point is that this is a relationship in which the most senior members of our government work every day to support it, and we are very proud of this fact.

U.S.-ROK Alliance

Of course these visits represent very publicly what we already know: that the Republic of Korea is the United States’ closest and most important ally, and we cooperate on a daily basis on a broad range of issues of critical importance to both us and South Korea. And I’m proud to say that over the past twenty-five years that I personally have been working on Korea issues, the U.S.-ROK relationship has never been stronger. And I am confident that it will continue to strengthen in the days ahead.

Of course at the core of our two countries’ relationship is our security alliance. For 65 years, the U.S.-ROK Alliance has served as the linchpin for security, stability, and prosperity here on the Korean Peninsula, in the Asia Pacific region and, increasingly, around the world. And beyond our treaty and our shared sacrifice of blood and treasure, our partnership is built on mutual trust and the shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

North Korea

And in the face of North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, the U.S. and ROK’s unity of purpose is illustrated in the international pressure campaign that our two countries have led to impose on North Korea. Our presidents, our cabinet members, and our working-level officials–people in our embassies here and in Washington–are in daily contact to coordinate strategy and next steps.

A key component of the pressure campaign is preventing sanctions evasion. And we applaud President Moon and his administration for their ongoing commitment to deterring ship-to-ship transfers and for going after other UN Security Council Resolution violations.

These are not sanctions for sanctions’ sake. The goal of this pressure campaign is and has always been to persuade North Korea to engage in meaningful dialogue about a different future for itself and for its people.

And to that end, we sincerely welcome recent developments as potentially leading to a resolution of the nuclear issue. But let me be clear: there has been no shift in our policy.

We are willing to engage with North Korea. But our purpose in any meeting, first and foremost, will be to emphasize that the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is necessary and non-negotiable.

And so we welcome President Moon’s shared commitment to this goal, and we are working together closely for the success of our shared goals and of our respective summits.

Burden Sharing

The success of our Alliance to date has been the direct result of close coordination, strong public support, and the willingness of both partners to provide the necessary support to keep our Alliance top-notch in weapons, communication technology, infrastructure, and personnel.

When President Trump visited South Korea last November, as part of his stay, he stopped at Camp Humphreys. And as you all know, when it is completed, Camp Humphreys will be the largest military facility outside of the United States. And we appreciate Korea’s investment in our alliance and in our shared future.

In support to our alliance, Special Measures Agreements have been a pillar of our two countries’ shared commitment to the defense of the Korean Peninsula. And it is important these kind of commitments continue.

And negotiations toward the new SMA just began recently and they will continue over the next several months. And I know we’re going to have many frank discussions going forward. But as we said in our joint announcement at the beginning of the talks, our two sides are committed to an agreement that strengthens our alliance and ensures the security of both South Korea and its people.

ROK-Japan Cooperation

And before moving on to other aspects of our two countries’ relationship, allow me to touch briefly on Korea’s relationship with Japan.

And we recognize that there are sensitive issues within the Korea-Japan relationship. Now I have been privileged – as we heard earlier – I have been privileged to work for several years both here and in Japan, and I’ve had the opportunity to view the relationship from both sides. But regardless of how difficult things are, the reality is that Korea and Japan are both U.S. allies, and it is absolutely essential to our shared security that Japan and Korea have a constructive and productive relationship in order to maintain peace and stability in the region.

There is no critical issue in this region that can be addressed without the active involvement of both Korea and Japan. Strong cooperation between Japan and Korea, as well as with the United States and others, such as Australia, is vital to creating a brighter and more secure future for the region and the world.

Economic Relationship

Turning to the economic and trade aspects of the U.S.-Korea relationship: while our security alliance was the beginning of our partnership, economic cooperation has increasingly grown vital to the health of our economies and our alliance. Mutual prosperity serves us both, and together we do a great deal of business, and we are going to do a lot more business together in the days and years ahead.

And one area that we believe strongly benefits both producers and consumers here in Korea is our agricultural trade. Many of our agricultural exports are more complementary than they are competitive. And since the beginning of KORUS, we have seen increased market opening, leading to lower costs and more diversity for consumers here in the Republic of Korea.

And there are other bright spots, such as energy. We believe that increasing exports of liquefied natural gas and oil can help to not only rebalance our trade relationship but can also help to improve Korea’s energy security by diversifying its energy supply.

President Trump has made clear that the United States wants trade that is fair and balanced. And as we have opened the U.S. market to the world, we hope that our trading partners will do the same, not simply on paper but also in practice.

President Trump’s visit last November helped to launch an important discussion about trade and investment. And we are very satisfied to now have an agreement in principle on amendments to KORUS that will result in fairer, more reciprocal trade.

The agreement covers tariffs on U.S. trucks, imports of U.S. automobiles, a host of steps relating to customs procedures, as well as pharmaceutical reimbursements. In addition, we’re working on an agreement regarding currency. And we’ve also reached an agreement on terms for the exemption of Korean steel from new steel import tariffs. And we welcome Trade Minister Kim’s note that the KORUS agreement and steel exemption are “expected to create a stable business environment for Korean exporters.”

None of this was an easy task.

But because both sides from the beginning were committed to finding a mutually beneficial agreement and preserving the framework of KORUS, we were able to do it.

And the agreements we’ve reached lay the basis for a stronger relationship in the future. And our momentum of bilateral trade and investment will continue to increase. And it will continue to improve the lives of Americans and Koreans alike, as investors, as workers, and as consumers.

Free and Open Indo-Pacific

Now let me turn more broadly to our shared regional and global agenda. During President Trump’s visit to East Asia last November, he made clear that the United States remains fully committed to strengthening the rules-based system in the region that has fostered peace, stability, and prosperity for the last 70 years.

And through what we are calling our Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy, we are working tirelessly with partners like South Korea to set and bolster rules that promote open markets; freedom of the seas and skies; free, fair, and reciprocal trade; and private sector-led growth. And we are also taking actions to enforce these rules, to support good governance and liberty, and to insulate sovereign nations from external coercion.

Global Agenda

In addition to this kind of regional cooperation, we believe there are a number of global areas in which the United States and South Korea can apply our strengths to make progress, such as in cybersecurity, preventing infectious diseases, promoting space exploration, and also helping to protect the environment.

People to People Ties

Underpinning all of these areas of this cooperation that I outlined – security ties, economic cooperation, global cooperation – underpinning all of these aspects of our relationship are our two countries’ people-to-people ties. Our two countries’ bilateral relationship is rooted in the millions of business, personal, educational, and cultural ties that on a daily basis strengthen even further our two countries’ ties and build bridges between our two peoples.

And just a very brief example: we have 50,000 Korean young people studying in the United States, making it the fourth largest country studying in the U.S., and the first, per capita.

And the U.S. is actually the 6th largest sender of foreign students to Korea. And I think we would love to see the United States move up in rank a little bit, so we’re working on ways to increase the number of American young people who come here to study.

Women’s Empowerment

So let me close by mentioning an issue in which we believe that the United States and the Republic of Korea can do a lot more together. It’s a political, economic, and people-to-people issue. I’m speaking about women’s empowerment.

When they met last November, Presidents Moon and Trump pledged to initiate a bilateral partnership to advance women’s economic empowerment. Both of our countries have a long way to go, but the fact that we’ve recognized this as an issue is, I believe, an important first step.

We all know that empowering women can make for a better society, but it also can improve companies’ bottom lines. We found that among Fortune 500 companies, those with more women on their boards tend to attain higher financial performance than companies with few or no women participating at that high level.

Women bring new ideas. Women bring innovation. And women, we believe, can be a driving force behind success in Korea’s “Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

We are committed to fulfilling our two presidents’ pledge, and to that end, the U.S. Embassy recently launched the U.S.-ROK Initiative to Promote Women’s Entrepreneurship and Women in STEM. And as part this initiative, we recently co-hosted an event with Microsoft and Korea’s Center for Women in Science, Engineering, and Technology to better encourage women to enter the field of cybersecurity.

So in closing, I’ll just say that I’ve always been a big believer in this alliance, and I’ve been a big believer that there is nothing that our two countries cannot do when working together. And I believe that includes realizing an inclusive society in which all members – men and women – are treated with respect and given equal opportunities to reach their full potential.

Thank you very much for your attention, and I look forward to the panel discussion.