[Ambassador Harris’ Speech] The U.S.-ROK Relationship: Towards the Next 65 Years

Harry Harris
U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea
Korea National Diplomatic Academy
August 13, 2018

As Prepared for Delivery –

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a pleasure to speak with all of you.

I want to use my time at the lectern today to discuss U.S.-Korea relations looking forward. There could not be a more dynamic place to serve as U.S. Ambassador, and there is no better partner for the United States than the Republic of Korea. While this relationship truly came into its own through the courage and sacrifices we endured together during the Korean War, our deep friendship extends back much further, to 1882, when the United States and Korea established diplomatic relations under the Treaty of Peace, Amity, Commerce and Navigation. The first U.S. diplomatic envoy arrived in Korea in 1883.

This longstanding relationship has been built on mutual security and economic interests, and strong people-to-people ties. It’s a partnership and friendship that has stood generations, and will continue to thrive for generations to come given our shared values and interests.

This year marks the official 65th anniversary of the U.S.–ROK Alliance, which has provided a foundation for peace and security not just here on the Korean Peninsula, but also throughout the region. This Alliance is the linchpin of our efforts to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific in which all can prosper peacefully. To quote Secretary Pompeo’s remarks from two weeks ago in Washington:

“When we say ‘free’ Indo-Pacific, it means we want all nations, every nation, to be able to protect their sovereignty from coercion by other countries. At the national level, ‘free’ means good governance and the assurance that citizens can enjoy their fundamental rights and liberties.
When we say ‘open’ in the Indo-Pacific, it means we want all nations to enjoy open access to seas and airways. We want the peaceful resolution of territorial and maritime disputes. This is key for international peace and for each country’s attainment of its own national aims.”

Although the security Alliance is what first comes to mind when people think of the U.S.–Korea relationship, it is so much more than that. Our economic ties set the standard for two modern, world-class economies working to better the lives of each other’s citizens. Trade has been the major driver of our bilateral economic relationship and will continue to be so as long as our commitment to open markets and fair trade remains in alignment.

Secretary Pompeo recently observed that:

“Economically, ‘open’ means fair and reciprocal trade, open investment environments, transparent agreements between nations, and improved connectivity to drive regional ties – because these are the paths for sustainable growth in the region.”

President Moon echoed this sentiment in his inaugural address when he noted:

“Opportunities will be equal. The procedures will be fair. The result will be just.”

Korea remains the sixth largest trading partner of the United States, accounting for over 156 billion dollars in two-way trade in goods and services in 2017. Today, the Republic of Korea and the United States enjoy vibrant trade and economic relations rooted in the deep belief in a rules-based international order that is equitable and endless in opportunity for those who follow it.

I should point out that Korean foreign direct investment is already the second largest Asian source of investment in the United States, something that we see as a vital component of our relationship. During the President’s 2017 visit to Seoul, 42 Korean companies announced intent to implement 64 U.S. projects valued at 17.3 billion dollars over the next four years. In addition, U.S. exports to the Republic of Korea support 358,000 U.S. jobs, and ROK firms have invested more than 40 billion dollars in the United States, supporting another 52,000 jobs.

I’ve come to Korea in my new role as Ambassador with plans to support enhanced access for U.S. firms in the Korean market, and more Korean direct investment into the United States. Increased access to U.S. firms gives Korean consumers more choices and increases quality across the board. And direct investment into the United States boosts bottom lines in both nations – the very definition of a “win-win” relationship, which is a priority for our Administration.

Our world is now increasingly connected by networks of shared spaces – oceans, air, outer space, and cyberspace – that enable the free flow of goods, services, and ideas. They are the arteries of a truly global economy and, more importantly, a civil society.

We work closely together in an area of the world that shapes the course of global security. The region has experienced decades of relative peace, prosperity, and stability. This secure environment has facilitated tremendous economic growth and prosperity. I believe this success story has been made possible, in large part, by the rules-based security and economic architecture in the region – supported by seven decades of American presence and underpinned by our U.S.-ROK Alliance. The Alliance has helped create and maintain the conditions that fostered our mutual economic growth – growth that in turn helped further cement the critical importance of this Alliance for our two nations.

It will take our combined effort and those of others to ensure the security and stability needed for continued prosperity and peace. That’s why the United States, Korea, and our partners and friends in this region remain committed to fostering a rules-based system that respects international law and adheres to international norms. We remain resolute in our commitment to ensure that every nation maintains their current freedom of access to these shared domains.

Consider for a moment what the Korean Peninsula was like in 1953, when the Armistice was signed. Both the North and the South were devastated by war but each supported by superpower allies. Today, the South is an economic powerhouse – an engine of innovation – and a leader in global goodwill.

As true global leaders, the U.S. and the ROK collaborate to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges, from combatting infectious disease threats to improving air quality to preserving our oceans. In fact, our President committed during the Summit meeting with President Moon in November to launch a new partnership in energy security, health, and women’s economic empowerment.

Earlier this year, President Trump and President Moon took bold and unprecedented steps to transform our respective relations with North Korea, establish enduring peace on the Peninsula, and achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea. The vision that both Presidents have expressed provides a historical opening for North Korea and Chairman Kim Jong Un to move down the path towards permanent security and prosperity. The North now has the chance to lift itself out of the poverty of the past six decades.

The potential for positive change in the North is limitless – but only if Chairman Kim fulfills his commitments to denuclearize. Sanctions will remain in place until North Korea takes concrete and verifiable steps towards denuclearization.

Our two nations are committed to closing the Right Deal, not just any deal. Over the past year, President Trump has met with North Korean refugees who were victims of the DPRK’s human rights abuses, and he continues to express his concern over such abuses.

Finally, but certainly not least, are our people-to-people ties. There are over one million Americans of Korean descent, and more than two million South Koreans visiting, working, or living in the United States. Additionally, there are over 200,000 U.S. citizens visiting, working, or living in Korea. These numbers clearly show that people-to-people contact between our two great nations continues to flourish.

Furthermore, with roughly 58,000 Korean students studying in the United States as of 2017, Korea remains the third largest source of international students in the United States. Many Americans as well choose to study in Korea, whether it be through Fulbright, the Gilman Scholarship Program, the Critical Language Scholarship Program, or the National Security Language Initiative for Youth.

Culturally, we are all connected, and we all benefit from these connections. Whether it’s the burgeoning craft beer scene in Korea or the kimchi tacos at the taco truck on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., our two countries feed off each other, literally. Even in pop music, you’re seeing the results of musical crossovers, especially now that the United States has seen what it’s been missing in BTS. In art, in film, we approach the future as one.

With our strategies aligned, our democratic and economic principles resolute, and our people-to-people ties closer now than ever before, opportunities for continued growth and prosperity between our nations are boundless. From the American or Korean K-pop stars selling out arenas across our two countries, to the entrepreneurs investing in each other’s latest cutting-edge technologies, our two countries progressively share a path forward in a way other nations’ leaders can only dream about. A dream that is a reality, as we share common core values and a common prosperity.

The last 65 years built a strong foundation upon which we are now aligned and connected in ways once unimaginable. The coming decades will take us even further. Should North Korea deliver on the commitments to denuclearize made by Chairman Kim at the June 12 summit with President Trump, and between President Moon and Chairman Kim at Panmunjom on April 27, then we all can expect a brighter future for the people of North Korea as well.

Thank you again for inviting me to speak with you all this morning. May God Almighty bless the Republic of Korea. May God bless the United States of America… and may God bless our ironclad Alliance. Thank you.