[Ambassador Harris’ Speech] The Enduring U.S.-ROK Alliance and Future of our Partnership

Harry Harris
U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea
Far East Broadcasting Forum
September 11, 2018

As Prepared for Delivery –

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen for the warm welcome.  It’s a pleasure to be here, and I’m excited to share my thoughts with you this evening.

The U.S. government has a strong commitment to promoting religious freedom.  And so it is only natural that we have great respect for FEBC and its tireless efforts to promote religious freedom around the world, particularly in societies where believers are isolated and subject to persecution.

As you know, FEBC began its broadcasts in 1956 by delivering messages over the airwaves to listeners in Russia, China, and North Korea.  Although its reach has now spread to many other countries, frankly, there is no group of people more in need of hearing FEBC’s message than the people of North Korea.  I’d like to share some thoughts with you about the DPRK, and will do so in a moment.  But let me first provide a “big picture” overview of U.S.-Korea relations as I see them today.

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 the courage and sacrifices we endured together during the Korean War solidified our  relationship, our deep friendship extends back much further, to at least 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 only a year later in 1883.  By the way, we actually maintain the original Legation House that King Kojong provided for that first envoy on the grounds of our Chief of Mission Residence, where my wife, Bruni, and I current live.

This longstanding relationship has been built on mutual security and economic interests, and on strong people-to-people ties.  It’s a partnership and a friendship that has spanned generations, and it 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.  Although our security alliance is what first comes to mind when people think of the U.S.-ROK relationship, it is much more than that.

Our economic ties set the standard for two modern, world-class economies working to better the lives of their citizens.  Trade has been the major driver of our bilateral economic relationship, and it will continue to be so as long as we maintain the same commitment to open markets and fair trade.

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 a vibrant trade and economic relationship that will continue to grow.  The basis for this economic relationship, of course, is the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, or KORUS-FTA.  Over the last year, we worked with our ROK counterparts to amend the agreement, updating it and making it stronger, and we look forward to finalizing these changes soon.

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 their intent to implement 64 U.S. projects valued at 17.3 billion dollars over 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.  These investments benefit the United States.  They also return both profit and innovation to ROK investors.

As you all know, across a 40-year Navy career spent mostly in the Indo-Pacific and Middle East theaters, I’m no stranger to the “military” side of the “political-military” relationship between our countries.  But now, 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 encourage 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 winning relationship, which actually benefits both countries and 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.  These spaces are the arteries of a free global economy and, more importantly, of a vibrant civil society.  We remain resolute in our commitment to ensure that every nation retains freedom of access to these shared domains.

The Indo-Pacific region has experienced decades of relative peace, prosperity, and stability.  This secure environment has facilitated tremendous economic growth and prosperity.  I believe this success was made possible, in large part, by a rules-based security and economic regional architecture in which the U.S.-ROK alliance has played a key role.

It will take our combined efforts, and those of our friends, allies, and partners in the region, to ensure continued security and stability needed to maintain prosperity and peace in the future.

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 two presidents committed at their November, 2017 summit to launch a new partnership in energy security, health, and women’s economic empowerment.

We have stood together, and continue to stand together, to face security challenges and threats to the erosion of international order.  It hasn’t escaped my attention that today is the anniversary of 9/11, a tragic day in U.S. history.  It was a day when terrorists attacked the peace-loving people of the world in an attempt to instill fear, weaken our resolve, and disrupt our way of life.

We responded, and our Alliance held strong as we stood together.  Korea supported our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan by sending forces to engage in peacekeeping and reconstruction.  Nor was this the first time:  Korea also sent troops to assist us in Vietnam.  We have a long history of supporting each other, side-by-side.  And we will continue to work together, with partners around the world, to confront and counter threats to innocent people and to protect the international rule of law.

Throughout the years, our people have grown closer through immigration, economic activity, and cultural exchange.  There are now over one million Americans of Korean descent, more than two million South Koreans visiting, working, or living in the United States, as well as over 200,000 U.S. citizens visiting, working, or living in Korea.  Over 600,000 Americans have passed through Incheon Airport so far in this calendar year alone, the third largest group by nationality.

These numbers clearly show that people-to-people contact between our two great nations has flourished and continues to grow.

Additionally, 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 inter-connected, to our mutual benefit.  Whether it’s the burgeoning craft beer scene in Korea or the kimchi tacos at a food truck on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., our two countries feed off each other, literally.  Even in pop music, musical crossover is producing hits like Love Yourself: Answer from BTS, which last week was number one on the Billboard 200 in the United States.  In art and in film as well, ours is increasingly a shared culture.

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.

And now, as I mentioned at the start of my speech, I’ll turn to the elephant in the room – the topic of North Korea.  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 the DPRK.

The vision that both Presidents have embraced provides a historic opening for North Korea and Chairman Kim Jong Un to move down a path toward security and prosperity.  The North now has the chance to lift itself out of the poverty and isolation of the past six decades.

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

In addition to engaging with DPRK leadership, over the past year, President Trump has met with North Korean refugees who were victims of the DPRK’s human rights abuses, and he has expressed his concern over such abuses.  The United States remains deeply concerned by the egregious human rights violations committed by the North Korean government and concerned for the well-being of the North Korean people.

As such, we will continue to work with the international community and our other partners to raise awareness, highlight abuses and violations, promote access to independent information, and keep pressure on the DPRK to respect human rights.

One way to encourage change on this front is by exposing North Koreans to news from the outside world.  This agenda enjoys strong bipartisan support in Washington.  The U.S. Congress recently has appropriated significant funds precisely for this purpose.

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.

Promoting and protecting religious freedom is an essential part of our human rights advocacy and a top priority for our diplomacy.  The strength of our commitment was affirmed in July when Secretary Pompeo hosted the first-ever Ministerial on Advancing Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C. as the first event he hosted in his role as Secretary.  The landmark Potomac Declaration from that Ministerial opens with this statement:

Every person everywhere has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. [Furthermore,] every person has the right to hold any faith or belief, or none at all, and enjoys the freedom to change faith.

The declaration was accompanied by a Plan of Action that laid out concrete steps for how we as the international community can defend the human right of freedom of religion or belief, confront existing legal limitations, and advocate for equal rights and protections for all, including members of religious minorities.

As you may know, we publish an international religious freedom report every year.  We applaud the RoK for the religious freedom it offers to all its citizens and residents, especially on the progress made towards developing alternatives to military service for conscientious objectors.  We look forward to standing together with the ROK in advocating for religious freedom everywhere it is oppressed — whether in the North or around the world.

Over the last 65 years, our two countries have laid a strong foundation upon which we constructed an alliance and myriad connections once unimaginable.  The coming decades will take us even further.  In facing the threat posed by North Korea and many other challenges, our close cooperation and our shared values make us strong.  During my time as Ambassador here in Seoul, I intend to work hard to make sure our cooperation continues.

Let me again thank FEBC for its tireless decades of work to promote human rights and religious freedom.  We will continue to work closely with FEBC, and with our friends and partners throughout the Republic of Korea, to achieve our common goals.

Thank you for your attention and, again, for inviting me here to speak with you this evening.  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.