U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea
Millennium Hilton Hotel
September 14, 2018, 7:00 p.m.
As Prepared for Delivery –
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to be here with you this evening for a wonderful event that honors and reflects our enduring bilateral alliance. This past week, as many of you know, marks the 2nd month since my arrival in Korea.. It has been an action-packed 8 weeks for Bruni and me, ranging from attending the solemn ceremony in early August marking the return of U.S. war remains from the North, to hosting our new North Korea Special Representative for his first visit to Seoul and the region.
Sixty-five years after the end of the Korean War, younger Koreans may see that war as a long-ago historical event with little direct meaning for them. But for many of you in this room, the war and the Alliance that ensued are living memories. Many of you personally made sacrifices and worked hard to help rebuild Korea from the ashes of that war to the powerhouse it’s become in the region and beyond.
Your organization—the Korea-U.S. Alliance Foundation—is made up of veterans and concerned citizens who have all done their part to promote peace through security on the Korean Peninsula. I thank you for your passion and commitment to that goal, and for promoting the discussion of issues related to peace and security. I understand that your seminars today addressed two key issues: the U.S.-ROK Alliance, and the North Korean nuclear issue. I would like to say a few words on each of these topics.
First, the U.S.-ROK Alliance is the cornerstone of our bilateral relationship, and it has served as the foundation for peace and security… not only on the Korean Peninsula but in the region as well. This year marks the 65th anniversary of our formal security alliance, and let me assure you, the Alliance remains rock-solid. It is underpinned by the more than 28,000 American soldiers stationed in South Korea to help protect against North Korean aggression.
The power and the glory of our Alliance is for more than a mere partnership or a friendship. It was forged by the crucible of war and hardened by blood spilled together. It has lasted generations and will continue to thrive for generations to come… as long as we, together, nourish it, invest in it, and remain committed to it.
Although our security alliance is what first comes to mind when people think of the U.S.-ROK relationship, the relationship is, of course, much more than that. It spans a broad range of ties – economic, cultural, military, and people-to-people – that closely bind our two nations.
We are 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 of goods and services in 2017. Moreover, Korean foreign direct investment is already the second largest Asian source of investment in the United States, and has increased over 60 percent since the implementation of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. As Ambassador, I look forward to working with my colleagues in Washington and at the Embassy to encourage even more trade and investment between our countries.
Korea and the United States share deep people-to-people ties. Over one million Korean-Americans live in the United States, and over 250,000 U.S. citizens live in Korea. Millions of tourists and students have traveled between our two countries, and their experiences abroad have helped to forge a closer cultural understanding. Cultural bonds also connect us, through music, movies, and food. Personally, I’ve discovered chimek, bibimbap, and ddeokgalbi, and I now even know who BTS is.
So, with our strategies aligned, our democratic and economic principles resolute, and our people-to-people ties closer than ever before, our two countries share a path forward that other nations’ leaders can only dream of.
NORTH KOREAN NUCLEAR ISSUE
Now, I would like to take a few moments to talk about the situation with North Korea. This has been a historic year for developments on the Korean Peninsula. There have been two inter-Korean summits, and a third to take place next week in Pyongyang. And of course, in June President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un met in Singapore, where, for the first time, a sitting U.S. President met a North Korean leader… and they formally committed to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
President Trump maintains his confidence that Chairman Kim will honor the commitments he made in Singapore, and their handshake. As President Trump has stated repeatedly, if Kim Jong Un denuclearizes, there is a bright future for North Korea.
But our eyes are wide open about the difficulty of this task. This is why we must maintain diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea, including strict enforcement of existing sanctions. This is also why engagement with North Korea, including between the two Koreas, must be in lockstep with progress on denuclearization. Together, the United States continues to work closely with the Republic of Korea and our other allies toward achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK, as agreed to by Chairman Kim Jong Un.
As I mentioned at the start of my speech, our newly-appointed Special Representative for North Korea, Steve Biegun, was in Seoul earlier this week for his first overseas visit since his appointment a few weeks ago. Mr. Biegun has been tasked by the Secretary of State to follow through on our agenda with the North, in close concert with the Republic of Korea and other partners in the region. While in Seoul, he had some very productive meetings with South Korean leaders, reinforcing our strong collaboration to denuclearize North Korea.
I believe we’re approaching an inflection point in history… and certainly nothing resembling the end of history. Freedom and justice hang in the balance. And the scale won’t tip of its own accord simply because we wish it would.
There remains a lot of work to be done, but I believe that if the United States and South Korea continue to approach North Korea with a common voice, then we can turn the commitments that were made in Panmunjom and Singapore into reality.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me close with these thoughts. Our nations continue to draw our strength from those who have served in the past… and those who are serving today. And our nations will continue to draw strength from those who will serve tomorrow… an unbroken chain, linking Americans and Koreans, generation to generation… keeping that scale of freedom tipping in mankind’s favor.
Our strength also comes from loyal citizens like each of you in the audience tonight – Americans and Koreans, friends and allies – who are aware of the challenges… aware of the opportunities… and aware of the dangers we face.
Those of us who serve and have served are grateful for patriots like you, who support us and who make our countries what they are today: forces for stability and peace around the world. I’m grateful for all that you do.
So ladies and gentlemen, thank you once again for allowing me to speak to you this evening. Let us not forget that South Korea always matters to America, and America always matters to South Korea. May God Almighty bless the United States, may God bless the Republic of Korea, and may God bless our ironclad Alliance. Thank you.