[Ambassador Harris’ Speech] Korea Society Van Fleet Award Dinner

Harry Harris
U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea
IHO CJ Group Chairman Sohn, Kyung-shik
Plaza Hotel, New York
September 21, 2018

As Prepared for Delivery –

Thank you for your invitation to appear tonight and for the opportunity to address this distinguished audience.  It’s a pleasure to be here and an honor to speak with you at such an auspicious time.

Today we are gathered to pay tribute to the Korea Society and the crucial work it does to help bolster U.S.-Korea relations on both sides of the Pacific.

In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that, for more than sixty years, the Korea Society has underwritten the U.S.–Korea Alliance.

In paying tribute to the Society, we can’t help but recognize the contributions of its first president, General James Van Fleet.  Perhaps best known for his work as Commander of U.S. and UN forces during the Korean War, General Van Fleet was so much more.  We’ll skip over his decision to coach the Florida Gators in the 1920s – I may be a Navy man, but Tennessee is still home!

General Van Fleet’s service as an infantry battalion commander in World War I…as a regimental commander including the D-Day invasion in World War II…as the Military Advisory Group Commander in Greece during the Greek Civil War…are the stuff of legend.  And this was all before Korea.  President Truman called him “the greatest general we have ever had.”  And Van Fleet knew the cost of defending the U.S.-Korea relationship in a way few of us ever could – he lost his son, a B-26 bomber pilot, to the Korean conflict.  Any award bearing the Van Fleet name testifies to an individual’s extraordinary commitment to fortifying our relationship, a foundation for security and prosperity in Northeast Asia.

Previous award winners include Presidents of both countries, captains of industry, Secretaries of State and Foreign Ministers, even a former UN Secretary General.  This is, indeed, an exalted company of heroes.

Which brings us to this year’s recipient… a captain of industry if there ever was one.  Chairman Sohn Kyung-sik was just a boy in his early teens when North Korea invaded in 1950, but he saw the ravages of the war first hand.  In the aftermath, Korea was in shambles, one of the least developed countries on Earth.  Seared by that experience, he dedicated himself to a life in business that would do well by doing good.  First at Hanil Bank, then rising up the ranks at Samsung, then moving over to Cheil Jedang Corporation.  As Korea developed, so did Sohn Kyung-shik.  Fast forward to the present, and the CJ Group, with Mr. Sohn as its Chair, is a major player in almost any industry of note – pharmaceuticals, media and entertainment, healthcare, logistics, you name it.

Throughout that entire time, Sohn Kyung-shik never forgot the value of the U.S.-ROK Alliance.  Chairman Sohn, I thank you, on behalf of a grateful United States, for everything you’ve done to keep this relationship strong.

Ladies and gentlemen, while I have this opportunity, let me shift gears and give you a “big picture” overview of U.S.-Korea relations as I see them today, to take stock of the fruit yielded by this dedicated labor of all of you in this room, and to consider the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

There is no more dynamic place to serve as U.S. Ambassador, and no better partner for the United States, than the Republic of Korea.

This year marks the 65th anniversary of the U.S.-ROK Alliance, and let me assure you, the Alliance remains rock-solid.  The power and the glory of the Alliance is for more than mere partnership or friendship.  Forged in 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, our partnership 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 one of the major drivers of our relationship, and it will continue to be so as long as we maintain the same commitment to open markets and fair trade.

Korea remains our sixth largest trading partner, 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.

During President Trump’s visit to Seoul last year, 42 Korean companies announced 64 U.S. projects worth 17.3 billion dollars over four years.

Trade and investment translates into more jobs.  In the case of the United States, bilateral trade and investment with Korea supports 400,000 U.S. jobs.

Our economic relationship not only benefits the United States but also returns both profit and innovation to ROK investors, as well as accounting for nearly half a million Korean jobs.  This is a winning story for both countries – more jobs, more profit, more stability through diversification, more innovation for future growth.  It’s a story that’s still being written, and one with many prosperous chapters to come.

In my new role as Ambassador, I plan to help facilitate these new chapters.  I want to support enhanced access for U.S. firms in the Korean market and encourage more Korean direct investment into the United States.   Direct investment into the United States boosts bottom lines in both nations – the very definition of a mutually-beneficial relationship.

Our world is now increasingly connected by networks of shared spaces – oceans, air, outer space, and cyberspace.  Within these spaces flow goods, services, and ideas.  They contain the resources for future growth and keys to sustaining our way of life.

These spaces are the arteries of a free global economy and of a vibrant civil society.  America remains 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, in turn, has facilitated tremendous economic growth.  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 big role.

It will take our combined efforts – from friends, allies, and partners in the region – to maintain the security and stability needed to ensure prosperity and peace for 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.  We continue to evolve, as demonstrated by our two presidents’ commitment at their November 2017 summit to launch a new partnership in energy security, health, and women’s economic empowerment.

We’ve stood together, and continue to stand together, to face security challenges and threats to the erosion of international order.  Here we are in New York, a few days after the 17th anniversary of 9/11.  It was a day when terrorists attacked on U.S. soil, targeting not just the United States but peace-loving people of the world, a cowardly attack meant to instill fear, weaken our resolve, and disrupt our way of life.

We responded, and our Alliance held strong as we stood together.  We remember the support from Korea, which provided peacekeeping and reconstruction operations in Iraq and Afghanistan… and we honor those Koreans who died there in support of freedom.

Relationships, at their core, are about people, and our people have grown closer through immigration, economic activity, and cultural exchanges.  There are now over one million Americans of Korean descent, and more than two million South Koreans visiting, working, or living in the United States.  In the reverse, over 200,000 U.S. citizens are visiting, working, or living in Korea right now and we are delighted that roughly 58,000 Korean students study in the United States, making Korea the third-largest source of international students in the United States.

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.

There is, however, an elephant in the room –North Korea.  Earlier this year, President Trump and President Moon took bold and unprecedented steps to transform our respective relations with North Korea, to establish enduring peace on the Peninsula, and to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK.

The vision that both Presidents embraced provides a historic opening for North Korea and Chairman Kim Jong Un to choose security and prosperity.  The North now has the chance to lift itself out of its self-imposed poverty and isolation.

The potential for positive change in the North is limitless, but only if Chairman Kim fulfills his commitment to denuclearize.  Until then, sanctions will remain in place.

As just one example of our commitment to this process, our newly-appointed Special Representative for North Korea, Steve Biegun, was in Seoul last 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.

So let me take a moment to talk about the historic events that unfolded this week with the third inter-Korean summit.  As President Trump announced, we welcome President Moon and Chairman Kim’s reaffirmation of the Singapore joint statement of complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

These are important commitments, and as you may have heard, we are now prepared to engage immediately in negotiations to transform U.S.-DPRK relations.  Secretary Pompeo invited his counterpart, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho to meet this coming week here in New York to begin these discussions.  Steve Biegun has invited North Korean representatives to meet with him in Vienna, Austria at the earliest opportunity.

Folks, 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.  Your support make our countries what they are today:  forces for stability and peace around the world.  I’m grateful for all that you do.

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.  Ours is a relationship with striking manifestations of military, economic, and scientific cooperation, but most importantly, it’s a relationship infused by deeply shared values and interests.

Let me again thank the Korea Society for its tireless decades of work to burnish, protect, and nurture the U.S-Korea relationship.  We will continue to work closely with the Korea Society, and with our friends and partners throughout the Republic of Korea and the United States, 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.