Speech on “The U.S.-ROK Alliance” at U.S. Korea Business Council Luncheon

Harry Harris
U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea
U.S. Korea Business Council Joint Plenary Luncheon
Washington, DC
October 11, 2019


Thank you, David for that kind introduction.

It’s been a year since I last stood before the U.S. Korea Business Council, and what a year it’s been. As I stand in front of you today, I am reminded of a story about a little boy who wrote a book report about Julius Caesar, and it went something like this:

Julius Caesar lived a long time ago.

Julius Caesar was a general.

Julius Caesar gave long speeches.

His friends killed him.

I promise to keep Julius Caesar in mind as I give my own remarks. Now, some of you have heard me say this in other venues, but it remains as true today as it was when my wife Bruni and I relocated to Seoul last summer from Hawaii. There isn’t a more dynamic place to serve as U.S. Ambassador, and no better partner, friend, or ally for the United States than the Republic of Korea.

As prominent figures in business, government, and academia you know the value the United States ascribes to its relationship with the Republic of Korea, and more broadly to the Indo-Pacific region.

Across the Indo-Pacific, we see incredible progress and opportunity. However, as this crowd knows all too well, we also face serious challenges that’ll shape the world as we know it. It’s my sincere hope and belief that, together, we can and will meet these challenges successfully so that we’ll be able to hand down to our successor generations a stronger and more enduring alliance and partnership between our two great countries.

The U.S.-ROK Alliance serves as the foundation for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and is the linchpin for security and stability throughout the region. The power of the Alliance is far 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, resource it, and remain committed to it.

But the breadth and depth of our relationship extend beyond just security. The U.S.-ROK Alliance is dynamic, and we’ve built a multi-dimensional partnership reinforced by shared values, shared concerns, and economic interests, and underpinned by deep people-to-people ties. As we confront new challenges in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, it’s crucial for our alliance to remain a bastion of freedom, and the rule of law— in the sea-lanes, in the cloud, and in everything that we do as democratic nations. Our alliance is comprehensive, it’s holistic, and the sum of our parts makes us stronger.

As this audience well knows, trade is a key pillar of our Alliance relationship. South Korea is now the world’s 12th largest economy, a member of the G20, and our seventh-largest trading partner, accounting for almost $170 billion in two-way trade in goods and services in 2018, up 9% from 2017. Korean exports have long found an open market in the United States and we remain the second biggest export destination for quality Korean goods. Recently this trade relationship has evened out a bit – as reflected in our declining deficit – and I shared this good news story with President Trump during his visit to Korea earlier this summer. At the Business breakfast where some of the companies here today were represented, the President applauded the positive trade relationship between our two countries. The U.S. trade deficit with South Korea dropped 22 percent last year and has fallen 55 percent in the last two years as Koreans have more opportunities to buy American goods.

The investment relationship is also excellent and growing. The United States is the largest source of FDI in South Korea, and South Korean companies have invested or made commitments to invest billions of dollars in the United States during the last two years. Korean companies in the United States provide direct and indirect jobs for over 300,000 American workers. I was just in Tennessee a few days ago and had a chance to visit the Hankook Tire’s and LG’s state-of-the-art production facilities, both of which employ over 1,500 Americans. Impressive. The amended KORUS establishes a new foundation for trade relations to benefit both of our economies and our citizens for years to come.

And in the energy sector, our bilateral relationship is strong, and growing stronger. For those of us who grew up during the energy crises of the 1970’s and heard national fretting for decades about U.S. dependence on foreign oil, the turnabout has been stunning. Our mindset has changed from energy scarcity to energy abundance. The impact has been profound, not only for us, but for friends and allies, such as the Republic of Korea, who have increasingly turned to the United States as a reliable and trusted supplier. As of August, the United States is Korea’s third largest supplier of oil and LNG, and top supplier of Liquefied Petroleum Gas. We’d like to be number one in all three categories.

Looking abroad, the lifting of the U.S. ban on crude oil exports in 2015, and our efforts in 2014 to streamline regulatory approvals for LNG exports, have bolstered global energy security by diversifying supply options for importers. As the recent attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities remind us, threats to energy supplies have immediate political and economic impacts. For nations such as the Republic of Korea, who import most of their energy from regions vulnerable to disruption, the importance of secure, stable energy supplies cannot be overemphasized.

However, we still face challenges and there is room for improvement. The World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” survey ranked South Korea number 5 in the world 2019. However, I hear in my conversations with private industry that there are still real impediments. I hear about regulations, non-tariff barriers and Korea-specific standards that impede our companies from competing on a level playing field, and frankly hurt the Korean consumer and the economy. This is the case in big pharma, IT and cloud computing, the chemical industry, and the insurance industry. And as Korean telecommunications companies deploy their world-leading 5G infrastructure, we must ensure the highest standards of reliability and security for our communications.

Switching gears slightly to another pillar of the relationship, there are now over two million Americans of Korean descent, including members of Congress, senior officials in our military, U.S. diplomats, state and federal government officials, and wildly successful business leaders. More than two million South Korean citizens visit, work, or live in the United States. On the flip side, over 200,000 U.S. citizens are visiting, working, or living in Korea right now … including me. And it is these strong and growing people to people ties that not only constitute the essential fabric of our dynamic bilateral relationship, but also provide the resilience for us to overcome any and all challenges.

Now I’d like to talk briefly about the extraordinary, historic events in the last year and a half that have placed our nations and our Alliance in a position for even greater potential outcomes in the future. Over the decades since the Korean War ended, there have been many overtures to bring peace to the peninsula, but unfortunately, in the end, they all failed. Enter Presidents Trump and Moon, and we find ourselves in a far different, more optimistic place in 2019.

That said, the United States and the DPRK will not overcome a legacy of 70 years of war and hostility on the Korean Peninsula through the course of a single Saturday. These are weighty issues, and they require a strong commitment by both countries. The United States has that commitment.

Of course, while we hope for diplomacy to be successful, hope alone is not a course of action. We must continue to remain vigilant, while we allow space for diplomacy to work. U.S.-ROK Alliance activities and training are designed to support peace on the Peninsula and in the region, while ensuring we maintain readiness. As Secretary Pompeo has stated, we stand ready to continue our diplomatic conversation with the North Koreans. Meanwhile, it’ll be critically important for us to maintain our military vigilance and readiness to the threat from the North. While the political climate has certainly improved, we cannot let our guard down. There are ample historical examples of what could happen if we’re not ready. The U.S.-ROK Alliance remains vital and vibrant, and our commitment to the Alliance remains ironclad.

Towards maintaining a vibrant alliance, we have initiated a new round of SMA burden-sharing negotiations with our ROK partners. While this round will be challenging, it’s imperative that we quickly reach an agreement that more fairly allocates the burdens and costs of the security that the U.S. provides the ROK. The U.S.-ROK Alliance benefits greatly from Korea’s contributions, including its advanced technologies, a capable and professional military organization, and a highly developed economic infrastructure. While the United States appreciates the considerable resources the ROK provides to support the Alliance, as a global economic leader, and as an equal partner in the preservation of peace on the peninsula, it can and should do more.

All of you in this room know, intimately, the importance of the U.S.-ROK Alliance towards security on the peninsula. But, I’d also like to highlight the importance of trilateral cooperation with the United States’ other key ally in the region – Japan. It’s crucial for our three nations to work together to enhance our security cooperation and preserve the international rules-based order. The reality is that no important security or economic issue in the region can be addressed without both the ROK’s and Japan’s active involvement. As President Trump, himself, has said, “when Japan and South Korea have good relations, all three countries – that is, South Korea, Japan, the United States – all benefit from that.”

Korea and Japan each suffer consequences when their bilateral ties worsen, and each bears responsibility for improving them. I’m confident there is a way forward. At a time when the bilateral trust deficit between Seoul and Tokyo is as large as I’ve seen it, the business communities in both nations have an opportunity to step up and lend their voices, common sense, and wisdom to the ongoing policy debates underway in both governments. There is such a thing as business diplomacy, and while some business communities may feel beholden to their respective governments, they are also linked to one another via, global supply chains, transnational commerce, and the international rules-based order. It’s simply the reality of the globalized age in which we live.

Which is why I believe it’s the business community, those of you in this very room that can help open doors and find space for dialogue — to help deadlocked governments reach wise and practical decisions. As President Trump said at the “Business Leaders Round Table” this past summer in Seoul, businessmen and women possess a special kind of genius, a “business genius” and we are in real need of that genius right now. Seoul and Tokyo cannot allow political tensions to contaminate the economic and security aspects of Korea-Japan ties. At every opportunity, in your conversations and dealings with your Japanese counterparts, I hope that you will keep working to find and create space, and be the voice of “strategic prudence” to and for your governments.

The United States will continue engaging on this issue and stands ready to facilitate dialogue between our two allies. The United States is committed to strengthening trilateral cooperation with the Republic of Korea and Japan as we continue to send a unified message that North Korea must fulfill its commitments to denuclearize. It’s vital that current bilateral issues between Seoul and Tokyo be managed in a way that does not diminish our joint efforts on security nor harm our shared interest to achieve greater prosperity and stability in the region and beyond.

And more broadly, throughout the region, the United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy is built on our belief that Indo-Pacific nations should be independent, strong, and satellites to none. We need to unlock private investment in infrastructure and keep sea lanes and airspace free, open, and secure. The Moon Administration’s New Southern Policy shares many of the same goals as our Indo-Pacific strategy and we look forward to working together. The sum of our decisions will determine the future of the region for the remainder of our days, and more importantly, for future generations. Together, we must safeguard the values and principles we have fought hard to preserve and have brought us so far.

Together. Moving forward. Those words are placed throughout my remarks, and permeate almost everything our two nations do, that our three nations must do. Moving forward. Together.

Ladies and gentlemen … I’ve talked too long. I’m reminded of the baseball story where the home team is getting shellacked. The manager walks out of the dugout … and directly to the mound … where he takes the ball away from the pitcher. The pitcher protests: “Coach, I’m not tired.” The manager says, “Yeah, I know … but the outfielders sure are.”

So let me close with this thought. Over the last 66 years, our two countries have laid a strong foundation upon which we constructed an alliance and myriad connections that were once unimaginable. The coming decades will take us even further. In facing the challenge posed by North Korea and many others, our close cooperation and our shared values make us strong. Ours is a relationship with striking manifestations of military, economic, cultural and scientific cooperation, but most importantly, it’s a relationship infused by deeply shared values and interests.

May God bless all of you for everything you do helping keep our two countries pointed towards a better tomorrow through our work together today. Thank you very much.