Kwanhun Club Forum
President Park, distinguished panelists and guests, thank you for giving me the opportunity to address such an auspicious forum today. You may be anticipating a talk on the 140-year history of the U.S.-ROK bilateral relationship, in which I recount the genesis of our ironclad alliance and outline where we go from here. But you’re all journalists, so you already know all that.
You’re probably waiting to put me on the spot with some of my questions and some of my answers. I would be if I were you.
Journalism, we recognize, is a tough business, and I want to start by saying that we respect and appreciate the critical role you play in a democratic society. As former President Obama once said, “I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day — and I will always defend their right to do so.” But what the President said next in that same speech was equally important.
He said “Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views, even views that we profoundly disagree with.” And today I may say things you disagree with. But the beauty of being friends for 140 years is that our relationship has endured for so long that a few disagreements won’t change things, because we respect one another’s opinions. So let me be frank for the next few minutes.
Yes, our military alliance is ironclad, which means it’s unbreakable, and U.S. commitment to the security of the ROK is unwavering. President Biden said it, as did Vice President Harris just a few weeks ago, but you’ve also seen it most recently with the visit of the USS Ronald Reagan carrier battle group and continued expansion of joint exercises between our forces. Unfortunately, our adversaries are equally committed to changing the current world order in which freedom and rule of law prevail, and the only way to answer them is for like-minded democracies to work together.
I think we all agree that it would be great if we could isolate geopolitics from economic relations so that we could stand up for our principles without taking a hit to our own pockets, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Whether we like it or not, security, prosperity, and democracy are intertwined in this era, and the challenges to each are unprecedented.
The fact is that authoritarian states that control strategic resources will use them to gain economic, political and military advantage. People in Europe trying to figure out how to heat their homes this winter with limited access to Russian gas after that country’s brutal invasion of Ukraine know it, but Koreans do too – having endured economic retaliation after deploying a missile defense system to shield this country against threats posed by North Korea.
Threats, that at times from the People’s Republic of China, which has done little itself to mitigate by neglecting its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions and having failed to counter the DPRK’s missile test and sanctions evasion efforts. Unchecked, Kim Jong Un has resorted to increasingly aggressive provocations in response to repeated offers to come to the negotiating table, making it clear that the DPRK has no interest in pursuing peace and particularly not at the cost of denuclearization. While we will continue to press Beijing to be the responsible actor on the world stage it claims to be, we cannot rely on the PRC to play a supportive role in resolving regional and global challenges if that kind of attitude continues. We must rely on each other.
Authoritarian states thrive on discord between democracies because disunity limits our ability to effectively counter their actions. We shouldn’t afford them the opportunity to sow dissent. Make no mistake, to do so will have real costs for our people and their way of life. In the United States, we believe the deep and enduring relationships with our allies and partners are our greatest asset. For decades, our alliances with countries including the Republic of Korea and Japan have been central to promoting peace, security, and prosperity around the world. These alliances have never been more essential than they are today, and expanding their reach and scope is in our collective interest.
We’ve all come to realize over the past few years that supply chains are a national security issue, not just an economic one. To ensure both security and prosperity, we must continue to expand trade and investment between like-minded partners to make markets more resilient and support partners to make markets more resilient in support of a rules-based order. We must resist empowering those who would turn around and weaponize that interdependence against us for political gain. So we’re doing just that. U.S-Korean bilateral trade continues to grow, including in critical sectors and supply chains. The U.S. depends on Korea for advanced semiconductors, vehicles, and the parts to make them. And we know we can depend on Korea and vice versa, because we are longtime friends and allies with shared values.
I disagree with anyone who attempts to characterize our bilateral economic relationship as a zero-sum game in which if American companies are winning, Korean companies will lose. This completely neglects the fact that Korean and American businesses are working together and collaborating across every sector of the economy. Yes, we occasionally have trade disputes on both sides, but we’re committed to resolving them and have the mechanisms in place to do so. Anyone who would point to such trade issues as a sign of diminished U.S. commitment to the alliance on our broader global strategic partnership is mistaken.
With regard to the Inflation Reduction Act, Korea has voiced serious concerns about electric vehicle incentives outlined in the legislation, and we are committed to continuing discussions on ways to address them. I would add that we believe that many Korean companies stand to benefit from the various investment incentives in the act. But I want to make clear that the real targets of that legislation – aside from certain domestic provisions – is climate change and supply chains. This legislation will allow the U.S. to meet commitments to lead global efforts to decarbonize. Provisions in the IRA are critical to the ability of the United States to reach our carbon emission reduction targets before it’s too late. And we all know that can’t wait.
On issues that deal with our shared values, diversity is a strength and embracing it gives us a distinct advantage over our strategic competitors. As Secretary of State Blinken has said empowering women and marginalized communities in our societies is not only the right thing to do, it’s a national security imperative and we need to start thinking about our policies in that context. We can’t predict who will help us solve complex problems in the future, so it’s in our interest to make sure everyone has a chance to reach their full potential and make meaningful contributions.
For that same reason, we need to give people outside our borders and the younger democracies they live in every opportunity to thrive as well. We know that the world is safer place for all of us when others enjoy the same freedoms we do. I said earlier that alliances have never been more essential and that expanding their reach and scope is in our collective interest. The mighty U.S.-ROK military alliance we built provided the foundation for the broader global strategic partnership we share today. The ROK’s rapidly expanding political, economic, and cultural influence gives Koreans a say in what happens in the world, and you clearly take that responsibility seriously, and we want to encourage that participation.
As an example of our collaboration just last month, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs committed to deepening our bilateral cooperative relationship for development. Our two countries collaborate on a range of initiatives worldwide, including combating climate change in the Pacific Islands, enhancing cybersecurity in Southeast Asia, and strengthening health systems in Africa. The Republic of Korea is an essential, equal, and capable partner with the U.S. in all these efforts. Working together, we will continue to be a powerful force for good across the globe. As we say, Katchi Kapshida.
Kamsahapnida, thank you and I look forward to taking your questions.