[Ambassador Harris’ Speech] Striving for Peace: the U.S.-ROK Alliance 65 Years After the Armistice Agreement

Harry Harris
U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea
2018 JoongAng Ilbo-CSIS Forum
Westin Chosun Hotel
October 22, 2018


Recognizing the foreign policy experience and wisdom gathered here today, I want to be sure to make the best use of your time. So with brevity in mind, I would like to give you a “big picture” overview of U.S.-Korea relations as I see them today, and to consider the challenges – and opportunities – that lie ahead.

But before doing so I would like to express my appreciation to the organizers of today’s forum.  The role of civil society in nurturing vibrant democracies in our two countries cannot be overemphasized.  JoongAng Ilbo and CSIS are leading institutions that promote freedom of speech, the intellectual exchange of ideas, and sound policy advice.  I congratulate you on today’s Forum, which brings together an impressive amount of expertise to bear on the question of peace and therefore, naturally, on the role of our Alliance and of our two democracies in maintaining and promoting security in the region.

I can say with all honesty that there is not a more dynamic place to serve as U.S. Ambassador, and no better partner for the United States, than the Republic of Korea.

As you know, this year marks the official 65th anniversary of the U.S.–ROK Alliance, an Alliance that serves as the foundation for peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and throughout the region.  Our longstanding relationship is built on mutual security, but working together we have forged a multi-dimensional alliance that is reinforced by shared economic interests and underpinned by deep people-to-people ties.  It is a partnership that has spanned generations before us, and I believe it will thrive for generations to come as long as we nurture it, resource it and invest in it.

Given the depth of our relationship, there is a lot we can talk about, but I’d like to begin by addressing what many would say is one of the biggest foreign policy priorities of our current administration… and definitely one that has profound effect on our bilateral Alliance… and that is North Korea.

Earlier this year, President Trump and President Moon took bold steps to transform our respective relations with North Korea.  Their willingness to do so has given us a unique opportunity to establish enduring peace on the Peninsula and to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK.

And earlier this month, Secretary Pompeo made his fourth visit to Pyongyang, where he again met with Chairman Kim Jong Un.

The Secretary and Chairman Kim discussed the four elements contained in the U.S.-DPRK Singapore Summit Joint Statement signed by President Trump and Chairman Kim.  They also discussed plans for a second U.S.-DPRK presidential summit, and agreed to instruct their respective working-level teams to meet soon to intensify discussions on denuclearization.  Those meetings have not happened yet.

In addition, Chairman Kim agreed to allow inspectors to visit the Punggye-ri nuclear test site and the Tongchang-ri missile engine test site, and hinted at possibly opening other facilities even more central to the North’s missile and nuclear processing capabilities.

Immediately following his meetings with Chairman Kim, Secretary Pompeo traveled to Seoul to brief President Moon and Foreign Minister Kang on the outcomes of his discussions.  In doing so, Secretary Pompeo became the first Secretary of State to meet with the leaders of the two Koreas on the same day.  We regard this as a tangible symbol of our commitment to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK in close coordination with our ally, the Republic of Korea.

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, Singapore, and Pyongyang into reality.

We are, of course, cognizant of the priority that President Moon and his administration have placed on improving South-North relations.  I believe, and as President Moon has said, this inter-Korea dialogue must remain linked to progress on denuclearization.  Only in this way will the prospects of achieving our common goals with the North be their greatest.

As much as our two governments work closely on North Korea, I would be remiss in not highlighting the broad and deep bilateral relationship between our countries, which has grown to transcend our security relationship.

Last month, President Moon and President Trump reaffirmed our close alliance and the importance of maintaining strong, mutually beneficial trade and economic ties between our peoples when they signed key amendments to the KORUS agreement in New York City.  When ratified by the National Assembly here – and we expect that soon – KORUS will again be the common platform from which both sides can work to take our economic relationship to the next level.

Signing trade agreements is, in some respects, the easy part.  The real work comes in the post-signature implementation and enforcement of the KORUS agreement and its various components.

But the hard work to further improve our trade relationship is worth it.  U.S.-Korean commercial ties are strong and set the standard for two modern, world-class economies working together to better the lives of their citizens.

The Republic of Korea remains the sixth-largest trading partner of the United States, accounting for over 155 billion dollars in two-way trade in goods and services last year alone.

Investment, going both ways, is also an increasingly important driver of our commercial relations.  Since 2012, Korean investment in the U.S. has increased over 60 percent.  In fact, Korean foreign direct investment, totaling over $52 billion, is already the second-largest Asian source of investment in the United States.

From Samsung’s 2017 decision to open a new $380 million home appliance manufacturing facility in South Carolina to the growth of innovative U.S. companies like WeWork in Korea, the vibrancy of our investment partnership is undeniable.

Our expanding volume of trade and investment translates to more jobs in both of our countries.  U.S. exports to the Republic of Korea support 343,000 U.S. jobs, and ROK investment in the United States has added another 63,000 U.S. jobs since 2003.  In Korea, our economic relationship accounts for nearly half a million Korean jobs.

We are creating a winning bilateral commercial relationship for both countries – more jobs, more profit, more diversification, and more innovation for future growth.  It’s a story that is still being written, and I am confident that together we will see many more prosperous chapters to come.

Of course, relationships are about people, and our two peoples have grown closer through immigration, economic activity, and cultural exchange.  There are now over one million Americans of Korean descent, and more than two million South Koreans 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 and I am one of them right now.

As I’m sure many of you can attest, university years are some of the most formative, and we are delighted that almost 60,000 Korean students — with the approval of over 100,000 parents! — are studying in the United States, making Korea the third-largest source of international students in the United States.

Significantly, many Americans are also choosing to study in Korea, both on their own and through U.S. government-funded scholarships like the Fulbright Program.  The friendships our young people form when studying abroad represent the future of our Alliance.

We should also not ignore our increasingly deep cultural ties.  Whether it is BTS beating out all competition to win its first American Music Award earlier this month, or being on the cover of Time magazine just last week or the wild popularity of kimchi tacos in America… or Korea’s growing food truck culture, burgeoning craft beer scene, and mouthwatering chimaek, we can see that our cultures are increasingly intermingled.

And so, with our strategies aligned, our democratic and economic principles resolute, and our ties closer than ever before, opportunities for continued growth and prosperity between our nations are boundless.

Of course, behind all of this is the enduring strength of our Alliance.  You may have read recently that the U.S. and South Korea are in the process of negotiating the 10th Special Measures Agreement on the burden sharing of the cost of stationing U.S. forces in Korea between our two governments.

President Trump has emphasized the value the United States places on our Alliance, and insists that both governments work to achieve a fair agreement.

It is in both our countries’ interests to conclude this negotiation quickly so that through our iron-clad Alliance we may focus on the important task of working hand-in-hand to achieve the denuclearization of North Korea.

Let me close with this thought:  Over the last 65 years, our two nations have laid a strong foundation upon which we constructed an alliance and myriad connections, once thought unimaginable.  Thanks to this foundation, especially the leaders of this room, the coming decades will take us even further.

In maintaining security while helping to guide North Korea to a brighter future, and in many other challenges, our close cooperation and shared values make us strong.  Ours is a relationship with striking manifestations of military and economic cooperation, but most importantly, it is a relationship infused by deeply shared values, interests, and concerns.  As Ambassador, one of my greatest responsibilities is to ensure that our close cooperation continues.

Let me again thank all of you for your steadfast work to uphold and strengthen the U.S.-Korea relationship.  We will continue to work with you, and with our friends and partners throughout the Republic of Korea, to achieve our common goals.

Thank you again for allowing me to speak with you this morning, and I wish you all success for the rest of your conference.