Speech on “The U.S.-ROK Alliance” at Hanyang University Townhall Lecture

Harry Harris
U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea
Hanyang University
November 1, 2019


Thank you, Dr. Min, for that kind introduction. It’s a real pleasure to be here at Hanyang University to speak with the next generation of Korean leaders.

A Town Hall involves some give and take, so I plan to make a few remarks and then we’ll jump to questions and answers and make sure this event stays interactive. I look forward to hearing your reaction to my thoughts, questions you may have on U.S.-Korea relations, or anything else you’d like to discuss. As just explained, we’ll keep this event off the record, so we can have a candid discussion between friends. I want to be noteworthy, not newsworthy.

Across the Indo-Pacific, we see incredible progress and opportunity. However, we also face serious challenges that’ll shape the world as we know it. It’s crucial for our alliance to remain a bastion of freedom and the rule of law – from the sea-lanes to the cloud, and in everything that we do as democratic nations. And it’s my sincere hope that, together, our two countries can and will meet these challenges in order to hand down to our successor generations, people just like you, 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. And though our military alliance may be the most visible and foundational aspect of our relationship, the U.S.-ROK partnership encompasses much more than just security. We face the same threats and concerns, but we do so with a shared sense of purpose, and motivated by a common set of values. Our businesses have invested in each other, traded with each other, and prospered together. And our people-to- people ties connect our nations at the most fundamental and personal levels.

Our deep and abiding friendship, forged in the harsh crucible of war, has flourished over the last 66 years and will continue to thrive through your generation and those to come, as long as we nurture it…invest in it…resource it.

Our alliance is comprehensive and one of the key pillars of our relationship is our mutually beneficial trade. 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 this trade relationship was a strong contributor to South Korea’s miraculous economic growth. Over the last few decades, brands like Samsung, Hyundai, Kia, and LG have quite literally become household brands. We remain the second biggest export destination for quality Korean goods.

The investment relationship is also excellent and growing. The United States is the largest source of foreign direct investment 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. I was just in Tennessee a couple weeks ago and had a chance to visit both Hankook Tires and LG’s state-of-the-art washing machine production facilities. Impressive.

Last spring I was in Lake Charles, Louisiana, to participate in the grand opening of Lotte’s 3.1 billion dollar petro-chemical plant. The U.S. is open for business and the ROK is taking full advantage of this.

The energy sector is another success story in our strategic and economic partner. As the U.S. energy mix has shifted from scarcity to abundance, the impact has been profound, not only for us, but for our 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.

Switching gears slightly to another pillar of the relationship – our people-to-people ties – 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 successful business leaders. In addition, more than two million South Korean citizens visit, work, study or live in the United States.

South Korea is the third-largest (and first per capita) source of foreign students studying in America, with around 60,000 ROK students currently taking classes in the United States. We’d like to see many more (including, hopefully, some of you!).

To that end, I would like to make sure you are aware of a unique resource our Embassy offers called EducationUSA, which I highly recommend you look up online after our event today. We provide free, unbiased educational advice to Korean students, parents, and educators. We can do this in-person, or by e-mail, phone, or video chat. Choosing a U.S. university, finding scholarships and financial aid, and navigating the admissions process – these can be very difficult steps, even for American students. Our EducationUSA team is here to make that process easier for you.

While choosing a U.S. university may not be easy, traveling to the United States nowadays sure is. Thirty years ago, in 1989, the ROK government lifted restrictions on getting a passport and travelling overseas. That year, the number of Koreans visiting the U.S. shot up by 62% to about 149,000 people. Many of you in this room may not know this, but Embassy Seoul once processed the most U.S. visa applications in the world. There were days when two-to-three thousand people would line up around the block in Gwanghwamun to apply for a visa to visit the United States.

But since late 2008, we made it easier for the great majority of ROK citizens traveling for short-term trips to the Unites States. Now that the ROK has joined the small and select group of countries included in the Visa Waiver Program, most Koreans can now visit the U.S. without the time and cost of applying for a visa. And so in the 30 years since they became able to travel overseas freely, the total number of Korean visitors went from about 149,000 annually to more than 2.5 million travelers to the U.S. last year.

On the flip side, last year almost a million U.S. citizens visited South Korea. In fact, over 200,000 Americans are visiting, working, or living in Korea right now … including me. And more and more, we see Americans coming to Korea to study, to conduct research, or to teach at prestigious Korean institutions like Hanyang.

So 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.

The United States remains committed to making progress toward the goals President Trump and Chairman Kim set at their summit and Singapore. And although the United States and the DPRK will not overcome a legacy of 70 years of war and hostility on the Korean Peninsula in the course of a single day, we have a strong partner in our diplomatic efforts in our ally, the Republic of Korea.

While we hope for diplomacy to be successful, hope alone is not a course of action. U.S.-ROK Alliance activities and training are designed to support peace on the Peninsula and in the region, while ensuring we maintain readiness. While the political climate has certainly improved, we cannot let our guard down. The U.S.-ROK Alliance remains vital and vibrant, and our commitment to the Alliance remains ironclad.

Towards maintaining this vibrant alliance, we have initiated a new round of SMA burden-sharing negotiations with our Korean partners. Now, I know many here in the ROK have very strong views on SMA, so much so that some of your contemporaries felt it necessary to scale the wall of my residence to register their complaints. While I understand the urgency in wanting to express one’s views, I will say there are many other legal modes of communication than ladders and walls, maybe consider digital communication, next time!

Back to SMA, while this round will be challenging, it’s imperative that we quickly reach an agreement that more fairly allocates the burdens and costs of defense of the Korean Peninsula. The United States has contributed significantly to the defense of many countries…the ROK, Japan…our European allies in NATO…, and under President Trump, we are revisiting our burden sharing agreements with ALL of our key allies including the ROK, not just the ROK.

The security of the U.S. partnership and the Alliance has served as a stable foundation for Korea’s democratic and economic success. 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 contribute more.

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.

Therefore, Korea and Japan each suffer consequences when their bilateral ties worsen, and each bears responsibility for improving them. So the United States welcomes steps the two sides take to improve relations, such as Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon’s attendance at the new Japanese emperor’s enthronement ceremony and meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week. If Seoul and Tokyo continue to engage creatively and in good faith to address their bilateral disputes, I’m confident there is a way forward.

Looking more broadly at the region, the United States is implementing an Indo-Pacific strategy that 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.

As Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell said yesterday in Malaysia, “A free and open region is characterized by cooperation and respect for rules, not by hegemony and might-makes-right. A free and open region practices respect for the sovereignty and independence of all nations, regardless of their size.”

And there is no better partner to achieve this vision than the Republic of Korea.

Unsurprisingly, the Moon Administration’s own 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. Moving forward. Together.

Over the last 66 years, our two countries have laid a strong foundation upon which we constructed an alliance and we’ve formed military, economic, scientific and cultural connections that were once unimaginable. The coming decades will take us even further. In facing the challenges posed by North Korea and many others, our close cooperation and our shared vision make us strong. For most importantly—even more than just shared strategic interests–the heart of our relationship is based upon deeply shared goals, values, and beliefs. And these define us as who we are–as dynamic and democratic societies and respectful, free, and tolerant people.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me close by saying thanks to all of you for allowing me to come speak to you today. I’ve been given an amazing chance to work in this country to help both of our two nations. I say this a lot and it’s because I mean it, there isn’t a better place to serve as U.S. Ambassador, and no better partner and ally for the United States than the Republic of Korea.

My hope for you is that you can take these incredible gifts you have – the sacrifices your parents made to get you here…the hard work you’ve dedicated, night after night for years to get into this school and become a Hanyang Lion…the education you’ve received here…and the sense of purpose this school, founded 80 years ago, instills in each of its graduates, so that the next 80 years of Korea’s future will be as remarkable as the previous 80 years of its history.

Thank you and God Bless.