Keynote Address to Korea Society Gala Dinner

Kurt M. Campbell
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Seoul, South Korea
January 31, 2012

Thank you very, very much for that very warm introduction. And let me just say welcome and thank you to all our friends, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, Ambassadors, National Security Advisor, all of our colleagues and friends that we have the honor to work with. Let me also say a special thank you and welcome to the business communities of the United States and Korea. For our American friends who are forward-deployed aspects of our business community in particular, thank you for representing our country so well. I also want to thank my long, old friend Tom Hubbard for his service for all that he has done.

And I thought that the presentation from Mark Minton – one is always a little wary of homework assignments – but I thought that was fantastic. And it really was emblematic of the progress that the Society has made in the last couple of years. I must confess that a few years ago I was present at a session in which we discussed the U.S.-Korea relationship – this is only five or six years ago – there was enormous anxiety that the generation that had fostered such strong relations between our two countries, first during the Korean War and then subsequently, was passing from the scene. And there was enormous anxiety and worry whether younger Americans and Koreans would share the same bonds, the same interests in one another. I must tell you before I came yesterday, I had to get my young daughters off the computer, and I found them listening and looking at every aspect of Korean culture. I think as Mark indicated, there is an absolute renaissance of interest in all things Korean in the United States. And I have to say, a few years ago, I think all of us quietly had some anxiety.

Now, there is no relationship that the United States has in the world that we have more confidence in, and more comfort in, than the relationship between the United States and South Korea. In many respects this is represented here today by the promise of Ambassador Sung Kim. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is for me to be able to see him serving here at a time of such importance between our two relationships. And I just want to thank him for his continuing service and his commitment to our two countries.

I want to say a little bit about American policy and about where I think the United States and South Korea can go, but I want to just start with just a quick personal note. We all live incredibly busy lives. I find myself often just rushing from place to place. But occasionally you have those moments – they often are very brief – where you are reminded of something that just sticks with you. So we landed, rushed through the snow from the airport, went, quickly changed. But I had a few moments at the hotel, waiting for our car to come, and I looked to the right. There was a stand of birch trees with the most beautiful snow. And it was a reminder to me of one of the things that I love most about Korea. I love the beauty. I love the sense of calm. I love every aspect in detail, the commitment to those small places. And although we often think about the snow being difficult in terms of traffic, and the challenge of getting around, but I hope you all take a moment as you leave tonight and just observe the serenity and the beauty and the wonder of Seoul and all that the Korean people have managed to build and create (Applause).

Now much in recent months has been made of the so-called pivot of the United States more towards the Asia-Pacific region. And I want to underscore something that Tom Hubbard, Ambassador Hubbard said that I fully agree with. The truth is, the United States has never left Asia. We have been deeply engaged in the region with its countries and peoples, not just for decades, but for hundreds of years. What we are hoping to convey, is that after a period of necessary and intense engagement in the Middle East and South Asia, the United States is returning to a focus, to a recognition that in the twenty-first century, the lion’s share of the history of the world will be written in the Asia-Pacific region. And the United States wants to be a part of that; we want to be an active friend and open engager with all the countries in the Asia-Pacific region. And so what you are seeing in Asia is not simply a momentary surge or a quick policy push that will be quickly replaced by a focus elsewhere. I don’t believe that’s the case. I think what you are witnessing is a fundamental reorientation of American priorities to a place where we all understand that the greatest dynamism, the greatest possibilities lie, in the Asia- Pacific region.

So you have seen over the course of the last few years a determined effort to join the region’s most important international multilateral forum. The President earlier went to the East Asia Summit where for the first time we were invited to join. We are actively participating in the ASEAN Regional Forum. But, in addition to these multilateral engagements, we also recognize that Asia looks to the United States to continue to play a role as an optimistic, engaged trade and economic partner. There are times under these kinds of challenges where Americans might question whether we are able to compete in the same way, but frankly, it was the encouragement of Korean friends and others that caused us to push through with the Korea Free Trade Agreement, with the largest majority supporting this agreement of any trade agreement we have had in almost 50 years. Now this is in many respects, yes, a referendum on a trade agreement, but it is also a representation of how Americans feel about South Korea and about our future together. And I want you to deeply appreciate that commitment, and that sense of friendship and partnership.

Our commitment also is to develop and strengthen all of our security partnerships and alliances, and to develop new relationships with key partners that are simply now just emerging as Asian Pacific nations, like India, like Vietnam, like Indonesia. And of course we recognize in the United States that one of the most important relationships for us to get correct, for us to get right, is our relationship between the United States and China. We recognize quite clearly that every country in Asia wants a better relationship with China, and we support that. And any strategy that the United States implements that does not have that at its core will fail. So we understand that this is not a matter of geo-strategy, it is a matter of geography. And we too want a strong, constructive, deep partnership with China. This is our destiny, it is our commitment. It is a necessity that the United States and China work together in peace; that we compete, but that we compete in ways that bring prosperity and peace to Asia as a whole.

At the top of the list of U.S. commitment to Asia is a recognition for it to be successful, it must be bipartisan. So you will see over the course of the coming months, fairly deep, difficult debates in the United States, issues about domestic policy, certain aspects of our foreign policy. But I think one thing you will not see are deep divisions about U.S. strategy and focus in Asia. There is a deep, bipartisan commitment that the foundations of our engagement, a strong military engagement, key focus on institutions, strong, robust trade and economic engagement. These are the elements of American strategy that will continue into the future.

So what does that mean for the Korea-U.S. relationship going forward? And let me just say a few things in terms of how I see the relationship in the coming months. Now, I have had the privilege to serve in a variety of capacities over the last couple of years. I have seen every high-level diplomatic engagement between the United States and every country in Asia. And I must say, when we celebrated the Summit in October, in Washington, D.C., I have never seen a meeting that was more like a celebration, a celebration of what the United States and South Korea mean to one another, and again, transcending politics.

So our goals for the coming months is to recognize, first and foremost, that the most difficult period in any relationship is actually immediately after a period of enormous accomplishment. There is a tendency to want to sit back, to reflect, to congratulate yourself. That’s impossible in this relationship, and it is impossible in Asia. We must maintain momentum; we must be committed; we must work together on so many different things.

First and foremost is the implementation of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. I must tell you, we together, those of us who pushed for it, who supported it, in the business community, in diplomacy and elsewhere, we raised a lot of expectations. We truly did. And now we must fulfill what we have suggested is possible. So I hope over the course of the next few years we will be able to see the kinds of growth and economic exchanges and engagement between our two countries that we both talked so optimistically about.

Later this year Korea will be hosting a wonderful Expo in Yeosu. And I want to just say how proud the United States is, that we will be sending a very strong Exhibition to support the oceans and shoreline session this summer. We have brought forward Jacques Cousteau’s grandson, Philippe Cousteau, to design our Exhibition. Daniel Dae Kim, a wonderful Korean-American actor, will be one of our key players on the ground representing the United States. And Ambassador Kim will also be representing us. It is our determination to have the most innovative, exciting exhibition that draws Koreans and friends visiting Korea from around the region and the world.

Previous speakers have spoken about the challenge of North Korea. And I just want to say I have much greater confidence about developments in North Korea, because of the partnership with South Korea. Our partnership is so tight, our consultations are so close, that I am confident that whatever happens, we will be able to meet the challenge together. And I share with South Korean friends that there is hope in diplomacy. But I must be very clear that that hope of diplomacy rests on the reality of a very strong deterrence and military commitment and that will be unwavering. And I want to send a very clear message again to South Korean friends that any engagement with North Korea, that if North Korea wants a better relationship with the world, that the first stop is a better relationship with South Korea. It is absolutely essential. And the United States wants to work to support that, to encourage that, and to bring a more fulfilling peace and stability to the Asia-Pacific region.

Lastly, I want to say that the thing that Mark Minton discussed, and that we have seen over the course over the last several years, is the most exciting dimension of our relationship. It is the fact that young people, and cultural exchange has grown by leaps and bounds. And so our relationship is no longer simply about military deterrence or partnership, although that continues to be essential. It is not simply about the economic engagement, although that is going to be important and will lead to an increasingly vigorous commitment between our two countries. Now it extends to every group between our two nations, between young people, people who are interested in the arts, in film, in music. We are truly living through the most wonderful renaissance in our relationship

And I just – one of the reasons I wanted to come this evening. I flew a long way, I actually came from Washington, D.C. – but it was to pay tribute to the work of the Korea Society, what they have done, what they have meant for our relationship these last 55 years. But I just want to say that the work going forward is going to be even more important. And I want to thank all of you for committing to support this most wonderful relationship. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we are involved in diplomacy, because our bonds are so tight, and our friendship is so deep. So I wish you all a wonderful evening of good food, good friendship, companionship with the people in this room this evening. And as you go home this evening, in addition to driving safely, take a moment to reflect on the beauty of this wonderful land and the work that we have been able to do together and that we will do together in the future. Thank you all very much.