CSIS Korean Unification Conference
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
As prepared for Delivery
Thank you for the introduction. Thanks to the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the East Asia Institute for hosting.
The holiday season is a time for hope—a fitting time for a conference on unifying the Korean Peninsula and ending perhaps the worst remaining vestige of the Cold War.
New Korea Team
This fall has been a period of transition for the team at the State Department that helps the President and Secretary of State manage our vital relationship with Korea.
President Obama stopped by Ambassador Lippert’s swearing-in to wish him well. Mark’s off to a great start. And he has already found a magic charm to help him connect with the people of Korea: his now-famous Basset Hound, Grigsby.
Mark’s predecessor, Ambassador Sung Kim, is back in Washington in a new dual-hatted role as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Korea and Japan, and Special Representative for North Korea Policy.
And Syd Seiler has moved from NSC and is now our Special Envoy to the Six-Party Talks. I will not give their biographies in detail because this audience knows them all well. Suffice it to say: We’ve filled the big shoes of Jim Zumwalt and Glyn Davies, and it’s clear that we have our “A-team” on our K-team.
This season is also a time to reflect on the year that’s drawing to a close, and to look forward to the prospects for the New Year. So as you begin your program, I want to share my thoughts on the U.S. relationship with the Republic of Korea, on how we are meeting and will continue to meet regional and global challenges together, and on the future of the Peninsula.
It has been a remarkable year for the U.S.-R.OK. relationship, coming on top of several years in which a close relationship and partnership has grown even closer.
This year, we have strengthened our alliance, increased trade and investment, and worked together more seamlessly than ever on challenges around the world. Looking ahead, 2015 is shaping up to be another significant year.
2014 Bilateral: Overview
Let’s review our accomplishments in 2014.
In January, we concluded a new agreement that provides important resources to sustain the presence of U.S. Forces in Korea for many years to come—more on that in a moment.
In April, President Obama visited the Republic of Korea for an unprecedented fourth time, reaffirming our alliance and global partnership, as well as his close personal ties with President Park.
In October, we updated the framework governing the transfer of operational control of alliance forces during wartime, or “OPCON,” which I’ll explain. We also had a highly productive “two-plus-two” meeting, where Secretaries Kerry and Hagel hosted their counterparts Ministers Yun and Han.
This was only the third meeting of its kind. And, at the same time as the foreign and defense ministers were here, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker was in Seoul with a trade mission.
In November, during President Obama’s second Asia trip of 2014, he again conferred with President Park on the margins of APEC, EAS, and the G20.
And throughout the year, we’ve made progress on implementing the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, KORUS FTA. This helps ensure that our two economies continue to provide the foundation of shared prosperity that strengthens all aspects of the relationship.
Our growing relationship also benefits from the large number of South Korean students studying in the United States, and Americans studying in Korea —that number is up by an eye-popping 300 percent over the last decade!
And last year, South Koreans were the ninth-largest group of visitors to the United States, spending $6 billion.
In the realm of energy security, we are finalizing a successor civil nuclear, or “123” agreement, that reflects the Republic of Korea’s status as a major global nuclear supplier. That agreement also reflects the great importance we both place on non-proliferation, security, and safety.
2014 Bilateral: Major Agreements
Out of all these accomplishments, I particularly want to highlight the two that further modernize the inner workings of our alliance. The first is OPCON transfer, which is important to South Koreans, and to us as well.
The new framework puts us on a path to transfer OPCON that takes into account the critical defense capabilities needed, and the evolving security situation in the region.
The second way we modernized the alliance is through a new Special Measures Agreement, or SMA, which ensures the continued R.O.K. resources our troops need to “fight tonight.”
These agreements aren’t flashy, but they are important. Because more than six decades after the Armistice along the 38th parallel, the North Korean threat still remains.
Even as we hope and plan and prepare for a brighter, more peaceful, united future for the Korean peninsula, we must still guard against the perils of the present.
These perils include North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. They include the risk of conventional and cyber-attacks. But they also include natural disasters, which are becoming more frequent and costly. And they encompass threats from ISIL, from Ebola, and climate change —global challenges that affect us all.
The U.S.-R.O.K. alliance is evolving to meet these challenges and more, while safeguarding and promoting South Korea’s emergence on the global stage. That requires modern bases, stable funding, and continued development of the R.O.K.’s critical military capabilities that the SMA and OPCON agreements help to provide.
2014 Global: Overview
Beyond the bilateral relationship, it has been a dramatic year for the R.O.K.’s relations with the world, and our global work together. To recap: In March in Dresden, President Park Geun-hye laid out a comprehensive vision for peaceful reunification.
In July, Chinese President Xi Jinping became the first PRC president to visit Seoul before visiting Pyongyang—or even meeting the North Korean leader. The significance of this is clear to all of you. I would add that the importance of the visit was augmented by the strong and solid policy statement that President Park made during that visit.
As the year went on and dangers of Ebola and ISIL heated up, South Korea stepped forward. It contributed funding to each of these fights, and is preparing to send a group of health workers into the Ebola hot zone this month.
In October, the R.O.K. hosted the Conference of the International Telecommunication Union, which produced the Busan Consensus.
And it was South Korea’s first year hosting the secretariat of the new U.N. Green Climate Fund. The R.O.K. has pledged $100 million to the fund, and as President Obama’s recent pledge of $3 billion to the Fund shows, the U.S. places immense importance on this global initiative.
The R.O.K. is also wrapping up a very active two-year stint on the Security Council. This is remarkable when you take a moment to think about it. Twenty-five years ago, South Korea wasn’t even a full member of the U.N. But a certain diplomat named Yun Byung-se was determined to change that.
And I had the privilege of working with him in 1990 on a strategy that got Russia and China to go along with making both Koreas full members of the U.N. That also led directly to the normalization of bilateral relations between Seoul and Moscow, as well as Beijing.
Now, less than a quarter-century later, a South Korean is Secretary-General and the country is on the Security Council. In the past two years, Korea’s diplomats led discussions at the Security Council on pressing topics, such as how to protect civilians in armed conflict, and how to counter the proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons.
2014 D.P.R.K. Nuclear
Of course, no country today lives closer to the threat of nuclear weapons than the R.O.K. Let me briefly mention what we’ve done about North Korea in 2014, both in our efforts to curb the threat from the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, but also on our work regarding human rights.
On the nuclear issue, I already mentioned the military pillar of our strategy, and how we’re modernizing the alliance. The other two pillars are economic and diplomatic.
That means that we’ve strongly supported new Security Council sanctions and increased enforcement to block proliferation and stem illicit activities that fund or support North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. At the same time, we are working with our partners to show North Korea’s leadership that a diplomatic path is open to them.
We have gone the extra mile to reach out to North Korea’s government and encourage it to engage in an authentic and credible negotiating process.
But for negotiations to have any chance of success, there are conditions that we expect North Korea to meet, in line with the commitments the North Koreans undertook in the September 2005 Joint Statement.
The bottom line: North Korea can never achieve the security and prosperity it desires while it pursues nuclear weapons. The concept of “byungjin” – the notion that North Korea can develop its economy while continuing to develop nuclear and missile capabilities – is not a policy, it’s a pipe dream.
North Korea can’t have its cake and eat it too. Our strategy raises the cost of continued defiance and ultimately leaves the D.P.R.K. no viable alternative but to honor its commitments and come into compliance with its international obligations—first and foremost—with its obligation to irreversibly and verifiably denuclearize.
2014 D.P.R.K. Human Rights
At the same time, the U.S. and R.O.K. worked with our partners on behalf of the North Korean people, to shine a bright light on the North’s human rights horrors, and to highlight the responsibility of the country’s leaders.
In February, the landmark Commission of Inquiry report laid out these violations in devastating detail.
In September, Foreign Minister Yun and Secretary Kerry joined High Commissioner Zeid and Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida in a multilateral, high-level event on North Korean human rights—the first such event to take place at the UN General Assembly.
After that, the UN’s third committee passed a resolution encouraging the Security Council to consider referring the D.P.R.K. to the International Criminal Court, based on the facts documented in the Commission of Inquiry Report.
The full General Assembly is likely to pass this resolution as well.
North Korea is starting to feel the heat. Their statements pushing back on this pressure have increased to near-daily blasts in the past few months.
This year, they even felt the need to send their Foreign Minister to the General Assembly in New York for the first time in 15 years, as part of an apparent charm offensive around the world.
So clearly, our bilateral and multilateral solidarity forms the basis on which our security is protected, our values are advanced, and – ultimately – the Korean Peninsula can be peacefully reunified.
But it’s also important to note that U.S.-South Korea cooperation, and the R.O.K.’s global role, go way beyond dealing with the North.
Secretary Kerry said it simply in October, “The Republic of Korea has emerged as a key global player dedicated, as the United States is, to universal values like human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.”
South Korea, along with Japan, Australia, and others, is a key partner in the regional institutions that help apply these values and make them real.
We see the emergence of Global Korea in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ “ASEAN plus three” group, and in APEC and the G20. In just a few hours, the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Summit will open in Busan, celebrating 25 years of relations.
And as leaders from every part of society across the region discuss and develop a vision of the Asia-Pacific’s future, President Park’s Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative, and the concept of trustpolitik, offer important contributions.
The achievements of the year that’s drawing to a close give us a springboard into the year ahead. And there are also some opportunities and challenges unique to 2015. Let me mention three: climate, health, and water.
With the Paris meetings coming up, 2015 should be a big year for the greatest challenges we face as a planet: climate change. South Korea, as host of the Green Climate Fund, can do a lot.
In light of Ebola, 2015 will be a big year for health security. South Korea will be an important player as host of the high-level Global Health Security Agenda meeting.
And as we face water challenges from the Mekong, to the Maldives, to the Middle East, South Korea is hosting the triennial World Water Forum, a hugely important gathering of tens of thousands of water policymakers and practitioners.
And next year will be unique for a fourth reason: history. It is my fervent hope that 2015 will be the year when historical anniversaries are a milestone, not a millstone.
We will, as you know, mark the 70th anniversary of Korean Independence and Korean division at the end of World War II. This coincides with the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Korea and Japan.
As two democracies, free market economies, and two critical allies of the U.S., it’s difficult to overstate the importance we place on good relations between the Republic of Korea and Japan.
I am hopeful that we will see progress on sensitive issues, and important legacy issues, and an enduring improvement in overall relations in 2015. Fostering that improvement is a priority for the United States.
Now, I’ve spoken at length about the vitality of the alliance and the extensive, global partnership we enjoy, because these provide the context to thinking and planning for Korean unification.
The most problematic legacy of World War II – the great divide – is the separation of North and South Korea, the focus of your conference today. As President Obama said in Seoul in 2012, “The currents of history cannot be held back forever. The deep longing for freedom and dignity will not go away.” The day will come when “the Korean People, at long last, will be whole and free.”
In the meantime, we support President Park’s policy on unification. She has extended an open hand to the North, and proposed a step-by-step trust-building process. She has appropriately balanced principle and pragmatism.
She has painted a vivid picture of the benefits the North Korean people could reap from steps toward reconciliation and denuclearization; as well as the benefits that reunification would bring to South Korea and the region.
And the United States firmly supports this vision. We will never accept a permanent division of the Korean Peninsula.
So the U.S. and the R.O.K. will continue to do everything we need to do – to keep the peace on the Peninsula through deterrence and a strong allied defense. We will continue to maintain stability in the region to promote universal values and human rights, and to build broad-based and sustainable economic growth. All of these steps will help prepare for unification.
Let me end simply by thanking you for your efforts here today. You help prepare U.S., R.O.K., and all friends of the Korean People, for a day that we all hope will come soon.