Remarks at "Korea Going Forward" Conference

Daniel R. Russel
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Washington, DC
June 3, 2015

As prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Victor. It’s good to be back at CSIS. I appreciate today’s title, “Korea Going Forward,” because it describes the future-oriented nature of our relationship, and of the upcoming visit by President Park in particular.

Let me thank Ambassador Ahn for his opening remarks. I’m proud of work we’ve done together to strengthen U.S.-Korea ties, and are doing now to prepare for Park visit.

As you know, I’m subbing for my very good friend Tony—Deputy Secretary Blinken—who went to Europe to substitute for Secretary Kerry… who I’m still very sure could out-bike me, even though he has withdrawn from this year’s Tour de France. All kidding aside, he’s doing well and appreciates all the good wishes for a speedy recovery.

I’m really honored to address this group. You have many of my mentors - a roster of the world’s finest Asia & Korea thinkers and strategists. Rich Armitage, Bob Gallucci, Steve Bosworth, Tom Hubbard, and my predecessors Kurt Campbell & Chris Hill. I’m pleased to see Amb’s Choi Young-jin and Chun Yung-woo —it feels like we’re inaugurating a diplomat’s hall of fame. It speaks to the global importance of South Korea, and of our two countries’ work together… and the long arm of Victor Cha.

Simply put, the progress in our alliance is dramatic. I just met in New York with some American and Korean business leaders and academics – I meet regularly with Korean politicians and diplomats– there is a widespread recognition of the strength of our relationship and its truly remarkable evolution – from an alliance focused primarily on Peninsula security…to an increasingly comprehensive global partnership.

And as we welcome President Park to Washington in two weeks, we are doing two things. We’re taking stock of our rock solid alliance – an alliance that is stronger than ever, and we are charting out new frontiers for US-Korean cooperation around the globe.

We see the strength of our alliance in the 28,500 U.S. troops on the Peninsula, training together and standing ready to defend the Republic of Korea alongside Korean forces.

We see the strength of our economic partnership in the sales of everything from Florida orange juice and Ford Tauruses in Seoul, to the billions invested by Korean companies like Samsung and Doosan here in the United States.

We see the strength of our partnership in the close coordination between our leaders: President Obama and President Park are in regular touch; Foreign Minister Yun and Secretary Kerry had a working dinner and an extended meeting in Seoul just a week ago; and our of course, our diplomats work side-by-side on an ongoing basis.

But even as we celebrate the strength of our alliance, we are building on our success. We have new frontiers of cooperation to explore.

And I’d like your help.

Your discussions here today will examine our shared future, so I’d value your insights in some key areas that will define the future of our relationship:

  • Addressing shared global challenges;
  • advancing our shared prosperity;
  • maintaining our shared security;
  • advancing the regional architecture on which we all depend;
  • and nurturing the ties between our people in all disciplines.

Global Challenges with Local Impacts

In the face of global challenges with local impacts, the U.S. and South Korea have stepped up cooperation.

American and Korean doctors and nurses went to treat patients suffering from the ravages of Ebola in West Africa – a humanitarian deployment unprecedented in Korea’s history.

The U.S. and Korea have supported international efforts to counter violent extremism, and Korea has contributed to humanitarian assistance in Iraq and Syria.

On the U.N. Security Council from 2012-2014, Korea helped bring attention to issues of global significance, from North Korean human rights to the impact of conflict on women and children.

As a leader, President Park has maintained an ambitious schedule of global diplomacy – her visit to Washington this month will come after major trips to Latin America and the Middle East this year.

But let me take a step back. You’re here because we’re at an important juncture right now—what in business school they might call a “good to great moment.” Our relationship is very good right now.

And I’m confident we can keep it “good.”

But the scope and potential of the US-Korean relationship means we can do more. President Park’s upcoming summit – following on the heels of President Obama’s dramatic visit to Seoul last April – shows that we are pushing forward to new frontiers.

I’d like to hear from you on how we get from good to “great.”

For example, what more can we do on climate change? South Korea is playing an important leadership role as host of the global Green Climate Fund, to which the U.S. has pledged $3 billion. As the international community works toward a new climate change regime in Paris this December, Korea can join the United States in making an ambitious and concrete pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What’s next?

On cyber security, South Korea is a leading digital innovator, a hub of our connected planet, and simultaneously a country that fully understands the threat of malicious cyber actors. Recognizing this, Secretary Kerry delivered a major policy address last month in Seoul on what we can do together to ensure a secure, open, reliable, and free cyber space.

Over the last few years, the United States and Korea have deepened our cooperation on cyber security in a number of ways. I’m interested in your thoughts on how we can do even more together.

Take developing and transitioning states. We know that the world needs us, whether it’s helping with child and maternal health in Africa, or helping countries in Asia transition to democracy.

We have to lead, not just with money, but with a commitment to universal values—by standing up for what we believe, even when that’s hard; and by sending our young people into the world to teach and to help others, even when there’s risk. How can we help to repair the world?

Shared Prosperity

All of you know that our ability to address these global challenges depends on the strength of our economies. We have to invest in our shared prosperity. That’s why we worked so hard to build a high-standard free trade agreement, the KORUS FTA. Under the agreement, Korea has become the United States’ sixth-largest trading partner. We’re still working closely together to fully implement KORUS so that we can maximize the benefits for both sides. And on the U.S. side, we welcome the RoK’s interest in TPP, which will advance our shared prosperity even more.

We’ve concluded negotiations on a civil nuclear “123 agreement” with Korea. This agreement is a milestone; it reflects Korea’s emergence as a global leader in civil nuclear energy; and it reaffirms our strong and growing counter-proliferation partnership.

Our pursuit of shared prosperity is and will continue to be a critical component of the U.S.-ROK relationship. There’s a lot of wisdom in this room, and I’d welcome your input on how we can advance broad-based, sustainable growth that lifts up workers and small businesses in both our countries.

Shared Security

Of course, our shared prosperity rests on a foundation of shared security, which brings me to the third area where we seek your advice. North Korea. We have to apply the right mix of deterrence, pressure, and diplomacy in dealing with DPRK. Let me speak to all three…

To maintain deterrence, we are modernizing our security alliance: Last October, we updated the framework governing the transfer of wartime operational control of alliance forces. And U.S. soldiers in Korea stand ready to “fight tonight” alongside Korean forces thanks to the Special Measures Agreement which we also updated in 2014.

To maintain pressure, we have enacted and enforced some of the toughest sanctions in history on the North. We have maintained remarkable unity among the five parties in Six-Party Talks, including Russia and China.

We’ve enlisted greater Chinese cooperation, and Beijing has been constructive in pressuring the North on the nuclear issue, although we all recognize that China can and should do more.

And we have mobilized the international community to highlight the North’s human rights abuses through U.N. resolutions, the landmark Commission of Inquiry, and next through the opening of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights field office in Seoul.

Let me be clear – the goal of pressure isn’t punishment. It’s to bring North Korea’s leadership to the realization that that their hope of getting the world to accept them as a nuclear power and also provide economic assistance isn’t working… that it won’t work. The goal is to get them to accept that they have no viable alternative to a negotiated end to their nuclear and missile programs. Through diplomacy.

Now, many of the people in this room know exactly what it looks and feels like when North Korea is looking to make a deal – and that is simply not the case now.

So we are working to square firmness with our openness to dialogue. But these can’t be phony talks – the North has to accept real negotiations.

Both the U.S. and the ROK have gone the extra mile to reach out, to probe the North’s willingness to engage. But for negotiations to have any chance of success, North Korea must at least demonstrate a willingness to honor its denuclearization obligations and commitments, including those it undertook with Chris Hill in the September 2005 Six-Party Talks Joint Statement.

So I ask you: What more can we do to strengthen our alliance in an increasingly challenging security environment? How can we bring Kim Jong-un to realize his “byungjin” strategy simply will not work; that to survive, he must do what he doesn’t want to do: negotiate a freeze, rollback, and ultimately an end to his nuclear and ballistic missile programs?

Multilateral Institutions and Cooperation

The Six-Party talks are one important example of regional cooperation. We have to strengthen other institutions that advance our shared interests in order to build a more cooperative, integrated region.

The U.S. and the RoK are each contributing to the work of multilateral institutions in the region. We are both active partners in the East Asia Summit, APEC, and the ASEAN Regional Forum. Each of these mechanisms has made important contributions, but we have a long way to go. The United States and Korea can do more together to strengthen these institutions.

Now, our common values guide our approaches to key regional challenges. And institutions create a platform for dealing with them: for defending fairness among nations; for defending universal rights and international law. Institutions support work to resolve disputes peacefully. That’s as important to the factory worker as it is to the business manager, or the political leader, or the sailor patrolling in the South China Sea.

At the same time as we work to build up regional institutions, we also support a flexible geometry of trilateral and other multilateral groupings that can come together around specific issues. We don’t want to be excluded, but not everything needs to be built around the U.S. We welcome the increased pace of China-Korea-Japan cooperation in 2015, thanks in large part to Korea's efforts.

The U.S. and the RoK can do a lot together with China. President Xi’s visit to Seoul last year, without first visiting Pyongyang, or even meeting Kim Jong-un, was about as clear a signal as I can imagine as to how China sees the future of the Peninsula. And well beyond the Six-Party talks, there’s a lot we can do together on energy, on disease, on disaster relief, and on trade.

Last year, President Obama hosted a U.S.-Korea-Japan trilateral Summit. Ash Carter met with his counterparts a few days ago in Singapore. Secretary Kerry regularly hosts a trilat Foreign Ministerial. And just over a month ago, Tony Blinken invited the two Vice Foreign Ministers to Washington. Each of these meetings highlights how much our three countries have in common, and the importance we place on these relationships.

Our three countries can work together­ not only on regional issues such as maritime security or the DPRK threat, but on a wide range of global priorities.

Our Shared Future: People to People Ties

Most of the topics I spoke about today are long-term challenges. We know that, despite our best efforts, many of them will remain after we are gone. That’s why we need to nurture the future of our relationship.

Korean universities partner with over 130 U.S. universities, and American students benefit from studying in Korea. We bring back an appreciation for each other’s culture and language—even if only a select percentage of Americans learn to love kimchi. And even if Koreans leave still thinking that the Korea University-Yonsei rivalry is more important than Yankees-Red Sox.

But in a globalized world, students can study where they want. And that’s all to the good. But it means we have to be even more creative in encouraging Americans to study in Korea, and vice versa.

The bonds formed by our citizens, especially young people, are not just key to the future of our relationship—they are the future of our relationship.

So the last area where I’ll ask your help is in strengthening the bonds of affinity that link the people of Korea and the United States. Help us ensure they stay as strong for another seventy years.

Thank you.