Remarks at American Chamber of Commerce Event

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Grand Hyatt Hotel
Seoul, South Korea
April 12, 2013

SECRETARY KERRY: Wow. Thank you very much. I had no idea I was coming to talk to this many people assembled so formally, and I understand you have eaten; is that correct?


SECRETARY KERRY: Thank God. (Laughter.) There’s nothing that would be worse. I was – I thought I had more power than I’ve ever had as Secretary of State being all that stood between you and your meal, and now you took that away from me too. (Laughter.)

Anyway, Pat, thank you so much. Thanks for the introduction. Thank you all for your patience. It’s really wonderful to be with you, and I’m happy to have a chance to share a few thoughts. I just came from a press conference with Foreign Minister Yun, and we had a meeting, a very good meeting with President Park before that. And I am confident that she is going to have just a terrific trip to Washington and a great meeting with President Obama in a very short period of time when she goes.

So for me, it’s a pleasure to be here. I’ve been involved in Asia and events in Asia for a long period of time. When I first came to the United States Senate in 1985, elected in ’84, one of the first places I became involved in was in the Philippines with Ferdinand Marcos and began to change our policy there, and President Reagan appointed me to go be an observer to the elections, which I did, and I observed some rather massive irregularities which we were able to publicize in the sacricity of the cathedral in downtown Manila with such effect, as 13 women walked out of the poll counting and exposed what was happening as phony numbers were being put into the computers, that it literally brought down Marcos. We went home and reported to Reagan, and within months, he was gone and Cory Aquino was sent into power, and now President Aquino, her son is there and democracy is flourishing.

Also became involved in Laos, Cambodia, Burma – then-Burma, Myanmar – and Vietnam. And I led the effort over 10 years to lift the embargo of Vietnam, and ultimately, to make peace with it, which we did. And so that is a matter of history now, as Vietnam has sort of joined the marketplace and become a voracious, capitalist economy even as it maintains its one-party authoritarian status. I also negotiated the effort to get the accountability tribunals in place for the United Nations and Cambodia, and we ultimately have been able to have the first trials of the Khmer Rouge in a process of accountability that sends a signal about law and order and structure to everybody.

And I have traveled through much of the rest of the region, but low and behold, astonishingly, not the Republic of Korea. And I see a couple of people shaking their heads and – how could that be? Well, frankly, it was because there wasn’t a big enough problem to solve here – (laughter) – until now. Things were moving very, very smoothly and very strongly, but I’ve had a wonderful relationship with the various ambassadors, including distinguished Ambassador Han, who is here tonight and who worked so hard to get this achieved. And I have been a consistent, strong advocate of trade, free trade. I voted for every single trade agreement as a senator over the course of those years, even though, as you know, in our party, there was a fairly strong propulsion in the opposite direction. I still believe it was the right thing to do, just as I believe this agreement’s the right thing to do.

But tonight, you gather here at a moment to really celebrate – and I heard Pat say it at the introduction – several milestones, a number of milestones. And they’re not inconsequential by any means whatsoever. Sixty years of the demarcation of the armistice also is the demarcation of the bilateral defense agreement which has helped to make us such close partners, as well as 60 years of AmCham. So it’s not often you get a triple-header or a home run like that, and it’s a pleasure for me to be able to be part of it, and I guess you could say it is a grand slam, because it’s the first anniversary of KORUS.

So you’ve got a lot of things that are happening at the same time, and I just want to first of all begin by saying thank you to all of you, many of you who are the people who made this happen. We voted yes, but we felt the compulsion to do so because you had built a case, and because you had methodically, systematically taken away some of the stereotypes that get in the way of this kind of an agreement and scare people. And the fear was eliminated sufficiently that we were able to achieve our goals. So I really think that’s a great accomplishment, and everybody who was part of that – AmCham Korea, the Korean KORUS FTA Business Coalition, and Chairman Han, who traveled, I’m told, almost every single day somewhere in America to every corner of America to explain this while he was posted as the Ambassador to Washington – it’s really a great accomplishment by all of you, and I thank you for doing that.

When we finally approved the FTA in October of 2011, President Obama said at that time that he wanted to see Fords and Chevys and Chryslers on the streets of Seoul. And I might add that that was a year before election year, so you can excuse it in an election year, but then it was policy. And I’m proud to tell you that in just one year, U.S. automotive exports are up 48 percent.

So this is working. We’ve seen triple-digit growth in some of our agriculture exports – fresh fruits, nuts, juices, and it is a heck of a lot easier these days for an American to buy kimchi in their local markets than it was previously.

The bottom line is, as every one of you understands, this isn’t just a notch on the trade belt. It’s a real difference to people, to people here and people in the United States. And the difference is good jobs on both sides of the Pacific, some 17,000 jobs at GM Korea, 4,000 jobs at Costco, another 4,000 at ADT. And everybody here understands that those jobs are the difference today between societies that start to come apart or societies that have hope, that are building a future for their people.

I am confident that a lot more is yet to come. I really am. And listening to President Park this evening, I have to tell you it’s really refreshing to sit with a president of a country who’s not just talking to minimal – minimalist about certain kinds of issues. She got elected – sure, close. Show me an election in the world today that isn’t usually close. But she got elected, and she got elected because she was expressing a vision for the future which includes the audacious notion that you could each actually contemplate peace on the Korean peninsula, probably more audacious in the last couple weeks than at any other time, but nevertheless a vision worth investing in and worth fighting for.

That’s why we are so powerfully committed to this notion of denuclearization. We’re not asking for one country to be inferior or less capable of defending itself or not capable of projecting its interests in the world. We’re simply saying the world does not need more nuclear countries and nuclear weapons. And the United States is not alone in working towards that goal. We’re not hypocritical about this. When Gorbachev and Reagan sat down, we have 50,000 warheads deployed. Now we’re getting down to 1,550 and we want to go lower.

The path to less nuclear threat and to less nuclear material and less potential for nuclear terror does not pass through countries that today decide to nuclearize, and that includes North Korea and that includes Iran. It is patently clear that if one country unilaterally moves into the nuclear status today, it will force other countries to do the same because of the action/reaction nature of deterrence and threat perception and the realities of populations driving their countries and putting them into nuclear corners that we don’t want them in.

So this is not a small principle that we’re arguing about. And tomorrow I will go to China and meet with Chinese leaders. There is no group of leaders on the face of the planet who have more capacity to make a difference in this than the Chinese, and everybody knows it, including, I believe, them. I know they take it seriously; I know they want to see us try to reach an amicable resolution to this. But you have to begin with a reality, and the reality is that if your policy is denuclearization – and it is theirs as it is ours as it is everybody’s except the North’s at this moment – if that’s your policy, you’ve got to put some teeth into it. You’ve got to try to be successful in achieving it. And in this case, it is profoundly important to the security of this region, the economic future, as well as the social values-based future of people here.

So we’re going to continue to stand our ground. We are prepared, as we have said, and the President – if there’s one phrase that sticks out in me that the President has used with me a number of times, beginning with when I was talking to him about this job and taking it on and I wanted to be certain that I wasn’t misrepresenting him anywhere in the world about his position with respect to Iran or elsewhere, he said to me very simply, “I don’t bluff.” And I think that those who have seen him execute on his promise that if he had actionable information he would do what he needed to do with it, even if it meant crossing another country’s border and taking action, we saw with respect to Usama bin Ladin that the President doesn’t bluff.

So we’re going to continue to try to press for a peaceful resolution here, but the most important thing that we want to do is continue – the important message that I want to share with you tonight at this celebration is that I can’t think of a moment in 60 years where the relationship between the United States and the Republic of Korea has been stronger than it is today. We have great clarity about our goals, and the Republic of Korea has stepped up in significant and important ways way beyond its interests with respect to this peninsula or this region. Korea is helping us with Syria, helping with humanitarian assistance. Korea is helping with respect to Iran and the enforcement of sanctions by making tough choices itself about sources of fuel and oil and consumption. Korea is helping us with respect to the United Nations, where they have played a critical role as a member of the Security Council, and now, because of their significant contributions and capacity, a re-elected member of the Security Council.

So I think as all of you sit here and think about the future, you should be pretty bullish. The United States is going to remain focused. A lot of words have been used to describe the sort of attention being given to Asia. None of them, I think, capture properly what is simply an appropriate focus, because this is an enormously important part of the world with the incredibly vital and energized economies with enormous technological and creative capacity, all of which can help us to deal with developmental problems and with large populations in lots of countries that have yet to share in the possibilities of the future. So there’s a huge amount of growth potential, and to realize that potential we need to focus on the need for stability in the region, for viable choices centered around rule of law and understandable rules of the game, rules of the road in business and otherwise.

To that end, we want to encourage people to continue to work at making sure that all of the KORUS commitments are realized, that the playing field issues that remain are being adequately addressed, and that the full economic and strategic benefits of this agreement are fully shared in the days ahead. We are eager in the United States to compete for new markets and we’re eager to collaborate on new ideas, especially in this region. And we want to do as much business as we can in the Asia Pacific region, and we want others to do as much business with us and with the rest of the world, because there is no more stabilizing force than benefits that flow to populations where they can see their quality of life rising, their opportunities growing, and their choices in life getting better than they are today.

AmCham is contributing to that in so many different ways, and I thank you for the privilege of coming here tonight to celebrate 60 years of really positive engagement and set of initiatives that are living up to the fullest of the best dreams we could have had 60 years ago when this great experiment was undertaken. I can think of many stories in the world – Japan, Korea, a few others, Germany, Western Europe – where out of the ashes of war, out of the divisions of sectarianism, of horrendous ideological excess, have come remarkable stories of re-emergence and resurgence and rebirth for whole peoples that stand as a really glowing example to the world of what can happen if you make the right choices.

And all you have to do is look to the north of the 38th parallel to see a people who are still in bondage, to see a people who are relegated to gulags, where they engage in slave labor, where people are being starved because of the narrow ambitions of a small regime in power that exercises that power in a totally contrarian way to what we have witnessed and celebrate here and in these other places that I’ve talked about. It’s really a stark contrast, and I have absolute confidence that given a choice, there isn’t anybody in the world who wouldn’t opt to be part of this story and not the other. Thank you all very much for the privilege of being with you.

PRN: 2013/T03-08