Remarks at Swearing-In Ceremony for U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of the Philippines Sung Kim

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Ben Franklin Room
Washington, DC
November 3, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, mabuhay.

AUDIENCE: Mabuhay.

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m happy really happy to welcome everybody. What a crowd. This is amazing. Are you running for office? (Laughter.)


SECRETARY KERRY: Next job. (Laughter.) Obviously, one of our most popular diplomats, and impressive. I am really delighted that so many of you could come and join us. I want to welcome especially the Deputy Secretary Tony Blinken, who is here somewhere, and our counselor, Kristie Kenney, distinguished diplomatic corps – especially pleased to see their excellencies, the ambassadors who are here, including Charge Chuasoto, who so ably represents Manila here in the United States. And it is a pleasure also to welcome Congressman Manzullo. Where is Congressman Manzullo? Somewhere here. But anyway, we’re delighted to have everybody here. Thank you.

Sung is, as everybody knows – I mean, I could have all of you come – I mean, this would take all day if you were all coming up here to speak to the many, many assets and attributes of this distinguished diplomat. And he has, as everybody here knows, tackled some really tough, complex challenges over a period of time. He has even done battle with radioactive nuclear material. When he was our special envoy to the Six-Party Talks, he conducted a very thorough and careful inspection of the North Korean nuclear facility, only to find afterwards that his footwear had become contaminated. And his biggest regret was not that he was exposed to anything; it was that he had only one pair of Ferragamos to give for his country. (Laughter.)

We’ve already been introduced to Sung’s family, but I want to add my own welcome to his wife, Jae, who is here on the podium, their elder daughter, Erin, who is over here, and Erin’s sister Erica is already in the Philippines on a school trip. And here at the State Department, we call that good advance work, folks. (Laughter.)

Our focus today is obviously on the future, but it’s really worth taking a moment to recall some history. Seventy-five years ago next month, only 10 hours after the air raid on Pearl Harbor, the Philippine Islands were invaded and soon occupied. And what followed over the next three and a half years was an immense human tragedy, but also a story of remarkable courage and the forging of an indelible alliance between the American and the Filipino peoples.

In the face of massive repression, Filipinos created a resistance movement of more than 270 guerilla units and a quarter million fighters. And in late 1942, they were able to establish contact with U.S. forces in Australia and provide information on enemy movements while being secretly supplied with guns, radios, and other much-needed items by American submarines. Intelligence supplied by that resistance actually helped General MacArthur to avoid a trap and opened up the way for allied landings on Leyte and Mindoro Islands.

The liberation of the Philippines was – and many people don’t realize this – the bloodiest campaign of the entire Pacific war. And it was won through the heroism of Filipino and American warriors alike.

Now these were the events that brought about an independent Philippines and the United States coming together, creating the foundation for generations of people-to-people contacts. And that has made us close friends and close allies ever since.

Last July, I had the pleasure of visiting the Philippines, where I met with President Duterte and with Foreign Secretary Yasay. And I will repeat now what I said then: That the United States continues to place a high value on the close ties that exist between our countries. We continue to recognize our ironclad commitment to the sovereignty, independence, and security of the Philippines. And we will continue to cooperate in efforts to maintain peace and stability, and to promote shared prosperity in the Asia Pacific region.

We will continue to assist the Filipino people in the event of natural emergencies. I was personally there right after Typhoon Haiyan, when we delivered enormously important help and assistance. And we will continue to consult openly and honestly on issues of impact to both of our countries. And I very much hope to visit there before leaving my term of office as Secretary of State.

Today, nearly a quarter of a million Americans live in the Philippines, and roughly four million Filipinos live in the United States, including nearly 30,000 on active duty in our military, further binding our two nations through cultural and familial ties. And for these reasons and more, I am confident about the future of our bilateral relationship, notwithstanding a difference here or there about one thing or another. I am absolutely confident about the ties between our peoples and the affinity for our values and our hopes. Democratic elections bring change, and we must all have the wisdom to recognize and to adjust to that change. But the logic of our alliance, of why we have stood together for so long, of how deeply there are bonds of friendship and family between our people – those are as compelling today as they have ever been.

And I am confident because in Sung Kim we will have one of our finest diplomats representing us in Manila, a worthy successor to Ambassador Goldberg and a person known both for his talent and his style. I first met Sung when he came before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to be confirmed as our special envoy to the Six-Party Talks and later as chief of mission in Seoul. Both times, the committee backed him. And both times, he fully justified our support.

As our special envoy, he traveled to North Korea 12 times to reaffirm America’s commitment to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and to show our willingness to try to explore every single avenue to try to achieve that. As ambassador to South Korea, he led in the modernizing our alliance and in reiterating our security pledges in the face of North Korean threats. He even made time every single month to volunteer at a local orphanage, bringing his daughter along to help, and then taking everyone to dinner.

Over the years, Sung has won just about every honor that the State Department gives, and many of them he has won more than once. He has earned a reputation for sound judgment, for hard work, for great intelligence, and for deep humility. And the humility part is particularly impressive folks, given that he has also been called the George Clooney of the Foreign Service. (Laughter and applause.)

At the risk of giving him a swelled head – (laughter) – I will add that no one is better at getting to the heart of an issue or establishing commonsense priorities. And no one, frankly, has steadier nerves when faced with a difficult situation. It has even been said of him: I don’t know how he does it; he goes into difficult meeting after difficult meeting, looking as if he had just gotten out of the lotus position. (Laughter.) Not only that, in his earlier life Sung Kim was a public prosecutor. And speaking as a former prosecutor myself, I can tell you that’s great training. (Laughter.)

The bottom line is – and this is the bottom line – there is no one better qualified than Sung Kim to represent the United States of America and to be our ambassador to the Philippines at this point in time. And I very much look forward to his taking up that post as soon as possible.

So Ambassador Kim, you will travel to Manila with the full backing of the President of the United States, with the gratitude and affection and support of every member of the State Department. And I very much look forward now to making this official. So if you would come over here. (Applause.)

(The oath was administered.)

SECRETARY KERRY: So ladies and gentlemen, our Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR KIM: Thank you very much. Maybe I will run for office. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: All right. That’s it. You’re finished. (Laughter.) No judgment. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR KIM: Mr. Secretary, it is such a great honor and privilege to stand here with you this morning. I’m deeply grateful to you and President Obama for this amazing opportunity to serve our country. Charge Chuasoto and friends from the Embassy of the Philippines and the greater Filipino American community, mabuhay, and thank you very much for joining us.

AUDIENCE: Mabuhay.

AMBASSADOR KIM: Mabuhay. (Laughter.) I need to pronounce that better. Sorry. (Laughter.) A special thanks also to my friends from Korean and Japanese communities for being here, and a warm and grateful welcome to all of my bosses and colleagues from the State Department and beyond, Deputy Secretary Blinken, Counselor Kenney, Assistant Secretary Russel. I’m especially grateful that all of my friends from the East Asian Affairs Bureau have joined us this morning. That has been my home for the past 28 years.

I’m deeply honored to be following so many distinguished diplomats who preceded me in the Philippines, including Ambassadors Negroponte, Armacost, Bosworth, Hubbard, and of course, our brilliant counselor, Ambassador Kenny, and my immediate predecessor and friend, Phil Goldberg.

Most importantly, I want to thank my family. My father passed away long before he could enjoy my work as ambassador, but he is the person most responsible for where I am today. My mother and siblings have always been my strongest supporters, and of course my wife, Jae, and our daughters, Erin and Erica, have always been there for me. They are the best, and I could not thank them enough. (Applause.)

When I first arrived in the United States at age 13, I of course had no idea – frankly, I could not even dare dream that someday I would have the opportunity to represent our country as ambassador. The fact that I stand before you today is a result of generous support and guidance from all of you. It is also reflection of the greatness of this country. I really could not be more proud.

As the Secretary mentioned, I had the privilege of serving as the first Korean American U.S. ambassador to Korea. It was obviously deeply moving and meaningful to return to my country of birth and to one of our strongest allies. And now I’m thrilled to have the honor of representing our country in the Philippines, our oldest ally in Asia and one of our most special friends anywhere. The U.S. and the Philippines are and will continue to be close friends, partners, and allies.

When President Obama visited the Philippines in 2014, he talked about the spirit, the kalooban, that defines the extraordinary warmth, vitality, and strength of our relationship. That spirit is embodied in deep people-to-people ties between our two countries. There are 4 million Filipino Americans in the United States. Generous and committed to family and tradition, Filipino Americans give back to their communities both here in the United States and in the Philippines. And together with the many Americans residing in and visiting the Philippines, they help build bonds that unite and strengthen both our countries.

I have to say as a longtime basketball fan, I’m particularly excited about our two people’s shared love for the most exciting game in sports. This year, as we mark the 70th anniversary of formal U.S.-Philippines relations, we celebrate and reaffirm our common history of shared sacrifice, values, and interests, and of course, an ironclad mutual defense treaty.

For many years, the United States has been among the Philippines’ top trading partners and its larger foreign investor. I very much look forward to continuing our robust economic engagement and to reinforcing the good work USAID and the Millennium Challenge Corporation have done to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

So, ladies and gentlemen, there’s a lot of important work ahead for our two countries. I’m eager to get started. And as I embark on this exciting challenge, I hope I can continue to count on all of your support and encouragement. Thank you, very, very much.


SECRETARY KERRY: So Ambassador Kim and his family will set up a receiving line here. If you want to sort of form a line and come by and extend your well wishes to him and congratulations, I know he would love that.

Thank you all, very, very much. Thank you.