By Park Jin, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Korea
President Yoon Suk-yeol and the First Lady will pay a State Visit to the United States next week at the invitation of U.S. President Joe Biden and the U.S. First Lady. In the historic year marking the 70th anniversary of the ROK-U.S. alliance, President Yoon will become the first leader of an Indo-Pacific country to make a state visit to the United States under the Biden administration.
The significance of the upcoming visit can be highlighted in terms of three aspects.
First, it is an appraisal of the past 70 years of the ROK-U.S. alliance, which stands as one of history’s most successful alliances. Korea's remarkable economic development and expansion of its national power since the Korean War have been enabled by the strength of the Korean people from within, and the ROK-U.S. alliance – the bulwark of its foreign and security policy - from without. It is important to remember that the ROK-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty did not come effortlessly. It was the precious fruit of then President Syngman Rhee, who had opposed the armistice, persevering with grit to convince U.S. President Eisenhower of the need for the Treaty in 1953.
Second, in order for Korea and the United States to advance anew toward the next 70 years, both need to carefully cultivate this precious alliance and make sure it evolves in line with the changing times. Having started as a military alliance, the ROK-U.S. relationship has subsequently deepened exchanges and cooperation in a wide range of areas such as economy, society, and culture, and expanded into an economic alliance through the KORUS Free Trade Agreement in the dawn of the 21st century. The upcoming visit will serve to elevate the ROK-U.S. alliance to a technological alliance that encompasses various cutting-edge fields such as artificial intelligence, quantum, bio, cyber, and space, so as to adapt to an era in which national power is determined by economic security and technological innovation.
Furthermore, it will serve as an opportunity to develop a Global Comprehensive Strategic Alliance between Korea and the United States by tapping into Korea's heightened status and national power as a country standing shoulder to shoulder with the G7 countries. “Global” means the geographic scope of the alliance extends above and beyond the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia to the Indo-Pacific region and the world, and “comprehensive” subsumes military, economic, and technological alliances. “Strategic alliance” indicates that the two countries have a shared strategic interest in safeguarding core values such as freedom, democracy and human rights, rather than just their immediate national interests, and that they will actively cooperate to strengthen an international order conducive to those values.
Although the ROK-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty was signed 70 years ago, it did not envision a relationship in which the benefits would accrue lopsidedly to Korea. Rather, it is premised on two-way cooperation to promote peace and security in the Pacific area. But such two-way cooperation did not materialize when Korea’s strength was weak. The Yoon Suk Yeol government is pushing forward a Global Pivotal State diplomacy commensurate with Korea's stature so as to strengthen universal values and the rules-based international order. The blueprint for implementing this vision is the Indo-Pacific Strategy. It is an open, reciprocal and inclusive strategy based on the core values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Korea's decision to host the Third Summit for Democracy meeting next year following its co-hosting of the Second Summit represents Korea’s leading effort to uphold and spread these core values.
Third, the visit will lead to substantive outcomes that will allow the Korean people and businesses to feel the tangible benefits of the alliance. To begin with, the two leaders will nurture next-generation talents that will spearhead the future and promote two-way exchanges. For Korean companies doing business in the U.S., we will seek to remove uncertainties and maximize benefits as the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act are implemented. In order to protect the safety of the people, we will defend peace on the Korean Peninsula with the overwhelming might of the alliance in response to North Korea’s escalating nuclear and missile threats. Concrete measures will be arranged to more reliably enhance the U.S.'s ability to execute extended deterrence and reassure the Korean people.
The ambience of the two countries ahead of President Yoon's historically significant visit is a wholehearted welcoming mood that cuts across government branches and across party lines. In February, the Korean National Assembly unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution to reaffirm that the ROK-U.S. alliance has been the foundation of Korea's democratization and economic growth, and called for the sustained development of the bilateral relationship. The Leaders of both the United States Senate and House of Representatives also sent a letter inviting President Yoon to deliver a speech at a joint meeting of Congress - an exceptional gesture of hospitality.
Behind today’s success and the preeminent partnership of the ROK-U.S. Alliance lies the shared values and solid trust between the two countries. While cooperative relationships that build on common interests can be found anywhere, an alliance rooted in the values of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law is immensely more resilient and enduring.
No less important than shared values is the solid trust between the two countries and their people. In Washington, both Presidents and First Ladies will spend many hours together and have long and in-depth conversations, strengthening deep bonds of trust. This will serve as a driving force to further advance the ROK-U.S. Alliance as a Global Comprehensive Strategic Alliance. Continued public interest and support for President Yoon's State Visit is needed to ensure that the Alliance evolves into an ‘Alliance in Action Toward the Future' for the next 70 years and beyond, in the face of global challenges that amount to a historical turning point.
This is a translated version of an op-ed that was published in the April 20 edition of the Dong-a Ilbo.—Ed.