Hyun Cho, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea
Chargé d’Affaires Knapper,
Members of the USFK and the ROK-US Friendship Society,
I am very pleased to meet all the good friends and strong supporters of the ROK-US alliance. My special thanks go to President Han and his excellent team at the Korea America Friendship Society, who have done a marvelous job in preparing tonight’s gathering.
I would also like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to those who will be receiving the Korea America Friendship Award tonight. This award is given to those who have contributed to strengthening our alliance. This year, we are honoring five individuals and they are:
- Sergeant First Class Ryan Michael Manuel of the US Army,
- Personal Specialist 2 Antonio Hill of the US Navy,
- Master Sergeant Christopher Thompson of the US Air Force,
- Corporal Jose Casiastapia of the US Marine Corps, and
- Mr. Richard Scott of the Department of Defense
These recipients not only committed themselves to their mission of defending Korea but also engaged in various community activities. They demonstrated a deep affection for and understanding of the local communities in which they served. I believe that their sincerity does ‘go together’ with the hearts of the local people.
As we honor these fine gentlemen, we are once again reminded of the countless past heroes who have devoted themselves to strengthening our alliance. Every one of the 1.4 million young Americans who served in battle to defend the freedom of “a country they never knew” and “a people they never met” are heros. Their noble sacrifice and dedication is what made today’s Republic of Korea.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
As we celebrate the 65th anniversary of our great alliance, the situation on the Korean peninsula is rapidly changing-and for the better. The PyeongChang Winter Olympics opened the door for inter-Korean dialogue. Soon after, President Moon and Chairman Kim held two summits and last week, the very first US-North Korea summit took place in Singapore.
While all of us are encouraged by these unprecedented events and talks of peace, we also realize that the two inter-Korean summits and the Panmunjom Declaration are the first steps in what we expect to be a long journey ahead. While seeking to fully implement the Panmunjom Declaration, the ROK government has been devoting much diplomatic efforts under close coordination with the US government to make the US-North Korea summit successful. As a result, in June 12th, the top leaders of the US and the North Korea put 70 years of hostile relations behind them and met for the first time in history. They agreed on establishing new US-DPRK relations and reached a consensus on achieving a complete denuclearization as well as building a lasting peace regime.
The most important achievement of the US-DPRK summit is that the US and North Korea, based on the Panmunjom Declaration, were able to reach a comprehensive agreement on resolving issues concerning the Korean Peninsula, including the North Korean nuclear program, the normalization of the US-North Korea relations and the establishment of a peace regime. The Singapore Summit is also historically significant in that the leaders of the US and North Korea met in person. President Trump and Chairman Kim engaged in open and candid dialogue which also allowed them to build mutual trust. They also agreed to quickly begin follow-up negotiations. This made possible for institutional framework to be emplaced in which the inter-Korean and US-North Korea relations can advance in a virtuous circle.
We have a clear goal of where we want to go and what we wish to achieve. Now, our task is to develop a specific roadmap to implement what we agreed upon at the inter-Korean and US-North Korea summit talks.
On the basis of the ironclad bilateral alliance between the ROK and the US, the ROK government will seek to turn the blueprint for a peaceful and prosperous Korean Peninsula into reality, where the denuclearization will have been achieved, security guaranteed and a peace regime established.
For that end, we will have to make the best of this newly created valuable momentum of dialogue and continue to communicate with each other enduringly to encourage North Korea to take bold actions implementing denuclearization measures. While building trust among the ROK, the US and North Korea through dialogues in a wide range of areas, we will continue to work closely with the international communities as well.
The cornerstone of the denuclearization of Korean Peninsula and establishment of peace regime is the water-tight coordination between the ROK and the US. The close and strategic ROK-US cooperation provided the critical driving force to the today’s historic turning point. The presidents of the ROK and the US have held 4 summit meetings and 17 telephone conversations to discuss the steps to take in order to achieve that common goal.
Some might have concerns on suspending the ROK-US joint military exercise, but Foreign Minister Kang and Secretary Pompeo met last week and reaffirmed that our combined defense posture will be maintained under all circumstances. And I cannot emphasize enough that any issues related to the alliance will be addressed only through close consultation between the ROK and the US.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We just have untied a thick knot along the journey to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and establishment of lasting peace regime. As talk proceeds, we will surely encounter difficulties. Unforeseen challenges will emerge. However, let me be clear: the ROK-US alliance will always be the bedrock that will help us overcome any and all challenges.
General Brooks once said that “ROK-US alliance is like a pine tree on Namsan Mountain – never shaken by storm or weakened by cold weather.” Well said. Like the ‘ironclad pine tree on Namsan’, the ROK-US alliance has stood proudly as a linchpin of security and peace of the Korean Peninsula for 65 years. As we strive towards our goal of peace and prosperity, our alliance will remain as strong as ever.
Lastly, I would like to stress the fact that our alliance is not only about military readiness. As tonight’s award recipients show us, our alliance is also based on the friendship and grass-root interchange between the people of the two nations. Today, around 70 thousand Korean students are studying in the US while around 28 thousand US soldiers are stationed in Korea. As this kind of exchange accumulates and more people come to know and to be intertwined, our alliance will be further strengthened and be able to overcome any facing challenges in the future.
I may have been somewhat serious, but tonight is a night of celebration. I wish to congratulate the award recipients again and hope everyone enjoys their evening among friends.