ICAS Special Contribution


The Republic of Korea and the United States:
Our Future Together

Geun Hye Park

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

Email: icas@icasinc.org

Biographic Sketch & Links: Geun Hye Park

[Editor's note: We gratefully acknowledge the special contribution of this paper
with written permission to ICAS of Geun Hye Park. sjk]

The Republic of Korea and the United States:
Our Future Together

Geun Hye Park

An Address Delivered at the ARCO (John F. Kennedy Jr.) Forum, John F. Kennedy School of Government Harvard University


Director Bill White of the Harvard's Institute of Politics, Director David McCann of Harvard University's Korea Institute, Director Anthony Saich of the Harvard University Asia Center, distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honor for me to share my thoughts today with the professors and students of world-renowned Harvard University.

Harvard's ties with Korea go back a long way. Dr. Syngman Rhee, the first president of the Republic of Korea, studied history here at Harvard and the first Korean UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received an MPA from this very Kennedy School of Government.

There are also several Harvard alumni representing the Grand National Party in the Korean National Assembly, three of whom are graduates of the Kennedy School. They are indispensable to our party and two of them even have the same surname as me.

Back in 1961 my father had a summit with then-President John F. Kennedy at the White House.

It was a very unlikely meeting between the leader of the world's greatest superpower and the president of one of Asia's poorest nations with less than 100 dollars in per capita income at the time, but two of them had one thing in common their firm belief in the triumph of free democracy against communism. More than 45 years later, the daughter of that Korean president came to visit the Kennedy School amid the new security threats challenging my country.

Koreans believe that all encounters, even the one as trivial as brushing each other's sleeves on the street, originate from the ties that existed in our former lives. This belief shows how cherished we Koreans think of human encounters and relationship. In that respect, we are practically a family here, because I can sense a good rapport building with everyone here today and with Harvard and the Kennedy School.

On the Proud History of Korea

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to speak to you about the future our two countries are to share.

As a daughter of Korea, I'm proud of the past 60 years of Korean history. The nation suffered the devastations of war and the ensuing division of the Korean Peninsula.

The Korean War destroyed the entire country and left millions dead or injured. But Korean people have risen above the tragedy.

The per capita income of Korea in 1961 was a meager 82 dollars, but now Korea is projected to break the 20 thousand dollar mark this year. Korea's export rested at around 100 million dollars in 1964 but it has soared to top 300 billion dollars last year. In a mere span of four decades, per capita income grew by 250 times and export by 3,000 times.

Back in 1968 Korea was capable of only assembling imported automobile parts from the United States, but today Korea is the fifth largest automaker in the world. Nowadays it is not that hard to spot Korean-made cars on the streets of America.

Mobile phones made in Korea have become the most sought-after items around the world and Korean computer and semiconductor manufacturers are dominating the global market.

In Japan and China, Korean films and dramas rival Hollywood movies in popularity and albums of Korean singers climb to the top the music charts and break sales records in the Asian market.

A poor and hopeless nation in Asia has performed a miracle.

Korea has something else I'm proud of. Democratization movement was launched in the late 1980s when the nation's accelerated industrialization freed people from the burdens of making the ends meet.

My highest respect goes to the countless people who worked up the courage and sacrificed themselves during the struggle to realize democratic values. Democracy would not have flourished in Korea like now if it had not been for their sacrifices.

Such phenomenal achievements of Korea were called "miracle on the Han River." But Koreans do not think of this as only a miracle. What you see as a miracle today is also a deserving result of Korean people's hard work and indomitable spirit.

However, Koreans are well aware that we were not alone in accomplishing such incredible feats. We had good friends who supported us during the hard times. America was one such friend, the closest and most supportive one. Actually America was more like a brother than a friend.

Today I had an opportunity to drop by a memorial chapel in the campus. There I saw a list of names engraved on a plaque. Those were the names of Harvard students who died fighting in the Korean War. The freedom and prosperity enjoyed by the Korean people today was gained through the blood shed by your brave alumni.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the American people who lent us a helping hand during Korea's growth.

Korea at the Crossroads and Changes in the Korea-U.S. Ties

Nonetheless, Korea's dream of building a truly great nation has not been realized yet. Korean people and I dream of a future for our nation a future in which we build a country that is more prosperous, more just, safer, and contributes more toward international peace and prosperity. And I think reestablishing a new Korea-U.S. relationship is one of the requirements needed to realize that future.

I'm well aware that some Americans are disappointed over Koreans' changed views of America.

However, I want to tell you that, in order for you to understand the changes in public sentiment, you must understand the gravity of the pain that Korea is experiencing. No country can be free from the growing pain, but the pain gripping my country is unique to Korea, originating from the nation's past.

This pain appears to emanate from some key contrasts in society liberty versus equality, growth versus welfare, market versus the state, small government versus large government, past versus future, inter-Korean alliance versus Korea-U.S. alliance, pro-America versus anti-America, and autonomy versus dependence. Such contrasts have plunged the Korean society into chaos and stagnation.

Of course, some may think that these issues are ideological confrontations also observed in many other nations around the world.

However, conflicts in Korea have been exacerbated by the presence of North Korea and the special circumstances of the Korean Peninsula remaining divided and technically still at war under the armistice pact.

Although the nuclear test and human rights violation of the North Korean regime should be denounced and eradicated, South Koreans agonize over the fact that North Koreans are of the same blood and still our brothers.

In the midst of such conflicts, it is my belief that we must be reminded of the values in the Korean Constitution championed by the founding fathers of the Republic of Korea. Those values are unshakable faith in democracy and market economy. This faith is what the Korean people should have today.

It is clear where Korea should be headed the nation should further nurture democracy and market economy. Rule of law should be established and labor relations guided by sound principles. Freedom should be expanded to give equal opportunities, not equal results. The social structure should have a strong welfare system propped up by the solid foundation of growth, which would bring about a caring and sharing community.

It is also clear where Korea should be headed in foreign affairs the nation should engage in practical diplomacy that serves national interest instead of judging everything by the dichotomous yardstick of independence or dependence. The Korea-U.S. alliance should also mature in a way that befits the 21st century.

Our two countries should become economic partners that grow and prosper together, as well as security allies who safeguard free democracy and contribute toward peace in Northeast Asia and the world.

It is my life mission to guide the nation toward the right direction. I will do my best to carry out this mission.

On the Future of Korea-U.S. Relations

Professors and students of Harvard,

I now wish to speak on two urgent issues facing Korea and the United States. The first issue concerns the future of security alliance between South Korea and the United States.

South Korea is facing grave security challenges from North Korea. If the Korean War in 1950 was the first crisis, the situation we are in right now can be considered as the second security crisis.

Since the Korean War, North Korea has undertaken a number of violent provocations. North Korea sent armed spies to attack the presidential Blue House in Seoul, carried out a bombing attack against a South Korean president and his entourage in a foreign country, blew up a Korean Air passenger plane, instigated a fatal naval clash in 2002 that left six South Korean sailors dead, and the list goes on. My mother was shot to death by a North Korean agent in 1974. I was only 22 years old when I was thrust in to fill my mother's place as the First Lady.

But even then North Korea was not armed with nuclear weapons like now. The nuclear test conducted on October 9th, 2006 hurled Korean security to a dangerously unfamiliar terrain.

Now the future of South Korea hinges on how we can successfully deter the security threats from a nuclear North Korea and secure peace and stability to power Korea's sustained growth.

At present four basic keys are mobilized to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue six-nation nuclear talks, UN Security Council sanctions, U.S.-North Korea bilateral meetings, and inter-Korean talks.

Each one of these keys is fulfilling its given role and making progresses. However, in order to open the tightly closed door to a nuclear North, all these keys must work together and approach the issue with a practical aim.

To do so, the international community should be strongly committed to maintaining the attitude of zero tolerance to North Korean nuclear arms and deliver this message in a consistent and precise manner.

The North Korean nuclear test is not a matter that can be responded with a "business as usual" attitude. Media reports that some progresses have been made at the U.S.-North Korea bilateral meetings prior to the six-party nuclear talks, but we must brace for more difficult negotiations that surely lie ahead.

The strong resolve of the international community should be delivered to North Korea in unison and the Korean government should take active part in the UN Security Council sanctions and the PSI.

In addition to the four keys I mentioned above, I believe there is one more key that is crucial to resolving the North Korean nuclear issue and that is none other than the alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States.

The military alliance between our two countries has been the cornerstone of Korean security. It has successfully maintained peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula since the Mutual Defense Treaty between South Korea and the U.S. was concluded in 1953. This pact is what allowed Koreans to perform the economic miracle. The ROK-US alliance is a military alliance formula the effectiveness of which was tested over a long period of time.

Unfortunately, however, the bilateral alliance has shown signs of weakening and the number of incidents that erode mutual trust has increased in recent years. The relationship between the two countries has been likened to that of a married couple on the verge of divorce. This is very unfortunate for the national interests of both our countries.

Nonetheless, I am not pessimistic about the future of the Korea-U.S. alliance. That is because the alliance has vigorously promoted the national interests of the two countries and there are more Koreans and Americans who remember the alliance's contribution to the promotion of peace in the Northeast Asian region. This is why I firmly believe that the peoples of South Korea and the U.S. will no longer tolerate actions that undermine the alliance.

The second issue that critically affects the future Korea-U.S. ties is the ongoing free trade agreement talks between the two countries. When this FTA negotiation comes to a successful conclusion, I trust that it will further strengthen the future ties between our two nations.

Therefore, the Korea-U.S. FTA should seek to bring shared growth and development and greater benefits to the peoples of both countries. It is my belief that, although the agreement cannot satisfy and benefit everyone, at the least it should not inflict irrevocable harm to the peoples of our two countries. Otherwise, the FTA would not only undermine the interests of both Korea and the U.S. but, in the worst case scenario, seriously impair the bilateral relations.

For instance, the Korean agricultural industry is vastly different in its characteristics and implications from that of America. It would be extremely difficult to gain the consensus of the Korean public if America demands the liberalization of the Korean agricultural sector, especially the rice market, based only on commercial intentions. I believe the Korea-U.S. FTA negotiations should progress in a way that would greatly promote the bilateral ties.


Ladies and gentlemen,

My life has been full of heartbreaking ordeals. At the time of my mother's death, I was studying half way around the world in France. I couldn't even make it back to Korea in time to see her during her last hours. But instead of being given the time to grieve for my mother, I was rushed to fill the vacant position of the First Lady.

Only a few years later, I had to see my father pass away in the same manner. It was so painful for me at the time that it hurt to simply breathe. Everyone suffers one sort of trial or another during one's lifetime and tends to think one's hardship is the most unbearable one. I was that way, too. I even published an essay entitled "If I Was Born in an Ordinary Family" to tell the world how hard my life was. Well, it didn't sell. That was another painful ordeal for me.

But what brought me out of that misery and compelled me to go into politics was the hardship that hit my country.

I lived 18 years as an ordinary citizen after I left the presidential Blue House upon my father's death. But 10 years ago I saw my country slowly falling apart from the fallouts of the worst financial crisis in the nation's history. That's when I started my political career, determined to live my life not for myself, but for Korean people.

I call the upcoming Korean presidential election in December as a "historic" one. This election will determine whether Korea will slide back into oblivion or take a giant step toward a better future. The fate of the Korea-U.S. alliance also hinges on this presidential race.

Despite the passage of time and changes in the world environment, Korea and its people should never forget the noble sacrifices made by young Americans during the Korean War.

Former Korean Prime Minister Han-bin Lee was studying at the Harvard Business School when the Korean War broke out. When he heard about the war, he left school to ask General Douglas McArthur to fly him home and then went on to work as an interpreter for American officers. There are numerous stories such as this one testifying to the strong, heart-warming ties between our two countries.

The Republic of Korea and the United States share common values freedom, truth, and justice. Between us we have 50 years of protecting these common values with our blood, sweat, and tears.

If given a chance, I will design a new future for the Korea-U.S. alliance through frank dialogues with America. I will set up a sturdy foundation that could sustain our bilateral alliance for another 50 or even 100 years. I will demonstrate my leadership by providing new visions for the future bilateral alliance and convincing the Korean people of a brighter future.

I have only one objective. I'm in to save my country.

Thank you very much for your time.

This page last updated 2/21/2007 jdb

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