The ICAS Lectures


Republic of Korea’s Foreign Policy
toward Major Powers and North Korea

Jin Ha Hwang

ICAS Fall Symposium

Humanity, Peace and Security
The Korean Peninsula Issues

October 19, 2010 Tuesday 1:30 PM - 5:00 PM
Rayburn Office Building Room B 318
United States House of Representatives
Capitol Hill, Washington, DC 20515

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.
965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

Biographic sketch & Links: Jin Ha Hwang

Republic of Korea’s Foreign Policy
toward Major Powers and North Korea

Assemblyman Jin Ha Hwang
ICAS Fellow
Member, the ROK National Assembly

I sincerely appreciate your invitation to a meaningful seminar. I also give my whole-hearted thanks to Synja P Kim, the President of ICAS and Sang Joo Kim, the Executive Vice President of ICAS for successfully hosting today’s event. And thanks for your warm welcome.

My name is Jin Ha HWANG, a member of Korean National Assembly. I am currently representing a city of Paju in Gyeonggi Province, where the symbol of Korean Division—Pan Mun Jom—is located. At National Assembly, I am serving at Foreign Affairs Committee.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. From this respect, organizing today’s ICAS symposium to promote understanding about Korea’s foreign policy is a meaningful opportunity for all of us. As one humble Korean, I would like to offer my deepest appreciation to sacrifice of 1 million 900 thousand veterans from 21 United Nations (UN) member states during the Korean War, particularly the United States leading UN forces at the time. Without this international assistance, Korea could not have avoided the danger of national collapse. Thank you.

I would like to take today’s opportunity to share my personal thoughts about the Republic of Korea’s foreign policy toward the United States, China, Japan, and North Korea. Korea has experienced and overcome a number of difficult challenges caused by its geopolitical situation which has made it vulnerable to power struggles among neighboring powers in the past.

President Lee, Myung-Bak announced a Global Korea Vision in his inaugural address in 2008. The founding principle of Korea is rooted in "Hongik Ingan." "Hongik Ingan" means "benefiting humankind far and wide." I believe that the spirit of President Lee’s desire toward Global Korea stems from "Hongik Ingan." Thus, the Global Korea Vision is based on respect for global standards and values and Korea’s strong will to make a greater contribution to spread these values across the world. This spirit has existed with the history of Korea for five thousand years and is regarded as the best value among Koreans. Two years have passed since President Lee’s declaration of the Global Korea Vision. Currently, the Republic of Korea makes its utmost efforts to create "a Global Miracle" in the 21st century, beyond its "Han-River Miracle" in the 20th century. And, I am confident that these efforts will be kept in following Korean administrations.

To better understand Korea’s foreign policy, I would like to introduce a few variables that must be considered while implementing Korea’s foreign policy.

First, the geopolitical situation of the Korean Peninsula is a very unique. The Korean Peninsula is surrounded by such great powers as the United States, China, Japan, and Russia. A similar geographic condition is not to be found in any place in the world. This condition is our unchangeable strategic environment and fate. Korea has overcome an unforgettable history of more than 930 invasions. I am sure that no other country in the world has such a heartrending history of more than 930 outside attacks. More remarkable are the economic and political developments Korea made after overcoming a number of outside attacks. The geographic location of the Korean Peninsula and political competition among great powers has greatly affected Korea’s foreign policy, national interests, and national fate. Simply looking at the history of the 20th century, the Japanese colonial rule and The Korean War are apparent examples.

Second, the Korean Peninsula is the only remnant of the Cold War. The division of the Korean Peninsula and North Korea’s continuous threats is a core cause of the so-called "Korea Discount" underestimating the national value of Korea. The current division between the two Koreas is a historical challenge to be resolved for the sake of the two Koreas’ development, regional stability and prosperity, and further international peace. I must stress that international consensus and effort is the key to address threats posed by North Korea, including its nuclear weapon program, North Korea’s all-out crisis caused by its deteriorating economic condition, increasing political instability, and uncertain power succession process. The international community must work together to create political rehabilitation between the two Koreas, which would finally lay the political and economic ground required for achieving a peaceful unification. The Republic of Korea currently places its policy priority on replacing the "Korea Discount" with a "Korea Premium" by managing a successful armistice condition with strong cooperation with the international community, which we hope will encourage North Korea to change and stop its menacing behaviors.

Third, Korea plays a leading role in the peace and prosperity of the world for the first time during its history of five thousand years. This global effort and vision reflects Korea’s strong will of returning favors offered by the international community beyond increasing Korea’s national interests and influence. Korea’s role and responsibility is now expanding into a global context beyond Asia. All Koreans are well aware that Korea would not be what it is without international assistance during the Korean War and its post- war reconstruction. For this reason, the ROK government pledges to become a responsible member of the international community through continuing and increasing its global contribution.

The ROK government is actively engaged in UN peacekeeping operations, continuing economic assistance to underdeveloped and undeveloped countries, and increasing the size of its official development assistance (ODA). For example, the ROK government first joined a UN-led peacekeeping operation in 1993. Since 1993, the government contributed a total of more than 8,000 UN PKO troops. Also, Korea launched its Official Development Assistance (ODA) program in 1987 to assist economic development of underdeveloped and undeveloped nations. Starting from 23 million US dollars in 1987, Korea's ODA budget in 2009 was 815 million US dollars. Over the next five years, Korea plans to increase the budget of ODA to 2.5% of Gross National Income (GNI). As of now, around 1,800 Korean volunteers, called "World Friends Korea," are currently working against poverty and sharing Korea’s know-how of economic development in 45 countries.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
The ROK-US alliance has been a strong and firm buttress for the Republic of Korea to thrive and to dynamically transform into a global nation. The scope and scale of the alliance, begun as a military alliance, has extended to include a comprehensive and strategic global context. For more than half a century, the ROK-US alliance has played a successful role for the peace and prosperity of the Asia region, becoming the most successful bilateral alliance.

The bilateral relationship is built on mutual respect of values and trust, maintaining a far more solid partnership than ever before. Now, the two nations are deepening and broadening a strategic alliance structure. Two leaders of the Republic of Korea and the United States officially signed a "Joint Vision" at the summit talks in June 2009. Through this historical opportunity, the two governments advanced common efforts in a concrete way to realize an agreed joint vision. The current process is to readjust the ROK-US alliance into a future-oriented alliance in order to work together to address global issues, beyond dealing only with bilateral issues as in the past. I believe that all of you vividly remember North Korea's unprovoked attack on Korea’s naval ship on March 26th. In the wake of North Korea's surprise attack, resolute political decisions and a strong partnership allowed the Republic of Korea and the United States to jointly condemn North Korea’s attack and deter further provocations. I think that these diplomatic efforts were very successful. And, additional efforts, such as joint military exercises, are still ongoing. At the same time, the Republic of Korea and the United States continue their efforts through international persuasion and sanctions to create positive changes for resolving North Korea's nuclear issue. Beyond it, the two nations lead international support in addressing non- military issues like human rights and economic poverty.

In addition to dealing with the traditional bilateral agenda, the two nations now strengthen their policy cooperation and coordination in working on global issues such as the current global economic crisis and "a world without nuclear weapons." I am sure that the G-20 Summit in November in Seoul will provide an invaluable opportunity for the Republic of Korea to share experiences of overcoming global financial crisis among participating countries and accordingly to discuss a path toward global co-prosperity. Also, the 2nd Nuclear Security Summit in 2012, Seoul, will be a meaningful momentum for enhancing Korea's contribution to global peace and security.

The bilateral effort to transform the ROK-US alliance into a global strategic partnership is a crucial variable to consider in US strategy for Asia. Korea is no longer a marginal state located in the shadow of China, Japan, and Russia, but a key state with China, Japan, and Russia. I am strongly confident that the ROK-US alliance has been the linchpin for meeting US demands in the region, now becoming not "a choice but a requirement" for protecting US national interests in the region. The Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) agreed in 2007 is a prominent example for this changing status of the ROK-US alliance. The KORUS FTA aims to promote the mutual economic interests of the two parties and will become a strategic catalyst for upgrading the alliance. The KORUS FTA is not yet ratified in congress in both nations. But, President Lee and President Obama share a strong and common understanding of the strategic importance of the KORUS FTA, and on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in June instructed the conclusion of working-level discussions over the FTA before November’s G20 Summit in Seoul.

Ladies and gentlemen, this successful development of the ROK-US alliance is a monumental achievement built on the foundation of the blood alliance. In this aspect, the ROK-US alliance is our pride and proud legacy, and what we have to sustain and develop for the future. During more than half a century, the two nations have made bold decisions and overcome challenging issues facing us. By the same token, we must explore what to address, develop, and accordingly take required steps for building a future-oriented global alliance. This is a future challenge before us.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
The rise of China is a key factor to the security and peace of Northeast Asia and shaping international order toward promoting global security and peace as well. President Obama has stated, "the relationship between the United States and China will be one of the most important bilateral relationships and shape the nature of international politics of the 21st century." In the G-20 Summit in April 2009, President Obama and President Hu agreed to build positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship for the 21st century. The relationship between Korea and China is a key foreign agenda to Korea like the ROK-US alliance.

During a visit to China in 2008, President Lee and President Hu agreed to change the bilateral relationship from a "comprehensive and cooperative partnership" to "strategic and cooperative partnership." Recently, the two nations attempted to increase mutual cooperation in addressing bilateral and global issues as well. At the summit in October 2009, the two leaders signed the "Korea-China Vision Report for Economic and Trade Cooperation." Bilateral economic and trade cooperation is expected to increase more and more. This report envisions the achievement of 200 billion US dollars of total trade at the earliest possible time and the goal of reaching 300 billion US dollars by 2015. Now, China is the ROK’s largest trading partner. In 2009, bilateral trade reached 141 billion U.S. dollars. In addition to economic exchange, people-to-people and cultural exchanges have rapidly increased.

China is a key nation who is able to play a leading and responsible role for resolving North Korea’s nuclear problem toward the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula. At this time, the international community demands that China play these roles. And yet, because of China’s traditional blood alliance with North Korea, China maintains an ambiguous stance in responding to international demands when dealing with North Korean issues, and sometimes ignores international demands. I think that China did not fully comply with its stated foreign policy guideline of pursuing "independent, autonomous, and peaceful foreign policy toward international peace, development, and cooperation" when dealing with North Korea’s unprovoked attack on Korea's naval ship. According to its strategic assumption that continuing international discussion over North Korea’s attack might lead to additional international sanctions on and diplomatic conflict with North Korea which would make it harder to resolve North Korea’s nuclear issue, China strongly expressed its intention to work together for resuming the Six-party talks rather than continuing diplomatic debate over North Korea’s attack. Contrary to China's hope, the international stance for resuming the Six-party talks is firm and unshakable; North Korea should first implement its responsibilities before the resumption of the talks.

The ROK government adheres to the following policy guidelines for fully committing to cooperative strategic partnership between the Republic of Korea and China.

First, the ROK government continues to expand the mutual relationship in the area of people-to-people and cultural exchanges. The Korean Wave (Hallyu), growing popularity of Korean culture and goods, has already hit the mainland of China extensively. For example, the size of student exchanges between Korea and China is the largest portion of foreign students in each nation. In 2009, the total number of visitors between the two nations reached 4.5 million. And, among the annual 90 thousand applicants for the Chinese Language Fluency Test in the world, Koreans are about 60 thousand, 60% of total applicants. I think that improved mutual cooperation will contribute to decreasing public negative sentiments about each other, and make a greater opportunity to develop a bilateral partnership.

Second, the ROK government will work together with the Chinese government in a way that the rise and change of China will contribute to regional and international peace and prosperity. China currently implements its active engagement policy in addressing global issues and promoting relationships with individual nations in a global context beyond Asia. And yet, there remains uncertainty about Chinese strategy, and thus expectation and concern about a growing Chinese power coexist. China, along with the United States, is likely to lead international order in the 21st century. Under this condition, the ROK government is willing to go forward with China in addressing global issues for promoting Chinese cooperative and constructive relationships with the United States and the international community as well.

Third, the ROK government continues working with China to induce positive changes from North Korea which will finally lead to peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula. China has maintained a unique and special relationship with North Korea which other countries are not able to have. China is the largest trading partner with North Korea and also North Korea’s biggest foreign investor. In 2009, it was estimated that North Korea's dependence on China is about 70% of its total foreign trade. The size of trade between the two nations continuously grows, reaching 2.7 billion US dollars in 2009. China annually provides the value of 3 to 4 hundred million US dollars in grants to North Korea. In 2010, North Korea signed an MOU with China to construct a new bridge across the Yalu River and to lease North Korea’s Najin Port to China for 10 years in order to attract foreign investment while overcoming a domestic economic crisis.

In conclusion, the ROK government is willing to continue its effort to fully commit to strategic cooperative partnership between Korea and China. In addition, we strongly hope that a rising and changing China will play a responsible role in leading international order with the United States in the 21st century. Regarding the condition of the Korean Peninsula, the ROK government works together with China in that China plays an active role in resolving North Korea's comprehensive issues including the nuclear problem and accordingly removing the remnants of the Cold War on the Korean Peninsula.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Koreans view Korea and Japan as "close but distant countries." This illustration reflects the diversities of historical relationship between the two nations. There are diverse discussions over the nature of the two nations’ relationship in both Korea and Japan. For example, Koreans still express their resentment over Japanese colonial rule, the claim of Japanese sovereignty over Dokdo Island, and Japanese distortions of historical facts. Despite this historical discord, the two nations are developing their mutual relationship in areas of politics, security, economy, and culture.

In September 2009, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won parliamentary election and took power from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which ruled the Japanese government for the past 54 years. After this election, the ROK government and the Japanese government redefined the relationship of the two governments as "close and close countries." Japanese Prime Minister Kan Naoto said in a statement issued on August 10th, "I would like to face history with sincerity." And further, he stated, "I would like to have courage to squarely confront the facts of history and humility to accept them, as well as to be honest to reflect upon the errors of our own." He acknowledged the suffering caused by Japan’s colonial rule and apologized to Koreans, and also declared his intention to return Korean cultural artifacts taken by Japan during the colonial period. The ROK government requested that Prime Minister Kan’s statement be fully implemented, which will make a new opportunity to upgrade the relationship between the two nations.

The ROK government continues the following efforts for the development of a future-oriented relationship with Japan.

First, the ROK government works to promote mutual cooperation between the Republic of Korea, Japan, and China for building a future-oriented regional order in Northeast Asia. Japan is Korea’s second largest trading partner. In 2009, the total value of trade between the two nations reached 71.2 billion US dollars. The population in the three nations is about 23% of the world’s population. And, in terms of trade volume, the total trade volume of the three nations is about 16% of the world’s trade volume. These statistics reflect that Northeast Asia is becoming a key region in the world, and interdependence among the three nations is becoming deeper and broader. The leaders of the three nations have held summit talks every year since 2008. The third trilateral summit talks in 2010 presented and adopted "VISION 2020" calling for future cooperation and exchanges for the next 10 years.

Second, the ROK government strongly insists that the Japanese government should not be willing to domestically politicize historical discords with Korea, but rather should strengthen friendship with Korea. Distortion of historical facts in textbooks and the Defense White Paper would be likely to prompt anti-Japanese sentiment in the region, which is not favorable for the Japanese government in promoting its international role or achieving its national interests. Among many potential reasons, the frequent changes of governments brought about diverse interpretations about historical facts. Over the past 20 years, 14 Prime Ministers have held office. The ROK government continues cooperation with Japan to encourage the Japanese government to expand and deepen its friendship with regional countries rather than facing political discord with them because of different perceptions of historical facts.

Third, in addition to building a trilateral partnership between Korea, Japan, and China, the ROK government intends to increase its international contribution by working with Japan. Korea and Japan employ very similar policy options such as joining peacekeeping operations, providing official development assistance, and operating international cooperation agencies: Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) in Korea and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Japan. If Korea and Japan build solid cooperation rather than competition under a common goal of increasing international contributions, there would be a greater opportunity to increase our contribution to the international community.

Currently, Korea and Japan make their utmost effort to realize a future partnership. Beyond building a bilateral relationship, we are required to discuss and develop a win-win strategy for strengthening mutual cooperation in addressing regional and global issues at the same time. Last year, the United States and Japan experienced unexpected political tension over relocating US military bases. At the time, some people said that this condition would be a good opportunity for the ROK-US alliance. But, I did not think so. The change of ruling party in Japan could not reverse agreement between former Japanese and US governments because the US-Japan alliance has matured on the basis of long-term political trust. The ROK government plays an increasingly important role in promoting the relationship between Korea, Japan, and China, between Korea, the United States, and Japan, and between the United States, Japan, and China.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
For the past half a century, the Korean War remains under a condition of armistice. The division between the two Koreas has not been reunified. North Korea still poses diverse threats beyond its traditional military threats.

Threats posed by North Korea to the outside world are severe. At the same time, domestic crises in North Korea are far more considerable. For example, political instability caused by the unstable process of power succession, chronic economic deterioration, and continuing defection of North Koreans to other countries escalate domestic tensions. In the Workers' Party Representative Meeting of September 28th, convened for the first time after a lapse of 44 years, Kim Jong-Un was promoted to a four-star general and appointed to relatively high positions within the Workers' Party, a Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission and a Member of the Central Committee. These facts reinforce speculation that Kim Jong-Un is designated to succeed Kim Jong-Il. When Kim Jong-Un takes power depends on Kim Jong-Il’s health condition. I think that North Korea's power succession will speed up from now on. One of our biggest concerns is how North Korea will change its policy after a power succession.

North Korea’s message to the international community is very regretful after the Workers' Party Representative meeting. On September 29th, Park Kil-Yon, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, stated at the 65th Session of United Nations General Assembly that " as long as the US nuclear aircraft carriers sail around the seas of our country, our nuclear deterrent can never be abandoned, but should be strengthened further." He added, "the United States is not a defender, but a disruptor of peace." Also, he emphasized, "the present South Korean authorities drive the inter-Korean relations into a rupture by bringing forward the so-called ‘three-phase unification proposal’, which is anti- reunification and confrontational." Koreans are not seriously concerned about North Korea’s diplomatic bluff because this rhetoric is just repetition of past North Korean activities. But, we are concerned about the dark future of North Korea as it is not willing to work with the international community.

Through today's opportunity, it is meaningful to remember the policy guidelines of Korea's policy toward North Korea.

First, the ROK government is always ready to work with North Korea to support its cooperation with the international community. The international community does not aim for North Korea's regime collapse or overthrow, but rather strongly hopes that North Korea will become a responsible member of the international community. North Korea's severe isolation from the international society is not a proper choice for either North Korea or the international community.

Second, the ROK government will implement its economic assistance package once North Korea makes a positive change of its international behavior and lead the effort for the international assistance and support required for overcoming the economic difficulties facing North Korea. North Korea should recognize that it gives up provocative activities and opens its society to the world for the survival of its regime. When the two Koreas faced political deadlock, North Korea made a unilateral decision to limit the access of Koreans to the Kaesung Industrial Complex, which is an obvious violation of agreement between the two Koreas. The foremost responsibility of any government is to protect the safety of its people. In this respect, it was a difficult and bold decision for the ROK government to implement its responsibility in operating the complex despite North Korea’s repeated and direct threats to economic activities within the complex, causing financial damages to Korean investors. Our genuine and sincere political intent of assisting North Korea allows the ROK government to continue supporting the Kaesung Industrial Complex.

Third, the ROK government continues its consistent policy of providing humanitarian assistance and making a bigger effort toward building a political reconciliation. But, North Korea does not seem to give up its coercive control over the distribution of food provided by the international community to North Koreans. If North Korea insists on maintaining this stance, we cannot rule out the possibility that North Korea will use food provided by the international community for its strategic purpose. Under this condition, the ROK government could not provide large-scale food assistance at a government level, but only permit a small amount of assistance by civil organizations and aid groups in Korea. The decision to suspend government food assistance to North Korea is also part of South Korea's comprehensive measures announced in May in response to North Korea's unprovoked attack on South Korea's naval ship in March.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
I sincerely appreciate your generous invitation to this symposium. It is my great honor to speak my thoughts about the ROK government’s foreign policies with major countries.

Today, many people from diverse areas get together here. I would like to remind all of you that your continuing support for the Republic of Korea is a cornerstone for what Korea is today.

In a changing world, the current diverse efforts toward Global Korea is intended to promote Korea's national interests in one respect and return the favor offered by the international community during a post-war reconstruction which led to Korea's economic development in the other respect. In addition, I am confident that the Republic of Korea holds on to a great vision that we will make strenuous efforts with the United States for the peace and prosperity of the world.

Thank you for your attention.

Thank you!

This page last updated October 22, 2010 jdb