Korea Policy Forum on “Security on the Korean Peninsula and the U.S.-ROK Relations” Summary”

On September 3, 2020, the GW Institute for Korea (GWIKS) and East Asia National Resource Center co-sponsored the Korea Policy Forum on “Security on the Korean Peninsula and the U.S.-ROK Relations”. Moderated by Jisoo M. Kim, Director of the GW Institute for Korea, Soo Hyuck Lee, the Korean Ambassador to the United States reviewed the seventy years of U.S.-ROK cooperation and examined what the next seventy years may look like.

Ambassador Lee began by retracing back to 1950 when the US and ROK formed the foundation of alliance during the Korean War. What started off as a military partnership now has evolved into a comprehensive strategic alliance that goes beyond security, economy, and cultural cooperation. This includes supporting one another with COVID-19 test kits, exchanging public health intellectuals, sharing pop-culture contents, and more. Ambassador Lee also underscored the friendship between the two countries by using a ‘tree’ as a metaphor: military alliance as roots and trunks which provides stability and strength, economic cooperation as branches and leaves that determines the volume and structure, and cultural elements as fruits and flowers which wakes our senses and receives our admiration. Closing his speech Ambassador Lee used a Korean proverb, ‘A tree with deep roots will have many fruits’, to emphasize that our strong bilateral relationship will foster prosperity for both countries in the years to come.

Followed by his speech was a Q&A session in which Ambassador Lee touched on various topics ranging from international political issues to advice on how to become a diplomat. Questions were submitted in advance from students in the US and South Korea, from Japan, India, Australia, and Malaysia.

Responding to the first question, Ambassador Lee claimed transparency, openness, and cooperation with civil society, medical workers, and the public as the key elements to South Korea’s early success in fighting the pandemic. He also mentioned while there is no universal solution to tackling the pandemic, it is crucial to cooperate with the international community.

Many students also brought up questions on the post-pandemic international relations. Ambassador Lee reassured that the security based alliance between the US and South Korea continues to stay firm. In response to concerns on the current relationship, he argued that confrontations on certain agendas may exist but through negotiations, the two countries will be able to reach an agreement. He also mentioned the significance of China as an economic partner to South Korea. Thus, it is important for South Korea to manage a balance between security and economy with these international partners.

Expanding on international politics, Ambassador Lee elaborated on how the future of North Korea and its nuclear issue remains unpredictable. Despite the uncertainty, for the sake of economic growth, eventually, North Korea is expected to comply with the international community.

Lastly, the webinar ended with Ambassador Lee providing advice for students interested in becoming a diplomat. He underscored the significance of studying humanities by reading many books in history, literature, and philosophy in order to build intellectual power and develop communication skills.

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