Respected President and CEO Dr. John Hamre, distinguished guests, I chose the United States as the first destination of my overseas trip as president. And I’m very delighted to meet you today.
Since taking office, I had a telephone call with President Trump first before meeting him in person. President Trump, during our conversation, emphasized that the alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States was not simply a good alliance, but a great alliance, words that left me with a powerful impression. And that is why the title of my remarks, as well as the preamble of the ROK-U.S. leaders joint statement, include the word “great alliance.”
Distinguished participants, standing here today, I would like to reaffirm with you together the friendship Korea and the United States have built for more than a century. In 1885, the first modern hospital in Korea, called Gwanghyewon, was founded by an American missionary, Dr. Horace Allen. American missionaries led the establishment of modern institutions for education and medicine in Korea while backing the Koreans’ independence movement against Japanese occupation. The United States intelligence agency worked with our provisional government and supported our military exercises.
In 1950, the most tragic war in Korean history broke out. Two days ago, the first place I visited after my arrival here was the Changjin Reservoir Battle Memorial. This battle was recorded as one of the most fiercely fought battles of the Korean War, in which the U.S. 1st Marine Division endured what was even colder than hell to fight.
They broke through the siege of the enemies, who outnumbered them 10 times as many, and in the end succeeded in slowing the Chinese advancement in Hungnam region. And thanks to this, the famous Hungnam evacuation was made possible. The Hungnam evacuation was a massive operation where some 100,000 refugees who flocked to Hungnam dock to escape North Korea were evacuated to safety by American soldiers. It was the largest humanitarian operation that was ever seen in human history.
And at the time, the U.S. cargo ship, the SS Meredith Victory, dumped all weapons and war supplies into the sea and took in the refugees in the cargo compartment. As many as some 14,000 refugees boarded the ship for life. Among them were my own parents. The Victory departed from Hungnam on December 23rd, my sister’s birthday, and arrived on December 25th, in Koje Do, the southern land, in the Republic of Korea. Without a single casualty, it was the voyage of freedom and human rights.
Five new lives were also born during the voyage. It was, indeed, the miracle of Christmas. Two years after, in Koje, where the Victory had arrived, I was born. And today, the son of the refugees that American soldiers rescued became president and has come here to meet you.
Honored guests, after the war Korea has shown the world a remarkable development and growth, as you have already witnessed. The two wheels that drove Korea’s development – democracy and market economy – were what American disseminated to Korea, the core values our countries have come to share. Over the last seven decades, the ROK-U.S. alliance not only became a linchpin of peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, but also contributed significantly to economic and democratic advancement of Korea. This is what Korean people know all too well. A foundation for growth and development of Korea was laid by the United States, a treasured ally we’re grateful to.
Likewise, Korea as an important ally for the United States, played a role in the U.S. leadership in the Asia Pacific and its prosperity. As our alliance progressed and expanded, many people in our two countries came to interact, influencing each other in diverse fields ranging from religion, culture, to economic disciplines. A soldier who guarded the stronghold in the battle of Changjin Reservoir and a crewman who sailed the Victory are, in one way or another, connected to my life today. Just as so, the relations between Korea and the United States are connected not only between our two countries and governments but between our peoples.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is a saying in Korea, a deeply rooted tree never sways in the wind, and deep spring water never runs dry. This speaks volumes about our bilateral relationship. Over the course of time, we have formed our friendship and let it take root. The ROK-U.S. alliance moved forward in tandem with the history of Korea. This alliance runs deep and strong. Our alliance will never sway. And to this, my commitment remains firm.
Distinguished participants, recently Korea went through an unprecedented political crisis, a crisis that was turned into an opportunity by the Korean people. In the most peaceful and beautiful way, Koreans restored democracy and the constitution, and gave birth to a new government. This is what Korean people call Candlelight Revolution. You will also agree that the Korean people’s Candlelight Revolution set an exemplary model for the world of a vibrant democracy played out in the public square. The Candlelight Revolution marks the beginning for me as president.
Korea is undertaking change to become a more democratic, equitable and just country. This is what the people through the Candlelight Revolution have demanded me to undertake. Answering this call is my responsibility as president.
Deployment of THAAD prompted some people to voice concern over the future of the alliance. The discussion taking place inside the Korean government on this issue is a vital process for ensuring democratic legitimacy and procedural transparency. This is a matter of crucial importance to my government that was born on the Candlelight Revolution.
I respect the decision made by Korea and the United States; however, the Korean government’s endeavors to observe the due process of law will prove to be beneficial also to the advancement of our alliance. On that note, I ask for your deep understanding and support.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me now share my thoughts on “Great Alliance,” the title of my speech today. The alliance between our two countries is already a great one. Still, it can be made even greater. I have found that spirit in the battle of Changjin Reservoir. The divisional commander, Smith, who led that heroic battle called the Hungnam evacuation operation an attack in a new direction, not a retreat. This is what defines the spirit of our alliance. Ahead of us awaits a special undertaking, an undertaking that has remained unsolved for the last 20 years as a historic conundrum. It is none other than nuclear and missile programs of North Korea, a threat that is already spreading beyond the boundaries of the Korean Peninsula towards the United States.
Even as we face the most imminent and dangerous menace in the world, we should no longer continue to retreat, but move forward and take a new leap towards the future. This is how we can elevate the ROK-U.S. alliance to the next level, making it not just a good alliance, but a great one. A great alliance is the one that brings peace.
Korea and the United States already agreed on initiatives for peace on the Korean Peninsula: The September 19 Joint Statement adopted at the six-party talks in 2005 on October 4, Inter-Korean Summit declaration of 2007, that reaffirmed the 2005 statement. Both comprehensively dealt with the complete dismantlement of the North Korean nuclear program and establishment of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. Without doubt, there was close coordination between Korea and the United States. Calling for peace is one thing, but making it happen involves extremely arduous endeavors.
The truth that was driven home to us when the September 19 statement was never translated into any action for 10 years even after its implementing procedures were agreed upon. Moreover, the Kim Jong-un regime of the North has a misguided conviction that nuclear weapons and missiles will keep itself intact.
Notwithstanding this, I’m confident that now presents an opportunity to restart this daunting task. President Trump made tackling the North’s nuclear and missile problems his top foreign policy priority, a decision that no previous U.S. government has made thus far. This is why I believe we have a better chance of solving the North Korean nuclear issue now. I am committed to doing my utmost to leverage this opportunity. A robust ROK-U.S. alliance should be the key premise.
Building on the foundation of deterrence against North Korea’s provocations and our ironclad combined defense posture, the Republic of Korea together with the United States will embark on a journey towards a peaceful and prosperous Korean Peninsula.
This is a journey for a great alliance. This will be a long one, starting from denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and heading towards stability and peace in the whole of Northeast Asia. Our new direction should guide us away from strategic patience and bring back North Korea to the negotiating table with all available means mobilized.
Provocations by the North must be met with a stern and firm response. Yet, at the same time, engaging in dialogue with Chairman Kim Jong-un is also necessary, for he is the only one who can decide to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons. For such dialogue, our goal would be crystal clear: it is to induce Pyongyang to make its own decision on nuclear dismantlement. Korea is a party directly concerned with Korean Peninsula issues. As a direct stakeholder, and also to never repeat the tragedy of another devastating war, Korea will assume a leading role, more so than before. If Korea improves its relations with North Korea, in close collaboration with the U.S., the community of nations – including the U.S. – will also be able to build better relations with the North in due course.
Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday I had an in-depth dialogue with President Trump on this vision that I have. We concurred to work more proactively to preserve and build peace. Let me make myself clear here today: President Trump and I do not pursue hostile policies against North Korea. We have no intention to attack North Korea. We have no wish to see its regime replaced or collapsed. And we have no plan to artificially accelerate reunification on the Korean Peninsula.
Yet, let us also make it clear to North Korea: Without a doubt, North Korea must understand that denuclearization is the only way to guarantee its security and economic development. The North must determine its own destiny. It cannot and should not blame others for its own fate.
The door to dialogue is wide open. North Korea stands at a critical crossroads. I sincerely urge Pyongyang to exercise prudence, and seize an opportunity for peace and prosperity. If North Korea makes the right choice, I am ready to join and walk together on its path towards peace and prosperity myself.
Ladies and gentlemen, beyond the North Korean nuclear issue await numerous other challenges. Stability and prosperity in Northeast Asia must be promoted. Terrorism, environmental problems, refugees, starvation, infectious diseases, and other transboundary issues do require our concerted efforts. Restoring democracy, peace, human rights, and other values of democracy in Northeast Asia and beyond, this is a way for us to demonstrate the significance of our alliance in contributing to world peace. Our two countries will build on our robust alliance to further strengthen our global partnership. We will reinforce our coalition in the fight against global terrorism, and broaden the efforts for peace and reconstruction in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, among others.
Esteemed participants, the most formidable obstacle to alliance is complacency. The tasks confronting us are never an easy job, and unforeseen hardship may surface. Yet, we share a common goal, as well as experience and foresight gained in the course of surmounting countless adversities. We must believe in ourselves and take decisive actions to translate our new initiatives into reality. We must make sure that North Korea choose(s) by itself the path towards peace. When it’s chosen on its own accord, peace can become complete and sustainable. On that note, I ask for your support for the faith I have.
If our alliance is to transcend our two countries, contribute to promoting peace and rebuilding values in Northeast Asia and the world, and to rise as a great alliance, we must pool our strength together. In particular, to the bereaved family members of Mr. Warmbier and the American people, I convey my deepest condolences. Family is the root of our lives, and the fruit they bear. As a parent myself and as a leader of a U.S. ally, I also feel the shock and grief of Mr. Warmbier’s family and American citizens myself that had been caused by the brutalities of North Korea. I feel a sense of responsibility myself that an unforeseen parting with Mr. Warmbier should not mean the loss of everything to his family. Under no circumstance should the value of family and human rights be tarnished. Together with you, I will never cease in my pursuit to preserve the values that we all cherish. To safeguard American citizens, including the U.S. military personnel, as well as my own people in the Korean soil, if not for anything else, there must be a solution to the North Korean nuclear quagmire.
As I stand before you today, I feel more resolute than ever before. And once again, I sincerely thank you for your time today.