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Revitalizing ROK-US alliance: challenges and opportunities

By Park Jin

The dramatic U.S. presidential election that captured global attention has virtually finished. Former Vice President Joe Biden declared victory after acquiring the majority number of the electoral college votes. President Donald Trump has refused to admit his defeat and the orderly process of power transition has yet to occur.

When it officially begins, the new Biden era will bring significant changes to American democracy and the global community, especially Korea, Japan and China. President-elect Biden is expected to implement foreign policies, based on the recovery of U.S. global leadership, strengthening cooperation with allies instead of extolling an "America-first" agenda.

As President-elect Biden correctly described in his first telephone talk with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the ROK-U.S. alliance serves as a "linchpin" for security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region. Here are tasks for the ROK-U.S. alliance to be addressed by the new Biden administration and the Moon government.

First, the ROK-U.S. alliance should counteract the worsening coronavirus pandemic as an urgent priority. South Korea and the United States should actively collaborate on effective quarantine measures and expedite vaccine distribution to contain the spread of infections. South Korea has delivered 750,000 diagnostic kits and 2 million masks to the U.S. Both countries should continue to work closely in the scientific and medical areas to develop vaccinations, diagnostic methods and treatments for appropriate use and ensure widespread accessibility to vaccines.

Second, the ROK-U.S. alliance should restore mutual trust and pursue a common strategy toward North Korea. The alliance is predicated on such core values as democracy, free market economy, human rights and rule of law. Our bilateral partnership should not be an unpredictable, one-sided and transactional relationship but a predictable, mutually respectful and values-driven companionship forged through blood.

Now is the time for Seoul and Washington to normalize the strained alliance by synchronizing policies toward Pyongyang and reaching a mutually agreeable solution on the cost-sharing issue. The transfer of wartime operational control should be condition-based and not time constrained while the stationing of the U.S. Forces Korea should not be used as a bargaining chip. The suspended joint military training should be resumed to maintain adequate combined defense capabilities to which the live-fire drills by U.S. troops are integral.

The ROK-U.S. alliance should primarily focus on deterring North Korea's provocations and denuclearizing the North through consistent sanctions and hard negotiations. The complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization should be the end goal. The alliance should also persuade China to exercise its economic and political leverage to denuclearize the North. Despite the diplomatic fanfare of two U.S.-North Korea summits held in Singapore and Hanoi respectively, there has been no real progress on the denuclearization of North Korea.

On the contrary, North Korea's nuclear and missile capabilities have been visibly aggrandized as we have witnessed last month in the military parade displaying new types of ICBM, SLBM and rocket launchers in Pyongyang. This is a clear and present danger to the security of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan.

The Moon government needs to reconsider its "North Korea first" perspective in favor of a balanced and principled approach to fluctuating inter-Korean relations. The "end-of-war declaration" should serve as an exit, rather than entrance, to the denuclearization process regarding North Korea.

Third, the ROK-U.S. alliance should pursue a coordinated strategy to deal with China. President-elect Biden emphasizes that "the most effective way [to deal with China] is to build a united front of U.S. allies and partners." U.S-China relations have deteriorated to the lowest level in the areas of economic, technological, military and ideological contest during the Trump administration.

Joe Biden also perceives that the rise of China poses the 'greatest strategic challenge' to the U.S. and its allies although he would seek to cooperate with China on such global issues as non-proliferation, climate change and health. Now, the ball is in South Korea's court.

The Moon government is required to make clear policy decisions instead of taking ambiguous positions between the U.S. and China on controversial issues like Huawei, a quadrilateral regional strategic coalition or Quad, as well as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missiles. Together with Japan and Australia in the region, South Korea should consolidate its alliance with the U.S., while encouraging China to accept rules-based international relations and practices.

The ROK-U.S. ties should also upgrade cooperation with Japan. South Korea and Japan should reinstate political dialogues to resolve the thorny historical issues such as compensation for forced labor under the latter's colonial rule. A renewed trilateral cooperative partnership among South Korea, U.S. and Japan will facilitate peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

Fourth, the ROK-U.S. alliance should contribute to the advancement of universal human rights and actively tackle the problems of climate change. In particular, concerted efforts to monitor and address serious human rights violations in North Korea should be prioritized.

As a leading advocate for democracy and human rights in Asia, South Korea should work closely with the U.S. to improve the human rights situation in the region. Advocating democracy and human rights in Hong Kong is important in this respect.

Biden vowed to rejoin the Paris Agreement on his first day of office if elected. The Moon government has also pledged to achieve a "carbon-neutral society" by 2050. The two countries should jointly foster clean energy efforts and explore advanced nuclear technologies while accelerating development of 5G and artificial intelligence.

Fifth, the ROK-U.S. alliance should enhance global peace and prosperity. South Korea and the U.S. made enormous sacrifices to fight against communist aggression and protect peace and freedom during the Korean War. President-elect Joe Biden and his spouse Jill Biden's visit to the Korean War Memorial in Philadelphia on Veterans Day carries a profound significance to the people of both countries.

South Korea is obliged to pay back the tremendous support it received from the U.S. and international society and to make efforts to bolster peace and prosperity in the world. South Korea has dispatched its peace-keeping troops to Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

South Korean naval vessels are patrolling the Gulf of Aden side by side with the U.S. fleet and traversing the Indian Ocean on a mission to fight piracy and provide disaster relief. Freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is important not only to the U.S. but also to South Korea because energy resources and strategic materials destined for the Korean Peninsula pass through that vital maritime region.

South Korea is the sixth-largest trade partner of the U.S. The eight-year old KORUS FTA, a bilateral free trade agreement, is a win-win arrangement amplifying trade and investment between the two economies. Currently, South Korean companies are creating jobs for 52,000 American workers.

South Korea is a global trading nation possessing free trade networks with the world's major economies. Recently, South Korea also signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) deal, a mega free trade bloc in East Asia and Oceania representing 30 percent of global trade and population.

The RCEP, pushed by China, was a reaction to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP, renamed to CPTPP) initiated, and then retracted, by the United States. President Xi Jinping will even "actively consider" China's participation in the CPTPP. By contrast, the U.S. has been conspicuously absent from the expanding free trade regimes in the Asia-Pacific. A U.S. decision, therefore, to return to the CPTPP under the Biden administration will be a game changer. It will also encourage South Korea and Taiwan to enter the CPTPP to join the U.S., Japan and Australia. With this domino effect, the ROK-U.S. alliance will play a greater role to promote free trade and check protectionism in the widening global trade architecture in the Asia-Pacific.

With the ushering in of a new era in U.S democratic leadership, revitalizing the ROK-U.S. alliance is essential. Joe Biden's bold plan to bring together democratic countries of the world by hosting a "Global Summit for Democracy" will provide an excellent momentum to reinvigorate the alliance. The vibrant Korean community of 2.6 million people in the U.S. serves as a "golden bridge" to empower the 67-year old thriving alliance.



Two inspiring resolutions, remembering the Korean War and solidifying the ROK-U.S. alliance, were passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last week. In the U.S. Congressional election this time, four Korean American candidates from New Jersey, California and Washington were proudly elected. Parliamentary dialogues and public diplomacy between the two countries should be given a higher priority. The ROK-U.S. alliance should be normalized and revitalized in order to transform itself into a global strategic partnership for a brighter and better future in Asia and the world.


Park Jin (dolphin1956@naver.com) is a lawmaker of the opposition People Power Party. He chairs the special committee on diplomacy and security of the party and previously served as the president of the Korea-America Association.


By Park Jin

The dramatic U.S. presidential election that captured global attention has virtually finished. Former Vice President Joe Biden declared victory after acquiring the majority number of the electoral college votes. President Donald Trump has refused to admit his defeat and the orderly process of power transition has yet to occur.

When it officially begins, the new Biden era will bring significant changes to American democracy and the global community, especially Korea, Japan and China. President-elect Biden is expected to implement foreign policies, based on the recovery of U.S. global leadership, strengthening cooperation with allies instead of extolling an "America-first" agenda.

As President-elect Biden correctly described in his first telephone talk with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the ROK-U.S. alliance serves as a "linchpin" for security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region. Here are tasks for the ROK-U.S. alliance to be addressed by the new Biden administration and the Moon government.

First, the ROK-U.S. alliance should counteract the worsening coronavirus pandemic as an urgent priority. South Korea and the United States should actively collaborate on effective quarantine measures and expedite vaccine distribution to contain the spread of infections. South Korea has delivered 750,000 diagnostic kits and 2 million masks to the U.S. Both countries should continue to work closely in the scientific and medical areas to develop vaccinations, diagnostic methods and treatments for appropriate use and ensure widespread accessibility to vaccines.

Second, the ROK-U.S. alliance should restore mutual trust and pursue a common strategy toward North Korea. The alliance is predicated on such core values as democracy, free market economy, human rights and rule of law. Our bilateral partnership should not be an unpredictable, one-sided and transactional relationship but a predictable, mutually respectful and values-driven companionship forged through blood.

Now is the time for Seoul and Washington to normalize the strained alliance by synchronizing policies toward Pyongyang and reaching a mutually agreeable solution on the cost-sharing issue. The transfer of wartime operational control should be condition-based and not time constrained while the stationing of the U.S. Forces Korea should not be used as a bargaining chip. The suspended joint military training should be resumed to maintain adequate combined defense capabilities to which the live-fire drills by U.S. troops are integral.

The ROK-U.S. alliance should primarily focus on deterring North Korea's provocations and denuclearizing the North through consistent sanctions and hard negotiations. The complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization should be the end goal. The alliance should also persuade China to exercise its economic and political leverage to denuclearize the North. Despite the diplomatic fanfare of two U.S.-North Korea summits held in Singapore and Hanoi respectively, there has been no real progress on the denuclearization of North Korea.

On the contrary, North Korea's nuclear and missile capabilities have been visibly aggrandized as we have witnessed last month in the military parade displaying new types of ICBM, SLBM and rocket launchers in Pyongyang. This is a clear and present danger to the security of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan.

The Moon government needs to reconsider its "North Korea first" perspective in favor of a balanced and principled approach to fluctuating inter-Korean relations. The "end-of-war declaration" should serve as an exit, rather than entrance, to the denuclearization process regarding North Korea.

Third, the ROK-U.S. alliance should pursue a coordinated strategy to deal with China. President-elect Biden emphasizes that "the most effective way [to deal with China] is to build a united front of U.S. allies and partners." U.S-China relations have deteriorated to the lowest level in the areas of economic, technological, military and ideological contest during the Trump administration.

Joe Biden also perceives that the rise of China poses the 'greatest strategic challenge' to the U.S. and its allies although he would seek to cooperate with China on such global issues as non-proliferation, climate change and health. Now, the ball is in South Korea's court.

The Moon government is required to make clear policy decisions instead of taking ambiguous positions between the U.S. and China on controversial issues like Huawei, a quadrilateral regional strategic coalition or Quad, as well as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missiles. Together with Japan and Australia in the region, South Korea should consolidate its alliance with the U.S., while encouraging China to accept rules-based international relations and practices.

The ROK-U.S. ties should also upgrade cooperation with Japan. South Korea and Japan should reinstate political dialogues to resolve the thorny historical issues such as compensation for forced labor under the latter's colonial rule. A renewed trilateral cooperative partnership among South Korea, U.S. and Japan will facilitate peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

Fourth, the ROK-U.S. alliance should contribute to the advancement of universal human rights and actively tackle the problems of climate change. In particular, concerted efforts to monitor and address serious human rights violations in North Korea should be prioritized.

As a leading advocate for democracy and human rights in Asia, South Korea should work closely with the U.S. to improve the human rights situation in the region. Advocating democracy and human rights in Hong Kong is important in this respect.

Biden vowed to rejoin the Paris Agreement on his first day of office if elected. The Moon government has also pledged to achieve a "carbon-neutral society" by 2050. The two countries should jointly foster clean energy efforts and explore advanced nuclear technologies while accelerating development of 5G and artificial intelligence.

Fifth, the ROK-U.S. alliance should enhance global peace and prosperity. South Korea and the U.S. made enormous sacrifices to fight against communist aggression and protect peace and freedom during the Korean War. President-elect Joe Biden and his spouse Jill Biden's visit to the Korean War Memorial in Philadelphia on Veterans Day carries a profound significance to the people of both countries.

South Korea is obliged to pay back the tremendous support it received from the U.S. and international society and to make efforts to bolster peace and prosperity in the world. South Korea has dispatched its peace-keeping troops to Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

South Korean naval vessels are patrolling the Gulf of Aden side by side with the U.S. fleet and traversing the Indian Ocean on a mission to fight piracy and provide disaster relief. Freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is important not only to the U.S. but also to South Korea because energy resources and strategic materials destined for the Korean Peninsula pass through that vital maritime region.

South Korea is the sixth-largest trade partner of the U.S. The eight-year old KORUS FTA, a bilateral free trade agreement, is a win-win arrangement amplifying trade and investment between the two economies. Currently, South Korean companies are creating jobs for 52,000 American workers.

South Korea is a global trading nation possessing free trade networks with the world's major economies. Recently, South Korea also signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) deal, a mega free trade bloc in East Asia and Oceania representing 30 percent of global trade and population.

The RCEP, pushed by China, was a reaction to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP, renamed to CPTPP) initiated, and then retracted, by the United States. President Xi Jinping will even "actively consider" China's participation in the CPTPP. By contrast, the U.S. has been conspicuously absent from the expanding free trade regimes in the Asia-Pacific. A U.S. decision, therefore, to return to the CPTPP under the Biden administration will be a game changer. It will also encourage South Korea and Taiwan to enter the CPTPP to join the U.S., Japan and Australia. With this domino effect, the ROK-U.S. alliance will play a greater role to promote free trade and check protectionism in the widening global trade architecture in the Asia-Pacific.

With the ushering in of a new era in U.S democratic leadership, revitalizing the ROK-U.S. alliance is essential. Joe Biden's bold plan to bring together democratic countries of the world by hosting a "Global Summit for Democracy" will provide an excellent momentum to reinvigorate the alliance. The vibrant Korean community of 2.6 million people in the U.S. serves as a "golden bridge" to empower the 67-year old thriving alliance.



Two inspiring resolutions, remembering the Korean War and solidifying the ROK-U.S. alliance, were passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last week. In the U.S. Congressional election this time, four Korean American candidates from New Jersey, California and Washington were proudly elected. Parliamentary dialogues and public diplomacy between the two countries should be given a higher priority. The ROK-U.S. alliance should be normalized and revitalized in order to transform itself into a global strategic partnership for a brighter and better future in Asia and the world.


Park Jin (dolphin1956@naver.com) is a lawmaker of the opposition People Power Party. He chairs the special committee on diplomacy and security of the party and previously served as the president of the Korea-America Association.



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