|Marc Knapper, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Korea and Japan, speaks during an online forum on the COVID-19 pandemic and Korean Peninsula issues, live-streamed at the Korea Press Center in Seoul, Wednesday. / Yonhap|
By Kang Seung-woo
The decades-old bilateral ties between Korea and the United States are further evolving during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to senior government officials from both countries, Wednesday.
"I think during this pandemic we have discovered just how deep, broad and trustful the U.S.-ROK relationship is," Marc Knapper, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Korea and Japan, said during a video forum titled, "One Pandemic, Two Koreas: Coronavirus and the Korean Peninsula Standoff." The event was hosted by the Korea Press Foundation and Hawaii-based East-West Center, with U.S. panelists participating remotely.
Ko Yun-ju, director-general for North American affairs at the Korean foreign ministry, also said the alliance is growing stronger via their various cooperative undertakings in the fight against the virus.
Knapper, a former interim U.S. ambassador to Korea, specified areas in which Seoul and Washington are closely cooperating in the pandemic crisis, adding "sharing data and best practices" has been the most important area of cooperation.
"This is really an important area of cooperation given Korea has been a model and exemplar for the world in terms of how to fight this virus, how to use transparency in openness and how to rely on democratic values to take on the health crisis," he said. "So the U.S. has benefitted greatly from some of the best practices that Korea has with us."
Citing weekly phone calls between U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun and Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choi Sei-young, the American said they have had an opportunity to learn from Korea about how to deal with the virus and "flatten the curve."
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, 180 countries have banned or restricted the entry of Koreans, but both the U.S. and Korea have neither issued a blanket entry ban nor put in place restrictions for each other.
"It was very important to us from the beginning to be able to maintain frequent travel between our two countries given the importance of Incheon International Airport being a hub for travelers around the region and given the importance of cargo being able to continue to go back and forth," Knapper said.
He added the two governments worked very closely from early on to ensure that air routes between Korea and the U.S. were able to remain open to allow travel and the transport of cargo to continue.
The provision of medical supplies is another good sign of the bilateral cooperation, he said.
"Early on, President Moon offered to prioritize the provision to the U.S. of 750,000 test kits and this was just a genuine show of what allies do for each other, and we still talk about how significant that was, not to mention the 2.5 million masks Korea provided, including to American veterans," he said.
"It really makes a difference and it really shows just how deep our friendship is."
Ko said the partnership between the two countries was "better than ever."
"Despite restriction on face-to-face meetings due to COVID-19, the two sides have maintained high-level exchanges through telephone and video conferencing," he told the forum.
Knapper attributed the successful cooperation between the allies to their rich history of decades of people-to-people and educational exchanges.
"I think everything we do bilaterally would not succeed were it not for two countries' rich history of exchanges, rich history of Korean students, researchers and scientists coming to the U.S. collaborating with their colleagues, building friendships and building other kind of collaborative efforts," he said.
Meanwhile, with regard to the stalled negotiations over the defense cost-sharing deal, Knapper expressed confidence that the two countries will find a way forward. Despite multiple rounds of talks, they remain far apart over Korea's financial contribution to the stationing of the 28,500-strong USFK here.
"We are working very hard to bring this to a conclusion. Both sides are committed to making this happen. Both of our leaders are fully engaged on this," he said. "I think we are both compelled to find a way forward and we will find a way. I am very confident."