Amb.-Designate Sung Kim. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Amb.-Designate Underscores Importance of US-Korea Relations


by Barbara Wanner

Amb.-Designate Sung Kim Underscores Strategic and Economic Importance of US-South Korea Relations Before Senate Foreign Relations Committee

On July 21, 2011, the US Senate Foreign Relations committee convened to consider the nomination of Sung Kim to be US Ambassador to the Republic of Korea. Kim, who is a career US Foreign Service Office, has served as Special Envoy for the Six Party Talks for the past three years for which he was accorded the rank of Ambassador. Importantly, following his anticipated confirmation by the US Senate, Kim also will enjoy the distinction of being the first Korean-American to serve as US Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (ROK).

In his statement, Kim underscored the importance of continuing to “strengthen and nurture” the US-ROK partnership. He noted important developments underway in bilateral security relations aimed at making a “stronger and more balanced” partnership. These involve: (1)the ROK military assuming more responsibility for South Korean defense, including wartime operational control in 2015; and(2) realignment of US basing arrangements. Concerning the latter, Kim emphasized that the United States “want[s] a smaller footprint that creates less of an impact on ROK civilians, but [also] provides the robust deterrent necessary to maintain peace on the Peninsula.”

Kim further described US-ROK economic relations as one of “one of the world’s most important,” highlighting the substantial export opportunities for US goods and services and related jobs that will be created by the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) currently pending approval by the US Congress and Korean National Assembly. He pledged to work closely with Korea, the US Congress, and other US government agencies to ensure smooth implementation of the trade agreement “so both countries can seize the important benefits the agreement is to provide.”

Washington and Seoul signed the KORUS in June 2007, but its approval by the US Congress, in particular, has encountered repeated obstacles. American lawmakers initially refused to approve the accord owing to concerns about its impact on bilateral trade in automobiles and beef. Although an agreement announced by Presidents Obama and Lee Myung-bak in December 2010 addressed these issues, the KORUS still has not budged. Republicans and Democrats in both houses have been at loggerheads over a plan to link legislation to implement the KORUS with a bill that would provide reemployment services and benefits to workers who have been adversely affected by trade.

In his hearing statement, Senator Jim Webb (D., Virginia), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific, expressed frustration with the extent to which the success of the US-ROK economic relationship “has been tempered” by the inability of Washington to secure congressional approval of the KORUS.

“We should set aside minor differences and work together to gain swift passage of this vital free trade agreement,” Webb said. “Without passage, we, the United States, risk falling behind our trade competitors, losing economic benefits, and weakening an important strategic alliance.”

Webb also described South Korea as one of the United States’ most important security allies, which serves as a “focal point for maintaining stability in this area, even as we work together to bring lasting peace in the region.” He attributed the closely coordinated “show of strength” between Seoul and Washington in response to North Korea’s provocative sinking of a South Korean naval vessel and artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island as preventing the further escalation of these incidents. “This joint approach is essential to maintaining stability on the Korean Peninsula and ensuring that North Korea is not allowed to act with impunity,” Webb said.

The Subcommittee Chairman called for the resumption of food aid and other humanitarian assistance to North Korea “only in strict coordination with South Korea and Japan.” However, Amb-Designate Kim would not indicate whether the Obama administration was likely to alter its position that North Korea should not receive food or other aid unless Pyongyang meets certain conditions aimed at ending its nuclear ambitions.

Before his appointment to Special envoy for the Six-Party Talks in July 2008, Amb. Kim led the State Department’s Office of Korean Affairs from August 2006 to July 2008. Prior to that, he was chief of political-military affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, and he has also served as a political officer in Tokyo and had assignments in Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong. In Washington, Ambassador Kim worked in the Office of Chinese Affairs and served as Staff Assistant in the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Ambassador Kim worked as a public prosecutor in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and completed a degree in law from Loyola as well as a Master’s degree from the London School of Economics.