For the second time in as many months, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Danny Russel returned to Capitol Hill to brief the legislative branch of the U.S. government regarding sustained U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific, this time specifically pertaining to U.S. alliance partners Japan and South Korea.
Russel began by reiterating that “The United States has been, we are, and we will remain a Pacific power” based on the fact that the region is so important to US interests in terms of economic growth, trade, and people-to-people ties. He further explained that “For all of the changes in Asia, this much is constant: our alliances in the region have been and will remain the foundation of our strategy towards the Asia-Pacific.”
Japan and South Korea’s commitment to the shared values of democracy, open markets, and rule of law make both long-trusted partners for the United States in contributing to regional security, stability and prosperity. The fact that the United States continues to receive overwhelming public opinion support from within South Korea and Japan is further testimony to the strength and durability of the US presence in the region.
The US relationship with both Japan and South Korea goes beyond military cooperation. Over 650,000 US jobs are supported by Japanese companies operating in the United States, and the United States is one of the largest foreign investors in Japan. The United States is the top destination for overseas foreign direct investment from South Korea; today, South Korean companies Hyundai, Kia, and Samsung employ thousands of US workers, and Hankook Tire recently announced plans to invest $800 million to build its first U.S. production plant in Clarksville, Tennessee creating 1,800 US jobs. In addition, over 70,000 South Korean students study in the United States contributing over $2 billion to the US economy.
Reaffirming the US-Japan alliance as the “cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region,” Russel highlighted the positive impact of the alliance in carrying out humanitarian and disaster relief operations in the region, most recently in the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.
The Assistant Secretary also repeated that the US-ROK Alliance is the “linchpin of stability and security in Northeast Asia,” particularly concerning maintaining peace and security on the Korean Peninsula despite the unpredictability and ongoing threats emerging from North Korea. Russel once again restated that the United States “will not accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state.” Looking ahead, Russel predicted that the US-ROK Alliance will continue to expand “cooperation to meet 21st-century challenges beyond the Korean Peninsula.”
Russel again expressed US concerns over tensions in the region regarding disputed land features in the East China and South China Seas and China’s unilateral declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, topics that he highlighted in his February testimony to Congress. He repeated that the United States “welcomes the rise of a stable and prosperous China” but that the US objects "to unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo or advance a territorial claim though extra-legal or non-diplomatic means.”
In addition, he expressed US concerns over the “strained” relations between Japan and South Korea over “historical issues.” Russel explained that “strategic cooperation among the United States, Japan, and the R.O.K. is essential to developing the security order in Northeast Asia, especially given the threats facing us and our allies from North Korea and other regional uncertainties.”
The Assistant Secretary concluded his testimony by explaining that “Our alliances with Japan and the R.O.K. are rooted in shared strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific region and around the world, our deep economic ties, and, most importantly, our shared values and the strong personal relationships that have developed through extensive people-to-people ties. Our alliances have never been stronger, and the United States is actively working to deepen our engagement with both countries.”