President Barack Obama and President Lee Myung-bak of the Republic of Korea walk along the Colonnade during President Lee's State Visit to the White House, Oct. 13, 2011. Source: White House Photo by Pete Souza

Korean President State Visit Shows Strong US-Korea Ties


South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s official five-day state visit to the United States was a resounding success, with a number of significant developments across both the security and economic spectrums. Passage of the US-South Korea Free Trade Agreement—KORUS—just hours before President Lee addressed a joint session of Congress, a briefing on North Korea in the secure conference room known as “The Tank” at the Pentagon, Senate confirmation of US Ambassador Sung Kim to South Korea, along with an official State dinner at the White House all contributed to advancing the bilateral relationship to new heights.

Speaking at the White House State dinner in his honor, President Lee spoke about the deep and lasting bond between the United States and South Korea:

“Sixty years ago, our mutual defense treaty began what is considered to be one of the strongest military and political alliances that the world has ever known. Of course, we are here today to celebrate our journey of the last 60 years, one that has been—always been marked by triumphs, sometimes heartache, but always full of hope. And we are gathered here to reaffirm our friendship and to renew our common commitment towards our shared goals. I know that our relationship will go strong; it will become more mature and complete.”

President Obama, at the joint press conference at the White House the next day, described the US-Korea relationship thus:

“This state visit reflects the fact that the Republic of Korea is one of our strongest allies…South Koreans have served bravely with us in Afghanistan and Iraq. South Korean forces have partnered with us to prevent piracy off the shores of Africa and stem the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Once a recipient of aid, South Korea has become a donor nation, supporting development from Asia to Africa. And under President Lee’s personal leadership, Seoul served as host to the G20 summit last year and will host the next Nuclear Security Summit next year.”

President Obama has now signed the ratified trade agreement into law, and while the South Korean National Assembly has yet to pass KORUS, it is not expected to encounter any major stumbling blocks. Since the successful passage of KORUS through the US Congress, President Lee has indicated that Korea may now enter into the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

As we reported earlier, KORUS is expected to boost bilateral trade for both countries. The fact that KORUS passed—coming hot on the heels of the South Korea-EU Free Trade Agreement—is good news for US exporters. The General Motors plant in Lake Orion, Michigan, that Presidents Obama and Lee visited together, produces the compact Chevy Sonic car. This vehicle is designed in South Korea and manufactured in the United States utilizing 440 different parts that come from South Korea. Addressing factory workers at the GM plant, President Obama explained that regarding KORUS:

“Here in the United States, this trade agreement will support 70,000 American jobs. It will increase exports. It will boost our economy by more than our last nine trade agreements combined. And as I said, the good thing is we’ve got a balanced situation. It’s not just a matter of folks sending a bunch of stuff here. Koreans also are buying American products. That’s what makes it a win-win.”

Looking to the future, the United States and South Korea continue to lay laid firm foundations to sustain their relationship in both the military and economic spheres. The past few years have seen both nations on the same page when tackling international issues including North Korea, the global economic crisis, nuclear disarmament, climate change, Iraq, Afghanistan and pirates off the Somali coast. The US-ROK alliance is nothing short of rock solid, and the future for an even stronger economic relationship has just been further solidified.