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US ambassador praises Washington-Seoul alliance at friendship gala

Harry Harris, US ambassador to the Republic of Korea (KAFS)
Harry Harris, US ambassador to the Republic of Korea (KAFS)

Several months ago in Seoul, US Ambassador Harry Harris had a chance to think about the alliance between his country and South Korea when a young college student asked him, “Ambassador, I hear you had a distinguished military career. Did you fight in the Korean War?”

The envoy was born in 1956, some three years after the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. He told the student that it was his father who fought in the war.

“This story illustrates an important point that as the Korean War recedes into history, it is also receding in the minds of our youngest generations. And we can’t let that happen, ladies and gentlemen,” the former US Navy officer and commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command said on Dec. 11 at the 2018 Korea-America Year-End Friendship Night reception in Seoul.

“This year we’re celebrating the 65th anniversary of the US-ROK alliance -- an alliance that serves as the foundation of peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and the cornerstone of security across the region. Today, more than ever, the ROK-US alliance is essential. We cannot take it for granted. We must not take it for granted.”

Retired Gen. Han Chul-soo, president of the Korea America Friendship Society and former deputy commander-in-chief of CFC (right) (KAFS)
Retired Gen. Han Chul-soo, president of the Korea America Friendship Society and former deputy commander-in-chief of CFC (right) (KAFS)

The annual event was organized by the Korea America Friendship Society, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization established in 1991 to strengthen and celebrate the friendship and alliance between Washington and Seoul. The institution organizes policy forums, friendship galas, concerts and golf tournaments throughout the year for US and Korean military personnel.

The friendship night at Millennium Seoul Hilton last week was attended by some 360 guests from both countries’ militaries, the Combined Forces Command, the US diplomatic community and the world of Korean politics.

“All of these efforts as a whole reflect a level of commitment on the part of both our administrations to achieve a lasting peace on the peninsula, and the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea,” said Harris, who assumed his post in July. “The potential for positive change in the North is limitless if Chairman Kim Jong-un were to fulfill his commitment to denuclearize. However, as President Moon Jae-in himself has said, ‘Inter-Korean dialogue must remain linked with progress in denuclearization.’”

Turning to Seoul’s decision to boost the nation’s annual defense budget by over 8 percent to $42 billion as part of Korea Defense Reform 2.0 -- the largest increase since 2008 -- the envoy lauded the modernization effort, adding that the two nations’ military experts would meet to negotiate a related cost-sharing agreement. 

Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of USFK, CFC and UNC (KAFS)
Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of USFK, CFC and UNC (KAFS)

“The ROK-US alliance benefits greatly from Korea’s contributions, including its advanced technologies capable of professional military organization and highly developed economic infrastructures,” he said. “The US appreciates the considerable resources the ROK provides to support this alliance, but more can and should be done in my opinion.”

Retired Gen. Han Chul-soo, president of the Korea America Friendship Society and former deputy commander-in-chief of CFC, paid tribute to the late 41st US President George Herbert Walker Bush, who passed away Nov. 30.

“The ROK-US alliance is a very special relationship. It is a bond forged by blood as our nations fought shoulder to shoulder to keep liberal democracy in Korea as well as in wars across Asia and the Middle East,” said the former South Korean ambassador to China and Brazil and representative to the Korean Mission in Taipei. 

“As many as 36,574 American soldiers were killed in action 68 years ago during the Korean War to protect the Republic of Korea and its people they never knew or met. Our people will never forget their noble sacrifices and help. They will forever be our heroes.”

Han lauded the CFC, saying it strengthens mutual trust, cohesion and interoperability between US and ROK soldiers who work and train together. “The alliance should neither be weakened nor changed until favorable conditions are met for the complete denuclearization of North Korea.”

Chairman of KAFS and CJ Group Sohn Kyung-shik (KAFS)
Chairman of KAFS and CJ Group Sohn Kyung-shik (KAFS)

Han argued that the Sept. 19 agreement adopted in Pyongyang during the inter-Korean summit could weaken South Korea’s capabilities in military surveillance, reconnaissance and early warning; nullify the Northern Limit Line in the West Sea; and jeopardize millions of lives south of the Demilitarized Zone upon a North Korean attack.

“The dedicated efforts of the Korea America Friendship Society have greatly enhanced the ROK-US alliance by providing opportunities and cultivating cross-cultural relationships and connections,” said Gen. Robert Abrams, who assumed the helm of USFK, CFC and UNC on Nov. 8. “This alliance is only as strong as the people who compose it, and no one can ever question our strength. This is a relationship that was born 68 years ago in the crucible of ground combat with many shared sacrifices by those that came before us.”

Chairman of KAFS and CJ Group Sohn Kyung-shik said, “The Korean people all yearn for peace between North and South Korea, but we are also dedicated to and actively participate in North Korea’s denuclearization and global nonproliferation efforts as demanded by the international community.”

The alliance has evolved beyond a military alliance, he said, to encompass commerce, diplomacy, culture and education, calling the US “our most important economic partner, and more importantly, our trusted friend and ally.”

By Joel Lee (