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[Contribution] The Korea-US alliance: A bona fide comprehensive partnership

South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong Kun (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong Kun (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
A linchpin holds the various elements of a structure together. The Korea-US alliance is often referred to as the linchpin of peace, security and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and the Indo-Pacific. Simply put, the Korea-US alliance is indispensable to this region.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III touched down in Seoul ahead of a series of meetings with their Korean counterparts. It was the first time in memory that the top US foreign policy and defense chiefs traveled in tandem to Korea as part of their first overseas trip. The dual visits, coming early in the Biden administration, underscore US commitment to the alliance and the region.

The ministers and secretaries held frank and in-depth discussions on further strengthening the security partnership, in addition to tough issues facing the Korean Peninsula, so that the peace process can firmly take root.

There was also a shared and growing recognition that over the course of seven decades, the alliance had expanded beyond the contours of the security realm to now include cooperation on global issues. We are seeing the beginning of a bona fide comprehensive partnership.

Over the past year, COVID-19 has highlighted the fact that this alliance concerns not just seemingly far-off or impalpable issues of security interest. There is now a growing understanding that the alliance directly touches upon the daily lives of the citizens of our two countries. For instance, we are partnering to tackle COVID-19 together.

We are also building a more resilient global health security regime for tomorrow. Korea and the United States are deepening cooperation on global imperatives like promoting clean energy and development. Our two countries work hand-in-glove to respond to climate change. The US is scheduled to host the World Climate Summit in April and Korea the Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030 (P4G) Summit in May.

The strongest bonds between the two countries are built on more than just fleeting transactional interests, but on shared values. Values such as democracy and human rights underpin the long-standing US-Korea partnership. As a clear example, Korea has been urging the people of Myanmar, in lock-step with the international community, to stand up for and reclaim their hard-earned democracy. 

With agreement reached on a multi-year Special Measures Agreement (SMA) just prior to the visits by the two Secretaries, an issue that has bogged down the partnership for two years has been lifted. This agreement reflects the alliance’s aspiration for a mutually beneficial partnership, and will ensure that the alliance continues its steady upward trajectory.

The United States and Korea are time-tested teammates in one of the most successful partnerships the world has seen since the Second World War. We have been co-authoring important chapters of history for the past seventy years. I am convinced that this alliance will continue to evolve into a partnership that is even more effective, forward-looking and adaptable to global challenges. 

By Choi Jong Kun 

The writer is South Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister. The views reflected in the article are his own. -- Ed.