On Monday, October 9, 2023, CKS Director Yong-Chool Ha and Interim Associate Director Ian Oates visited the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center of the University of Montana (UM) to participate in their Celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the Korea-U.S. Alliance cohosted by the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Seattle. The event welcomed students from 8 local high schools, UM students, academics, and other community members for two panels analyzing the current state of the alliance and US-Korea economic relations.
Vice Consul Cho Yoon Hee opened the panel making remarks on behalf of Consulate General Seo Eunji. The panel featured Mansfield Fellow Robert McCoy, Director Ha, Secretary-General of the Korea Peace Foundation Wi Sunglac, and was moderated by UM Professor of Political Science Karen Adams. McCoy led the discussion. His remarks set a theme explored by all presenters: while further strengthening US-ROK relations is essential, the US must be more considerate of Korea’s historical and cultural perspectives as the alliance further matures. McCoy emphasized that US diplomacy needs to become more empathetic across all parts of the globe. He echoed Vice Consul Cho in encouraging greater tri-lateral relations between the US, Korea, and Japan.
Director Ha next took the stage. His remarks provided a wide analysis of the US-ROK alliance. Ha focused on the distinctiveness of South Korea democracy, advocating that the US must be more considerate and respectful of Korea’s democratic evolution. Professor Ha also highlighted how the nature of US-ROK relations are changing. Once the relationship was hierarchical, but no longer. The alliance was based in sympathy, now the alliance is forging mutual empathy. Ha stressed that the US must continue working to interact with Korea as an equal, and, like McCoy before him, commit to understanding Korea’s difficult diplomatic position between US-China relations.
Ambassador Wi touched on a litany of critical topics. He grappled with the complexity of North Korean relations arguing for a metered, universalist approach. Although the US and Korea have attempted to address North Korea’s increasing nuclear capabilities through negotiations and sanctions, Wi argued that these moves “have not achieved any successful results.” Wi explained that while deterrence remains a key issue, seceding space for diplomacy by being overly hawkish in deterrence policies solves nothing.
During lunch, Randi Edwards, Project Bridge Director at the Mansfield Center, presented on wide ranging international opportunities available to Montana students. After Ms. Edwards’ presentation, Professor of Anthropology at the Salish Kootenai College and Salish Elder, Dr. Steve Lozar, addressed how to better support youth across the Pacific Northwest in cultural preservation. Lazar shared his diverse experiences as a tribal leader, advocating for students to endeavor to understand the nations within our nation to then use those practices to better understand the world and help preserve the distinctness of all cultures.
Moderated by former Deputy Secretary General of the OECD Joanna Shelton, the afternoon panel featured Director of the Montana Department of Commerce Scott Osterman, Professor of Political Science at Chung-Ang University Lee Seungjoo, and Associate Director Oates. Professor Lee presented on Korea’s evolving economic security strategy. He did not shy away from the importance of China to Korea’s economy; however, he highlighted the radical shifts to non-Chinese markets in Korean overseas production over the past few years. Lee described how this pattern was likely to continue, yet how such changes would inevitably complicate supply chains within East Asia and beyond.
Scott Osterman followed Professor Lee with a presentation describing the richness of Korean-Montanan economic ties. Montana beef, wheat, coal, and expanding rare earth exports to Korea make up a substantial part of the Montanan economy, and Korea’s imports of these resources. Osterman projected serious expansion in all of these areas in the following years.
Oates concluded presentations with brief remarks reviewing the history of US-ROK political economic relations. Like Professor Lee, Oates stressed that understanding the current relationship requires a historical orientation, and an understanding of domestic politics in both countries. Oates framed Korea’s economic relations with the U.S. throughout the alliance in three periods. The first with Korea as the dependent of the US from the 1950s to the early 1970s. The second with Korea as a merchant to the US from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s. The third and current period with Korea and US functioning as economic equals, each holding leadership in specific sectors. He concluded his remarks highlighting four serious issues facing US-ROK economic relations: climate change, domestic politics, aging societies, and income inequality.
CKS thanks the Consulate General and the Mansfield Center for the generous invitation to participate in this excellent event. We look forward to working together in the future.