The alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea has been one of the pillars guaranteeing peace, stability and prosperity in Northeast Asia for more than 60 years. Our alliance, forged in the conflict of the Korean War, has evolved into a close security and economic partnership and a growing global relationship. Just last week, I spoke on the House floor to welcome Republic of Korea’s President Park Geun-hye to Washington this week to further advance our strong alliance.
Security remains at the core of the alliance, as we stand united against the threat of the rogue regime in North Korea. About 28,500 members of the U.S. Armed Forces stationed in South Korea stand with their Korean counterparts in defense of the South. Our governments are united both diplomatically and militarily in opposition to North Korea’s proscribed nuclear and missile programs. We know, however, that the totalitarian regime in the North, one of the world’s worst abusers of human rights, cannot stand against the tide of history, and so we support Ms. Park’s principled vision for a peaceful, prosperous, democratic, unified Korean Peninsula.
Our defense cooperation also includes our close ally, Japan, and our three countries have agreed to tighter trilateral defense cooperation. A trilateral information sharing agreement, focused on North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat, represents an important concrete step toward strengthening our trilateral ties. Our militaries are looking at ways to better coordinate on humanitarian aid and disaster relief, counterpiracy, and new threats like that of the Islamic State. Our three nations likewise share common democratic values that serve as a model to the region as a whole. While tension remains between our allies over deep-seated issues of history, I hope our two partners can work to constructively resolve their differences, strengthening both their bilateral ties and our trilateral coordination.
Our commitment to mutual defense is just part of the story. Today the U.S.-South Korea alliance has progressed far beyond a single security threat as, over the past 60 years, South Korea has grown into a vibrant democracy and economic powerhouse. The KORUS free trade agreement, a true “win-win” for both our nations, has strengthened our economic ties since it was concluded in 2012, and South Korea is now the United States’ sixth-largest trading partner. In 2014, U.S. goods and exports to Korea, including aerospace products from my home state of Arizona, reached a record level of $44.5 billion. More than 160 South Korean business leaders will travel with Ms. Park to Washington to help expand business ties between our countries. While South Korea is not yet part of the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Congress will soon be reviewing, it is my hope that they will be among the first new countries to gain admittance.
Our two nations are likewise expanding our cooperation into new frontiers. South Korea is one of the most wired nations in the world, and a logical partner for greater coordination on cybersecurity. Furthermore, a recently concluded “123 agreement” allows new cooperation on civilian nuclear energy between our countries, an important development for energy security in the region. Beyond the Asia-Pacific region, our two nations are now partnering globally, from working together on an Ebola response in Africa and disaster relief after the earthquakes in Nepal. There is plenty of room, still, to do more. Our alliance may soon even extend to the stars, as Ms. Park explores with NASA possible new space cooperation between our two countries.
Our people-to-people ties also continue to grow. South Korea is the third largest source of foreign students in the United States, after only China and India. These students typically return home with a lifelong affection for the United States, and a greater cultural understanding. American students are also studying and teaching English in Korea, and bringing home the same positive views. Korean cuisine has become a staple in America’s cities and modern Korean culture — from K-pop to Korean TV dramas — is rapidly growing in popularity among America’s youth.
For the United States, our alliances in Asia form the foundation of our engagement in this dynamic region. As I look back at what the U.S.-South Korea alliance has accomplished over the past 60 years, and how it has evolved, I am optimistic about what the next 60 years hold.
• Matt Salmon represents Arizona’s 5th Congressional District and is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.