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NBR Voices: What You Should Know about President Park Geun-hye's Visit to the United States

In this feature, NBR experts highlight key areas to watch during President Park Geun-hye's upcoming visit to the United States. President Barack Obama will welcome President Park to the White House on October 16th. See a daily recap of President Park's October 13-16 visit to Washington, D.C.

The following quotes identify the central challenges currently affecting the relationship between the United States and the Republic of Korea (ROK) and provide a useful starting point for those tracking President Park's visit.



THE U.S.-ROK ALLIANCE



The U.S.-ROK alliance remains absolutely critical to the future of the Asia-Pacific region. As North Korea continues to embrace belligerence and aggression as tools of statecraft and China's geopolitical power continues to expand, cooperation and coordination between Washington and Seoul will be essential to sustaining and strengthening a rules-based liberal international order. President Park's visit to Washington presents a significant opportunity to emphasize the importance of the alliance for both nations, to chart a course ahead to sustain the alliance's effectiveness, and to commit to work together to strengthen ties with other allies and partners across the Asia-Pacific to enhance stability in the face of profound emerging challenges.

RICHARD J. ELLINGS
NBR President



REUNIFICATION



Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Empire, South Koreans have done just about everything they could to avoid thinking about the reunification of the Korean Peninsula. The results of this attempted “holiday from history” are plain to see: Seoul today shares the peninsula with a deformed polity committed to the ROK's destruction and now possessing nuclear weapons.

The imperative for South Korean policy is clear: reduce the North Korean threat immediately and plan for a successful Korean reunification in due course.

President Park cannot make up for lost time, but she can set her country on a solid course today. In President Obama she has a willing prospective partner, and one with few illusions about Pyongyang.

It is a propitious alignment—the only question is: will she seize the day?

NICK EBERSTADT
Senior Advisor



ASIA'S PARADOX



President Park memorably summarized Northeast Asia's situation as being characterized by "Asia's Paradox": a region where growing economic cooperation is clashing with deep political and security tensions. Seoul, which skillfully maintains simultaneous strong relationships with China and the United States and is nurturing a relationship with Japan despite continuing differences over history, shows that Madam Park's ideal of "Trustpolitik" among regional players is worth a try.

NADÈGE ROLLAND
Senior Project Director for Political and Security Affairs



MILITARY ALLIANCE AND CHINA



The U.S. and ROK leaders have warned North Korea not to test long-range missiles or conduct nuclear tests in conjunction with the October 10 70th anniversary of the Korea Workers Party. In any case, such threats may serve to nudge along discussions of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile battery deployment to South Korea, despite Chinese objections. Perhaps of greater importance, however, the presidents need to discuss how to coordinate security strategy vis-à-vis China in light of President Park's outreach to the PRC, dubbed a "strategic roadmap" for engagement.

ROY KAMPHAUSEN
Senior Vice President for Research



NORTH KOREA'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM



North Korea recently announced its ability to mount a nuclear warhead atop a long-range ballistic missile, and many U.S. officials assess that North Korea’s development of the ICBM KN-08 was successful. North Korea also possesses several hundred short- and medium-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching South Korea and Japan. The nuclear program is also an efficient propaganda for domestic audiences to promote the regime.

The U.S.-ROK alliance has to date maintained successful nuclear deterrence on the Korean Peninsula. This year, the allies launched the Deterrence Strategy Committee to improve the response to potential nuclear threats from North Korea. At the upcoming summit, Presidents Park and Obama should reconfirm the strength of this robust alliance and continue to work together to effectively deter North Korean provocations in order to keep peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.

JULIA OH
Atlas Corps Fellow of Political and Security Affairs



GLOBAL HEALTH SECURITY



Recently, improving health security to ensure safety from the threat of infectious diseases has become one of the most important global security issues, not solely a public health problem of developing countries. The spread of Ebola is a representative case. To address this critical issue, the Seoul Declaration seeks to build a cooperative advanced health security system across the world. The declaration was adopted at the second high-level meeting of the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), held in South Korea in September. In addition, President Park announced a plan to donate $100 million dollars over five years after 2016 to assist in achieving this goal. At this time, President Park’s visit to the United States offers the opportunity to discuss stronger cooperation between the United States and South Korea to cope with global health security treats. The visit could also be good momentum for increasing international interest and participation in global health and for delivering a message of hope to people in developing countries who are suffering from infectious diseases or bioterrorism.

JOO HUN YOU
Visiting Fellow



ASIAN INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT BANK (AIIB)



The ROK's decision to join the AIIB in March 2015 despite U.S. reservations was a pragmatic one fueled by the country's close trade ties with China and the AIIB's potential to boost growth for some stagnating sectors. Although some analysts say that the AIIB appears to challenge U.S. primacy in the Asia-Pacific, U.S. influence in the region is extremely robust, and the ROK's membership in the bank does not threaten the U.S.-ROK alliance. Presidents Park and Obama should discuss ways for Seoul to lead the AIIB in the adoption of adequate governance standards and proper environmental and social safeguards before the bank begins to invest in the region's more vulnerable economies and political systems.

RACHEL WAGLEY
Director of Government Relations and External Affairs



TRADE AND THE TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP (TPP)



Presidents Park and Obama should view the visit as an opportunity to focus on trade as a successfully growing aspect of bilateral relations. President Park's visit will come while the spotlight is shining on the recently concluded TPP agreement. Highlighting the benefits of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement could help build support for both the TPP and the White House's broader trade agenda. South Korea has also expressed interest in joining the TPP, which increases the likelihood that additional trading partners could be added in the future.

MEREDITH MILLER
Senior Advisor



NUCLEAR ENERGY



Over the past few months, we have seen a breakthrough in U.S.-ROK negotiations on renewing the civil nuclear pact and continuing dialogues on how we might advance further collaborative research on nuclear fuel and technology issues. Presidents Park and Obama should be eager to highlight these achievements. A key point of discussion during President Park's visit in 2013 was how the two allies can move forward on energy cooperation. Given that nuclear power is responsible for over a quarter of South Korea's electricity supply, these negotiations have been a critical test for advancing that goal.

CLARA GILLISPIE
Director of Trade, Economic, and Energy Affairs


Read a backgrounder outlining three areas that policymakers, media, and others should watch during Park’s visit: Fact Sheet: South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s Visit to the United States.



The chapter "The U.S.-ROK Alliance and the U.S. Rebalance to Asia" from Strategic Asia 2014–15 examines the current status and future prospects of the alliance between the U.S. and the Republic of Korea (ROK).

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