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KEI Spotlight

2014 OLS Keynote by Chairman Steve Chabot

July 31, 2014

Chairman Steve Chabot of the U.S. House of Representatives spoke at the 2014 Opinion Leaders Seminar. Please find below his July 28, 2014 remarks:

Thank you, Don, for the kind introduction, and thank you to the Korea Economic Institute for inviting me here this evening.  It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak with you today about a relationship we all greatly value, and a region that is vital for U.S. political, security, and economic interests.

Before I begin, let me just take a moment to say a word or two about my friend and former colleague, Don Manzullo. I’ve known Don for 20 years and served with him on both the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Small Business Committee, where he served as Chairman for 6 of those years. He, of course, was my predecessor as Chairman of the Asia-Pacific Subcommittee. I can tell you that he was a great Member of Congress and I know he’s been doing a great job at KEI. Don, thank you for your great service.

As I mentioned, I have the honor of serving as Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, an assignment that has proved both fascinating and challenging. In fact, the commencement of my Chairmanship was celebrated in North Korea with the launching of missiles and its third nuclear test. While I wish I could accept North Korea’s feigned demonstration of congratulations, I believe there is better chance that these events were more likely Pyongyang’s way of celebrating the beginning of the lunar New Year or President Obama’s State of the Union Address. I suspect the latter.

That said, the United States’ alliance with South Korea and U.S. policy toward North Korea have been top priorities since I began my tenure as Chairman of the Subcommittee. And I think it’s important to start off by noting that the North Korea Sanctions Bill, H.R. 1771, passed the House by voice vote this afternoon—an illustration that Congress has also made the Korean Peninsula a high priority.

Last year marked the 60-year Anniversary of the Armistice that ended the Korean War. South Korea has come such a long way since the cold dark days of that horrific conflict, and we will never forget the shared sacrifice of our brave military forces as they faced the relentless onslaught of the North Korean and Chinese armies. As we have witnessed over the past two years an escalation of war-like rhetoric and dangerously irresponsible actions from North Korea’s reckless third-generation Kim, it is clear that the U.S.-South Korean alliance is more important than ever before.

Here in the U.S., we are fortunate that 1.5 million Americans of Korean decent call this nation “home.”  They are an integral part of the fabric of American society. Many Korean-Americans are small business owners, and their pursuit of the American Dream contributes greatly to the U.S. economy.  The passage of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, America’s largest trade agreement in Asia, was a sign that the relationship has grown over time beyond a security alliance to a friendship of incredible depth.  South Korea shares with the United States the values of freedom, democracy, and respect for human rights, which make the relationship even more dynamic, especially in a region surrounded by nations that threaten the use of nuclear weapons, disregard basic freedoms and violate the inalienable rights of man.

I have visited South Korea many times, twice in the last year. I’ve seen firsthand the progress that the Korean people have made over recent decades. Today, South Korea has a world-class economy and is a leader in high-tech innovation. Its development over the last half century has been nothing short of spectacular.

During my recent visits to South Korea, and on her visit to the United States, I had the honor of meeting with President Park. We discussed a variety of issues, including the need to fully implement our free trade agreement and the future possibility of South Korea participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. We also, of course, discussed North Korea, the need for Pyongyang to act as a responsible member of the international community, and the great importance of our alliance to defend each other in the event of aggression by North Korea.

I admire President Park’s aspiration to reunite the North with the South, sooner rather than later, but I also recognize the reality—U.S. and South Korean troops patrol and guard the DMZ under a state of high alert and readiness, prepared for any miscalculation, asymmetric threat, or incoming missile. JSTARS fly over North Korea daily, and since the Kim regime began testing nuclear weapons, our forces have increased their state of preparedness. I can tell you from personal experience that the state of “normalcy” for our men and women in South Korea at the DMZ is tense, and I do not see this changing any time soon.

Last summer, the Subcommittee held a hearing to assess the future of U.S.-Korea relations, the great importance of our security alliance, and the importance of extending the civilian nuclear “123” agreement with South Korea. I strongly supported the extension of the ongoing nuclear energy agreement between our two countries because the completion of a modern, 21st Century agreement is mutually beneficial. South Korea’s economy depends heavily on clean, low cost energy, and the extension of this agreement directly impacts American jobs, which play critical roles in supplying South Korea with the components it needs to maintain its economic power supply. With North Korean nuclear threats being all too real, the 123 Agreement is but one way for our two nations to uphold the region’s high level of nuclear security standards.

This week, my Subcommittee is convening a hearing to examine the Administration’s North Korea policy—a policy labeled as “strategic patience,” but a policy that, I believe, essentially means doing nothing, and hoping nothing bad happens.

While the ongoing crises in the Middle East and Crimea grab the world’s attention, it’s important for us to recognize that the security situation in Asia is also deteriorating. North Korea’s increasing proliferation of nuclear weapons and illicit trade of ballistic missiles and materials to the Middle East, is greatly contributing to this.

North Korea has conducted six missile and rocket tests over the last four weeks, and last week, the UN Security Council officially condemned North Korea for the launches, and urged it to “fully comply” with UN restrictions. These restrictions bar North Korea from conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology. North Korea’s official response was, “All the military measures taken by the Korean People’s Army, including tactical rocket firing, are an exercise of the right to self-defense” to protect against U.S. aggression and nuclear threats. Pyongyang also noted that UN criticism is “absolutely intolerable.”

In many ways, North Korea misbehaves like a spoiled toddler, and conducts tests and drills to show its displeasure. In this case, it was responding to Chinese President Xi’s state visit to Seoul, and the upcoming South Korea-US naval exercise. However, its actions are evidence that North Korea is continuing its quest to acquire the ability to threaten the United States and South Korea with a nuclear warhead.

It is also further proof that the United States’ current policies have failed.  Recently, Secretary Kerry stated “you will notice, since…last year, North Korea has been quieter. We haven’t done what we want to do yet with respect to the denuclearization, but we are working on that and moving forward.” I think Secretary Kerry must have misread the reports. I don’t understand how one can say North Korea is less of a threat because Pyongyang hasn’t tested a nuclear weapon this year. We have no idea what North Korea is planning or what Kim Jong-un’s intentions are, but one thing is certain—North Korea has not been “quieter.”

That is why we have called on the Administration to testify on its North Korea policy, and why the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2013 was on the House floor today and passed by voice vote. It is critical that Congress takes action to hold North Korea accountable for its illicit activities and human rights abuses, because the Administration is not.The United States must remain vigilant against one of the most repressive and hostile regimes on the planet.  North Korea’s provocative actions threaten the region’s collective security, and we cannot tolerate this continued behavior.

North Korea, however, is not the only threat or challenge in the Asia-Pacific region. Over the past year, the level of tension in the maritime regions has escalated to dangerous levels. China’s unilateral actions to exert its control over disputed maritime territories—to coercively change and destabilize the regional status quo, violate core principles of the international laws that govern the waterways, and determine rights to the hundreds of island territories scattered across the East and South China Seas.

The implications of these actions for the United States are substantial, because of our strategic and economic interests that are being threatened by growing tensions, and confrontational incidents in these waters.

China’s growing aggressiveness is one of the primary reasons why the U.S. must stay engaged in Asia— our presence bolsters the security and stability of the entire region, and helps secure the sea lanes of communication, which the world depend on for its economic well-being.

The U.S. policy rebalance toward Asia largely served as an acknowledgement of this responsibility. This so-called “pivot,” came at a crucial time, when our regional friends and allies needed assurance of a sustained U.S. presence.  While I may take issue with the lack of depth of the Administration’s rebalance strategy, one thing is certain—we should always have a grounded diplomatic, economic, and military commitment to the region.

The foundation of this commitment is rooted in the United States’ five treaty alliances, with South Korea, Japan, Australia, Thailand, and the Philippines. And we must continue to do everything possible to support these relationships.

In particular, our alliances with South Korea and Japan, not only serve as a buttress against China’s provocative behavior, but also create a wall of security around North Korea. I hope our two closest allies in the region, can peacefully resolve their disagreements, to ensure that cooperation between our three countries stays strong against these burgeoning threats.

As I conclude my remarks, I want to reiterate my strong support for the U.S.-South Korea alliance.  Not only do we have strong national security interests in keeping this relationship healthy, which recent North Korean nuclear threats have made all too real, but we also have important economic reasons.  In so many ways, our relationship with South Korea, is mutually beneficial, and we must all do our best to keep it that way.