In October, the Korean Studies Institute of USC, in cooperation with other organizations, sponsored a symposium with panels on the FTA, and on the North Korea "question." Here is the description of the discussions from the Institute's newsletter (The US‐Korea FTA and the North Korea Question Revisited, Winter, 2007):
In collaboration with the Korea Economic Institute (KEI), Korean Studies Institute (KSI) held a roundtable on “The Korea‐US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) and the North Korean Question." on October 26, 2006. This timely roundtable discussed the complex and evolving relationship between the US and South Korea in the face of North Korea’s renewed nuclear provocation.
The first panel focused on the political economy of KORUS FTA. Dr. Jong Nam Oh, Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund, emphasized that an FTA with the US would be one of the best ways for South Korea to secure a foothold in the world’s largest market. For South Korea, it would also increase national credibility, thus attracting more foreign investment. Dr. Oh also noted that if an FTA with the US were combined with the waiver of visa requirements, South Korea would enjoy significant benefits from free travel of citizens of both countries.
As Seok‐young Choi, Economic Minister of ROK Embassy in the US, pointed out, both the US and South Korea are currently pursuing better access to both countries and a level playing field in each other’s market through the KORUS FTA. But both sides have sharp differences in some politically sensitive sectors. For South Korea, agriculture is one of the most sensitive sectors. In sharp contrast, South Korea pursues an aggressive approach to textile and apparels in the US market as well as the trade remedy rules. Aside from traditional trade issue areas, Minister Choi argued, the two governments need to narrow the gap concerning special visa quotas for South Koreans who might work in the US and the rules of origins for the products of Gaesung Industrial Complex in North Korea.
Young Kim, District Representative to US Congressman Ed Royce (CA), shared her views of the congressional concerns about the KORUS FTA. First on the visa waiver, she noted that there was a strong bipartisan support for South Korea’s inclusion in the visa waiver program; however, US Congress also expressed clear opposition to discussing the issue during FTA negotiations. Concerning the issue of Gaesung, Ms. Kim argued that, for the US negotiators and the members of Congress, this is certainly a non‐starter as long as North Korea remains nuclear–ambitious.
As the last speaker of the first panel, Mr. John Suh, President of the Korean American Economic Development Center, discussed the potential impact of KORUS FTA on the US economy, particularly on the Korean American community. He illustrated how an FTA with Korea would increase flows of trade and investment, thereby offering more business and employment opportunities for the Korean American community. Yet he also noted that there would be more competition and that the Korean American community should be prepared for dramatic changes.
While this second panel focuses on North Korea, the issues bear more broadly on U.S. Korea relations.
The second panel focused on the US‐Korea alliance and North Korea question. HE Thomas Hubbard, Former US Ambassador to South Korea, urged that the international community get North Korea back to the Six Party Talks. Among others, both the US and South Korea must be at the center of the effort to deal with the North Korean nuclear problem. Ambassador Hubbard highlighted that the Six Party Talks would not be effective if the US were not willing to take another step and make direct talks with North Korea. Indeed, the international community will not achieve its goals by further isolating the most isolated country in the world. On the one hand, Ambassador Hubbard expressed sympathy for South Korea’s engagement policy. Yet, on the other hand, he maintained that it is very important that South Korea finds meaningful ways of joining and implementing the UN Resolution 1718 and working closely with the US bilaterally.
In this regard, Dr. David Karl, Director of Studies of the Pacific Council on International Policy, argued that there is a growing gap between threat perceptions between the US and South Korea. Over the last decade or so, South Korea has become a more complex and difficult partner for the US. As Dr. Karl pointed out, the growth of Anti‐American sentiment has been a stunning development in South Korean domestic politics. The question is whether these trends remain permanent. Given the generational change that is taking place in South Korea, Dr. Karl predicted that USKorea relations would remain strained. He also feared that if this continued, many in the US would feel that there is no benefit from having South Koreans as their strategic ally.
In sharp contrast, HE Charles “Jack” Pritchard, the President of KEI, believed that the US‐ Korea security relationship is fundamentally strong, if not necessarily good at the moment. For him, the two traditional allies have come to expect the worst of each other despite some brighter spots in their bilateral relations. For Washington, the biggest issue is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. For Seoul, in contrast, the biggest concern is the relieving of tensions and long term unification rather than nonproliferation per se. Against this backdrop, Ambassador Pritchard argued that the resolution of the North Korean nuclear crisis requires a mature and deliberate consultation between Washington and Seoul to work out each other’s differences.
Finally, Dr. Chaibong Hahm, KSI Director, discussed the politicization of US‐Korean relations in recent years. As he rightly pointed out, until about ten years ago, there was no political debate about South Korean foreign policy with respect to the US. Yet with the then minority party having seized power since 1998, a very different understanding of the role of the US in the Korean peninsula has emerged. In addition, ideological differences within the US and South Korea are increasingly becoming visible. Dr. Hahm argued that the two countries currently have the worse combination of domestic politics that could come out of this equation. Furthermore, the North Korean nuclear issue has contributed to the excessive politicization of US‐South Korea relations. Dr. Hahm concluded the panel with a hope that both the US and South Korea will stop engaging in the blame game of “who caused the North Korean problem, and who is to blame?”
This was actually posted on July 20, 2007. I've given it the October date so that it fits sequentially.