Bill Clinton photo

Remarks to the Korean National Assembly in Seoul

July 10, 1993

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, leaders of the National Assembly, members of all political parties here present joined together in our common devotion to democracy.

It is a great honor for me to be here today with my wife, with the United States Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, with other military and political leaders from our Government in this great hall of democracy.

I first visited your beautiful capital city 5 years ago. Since then, Korea's energy and culture have shown themselves in many new ways: Your bustling capital has continued to grow. Your economy has continued to expand. Your nation hosted the Olympics and has taken its place as a full member of the United Nations. You have established new ties to Russia and to China. But no achievement is more important than the consolidation of your democracy with the election of a bold democrat, President Kim Yong-sam.

Geography has placed our two nations far apart, but history has drawn us close together. Ours is a friendship formed in blood as our troops fought shoulder to shoulder in defense of freedom. Then as Korea's economy became the "miracle on the Han," we built an economic partnership that today exceeds $30 billion in fairly well-balanced trade. Today, Korea's democratic progress adds yet another bond of shared values between our two peoples.

When President Truman sent American troops to Korea's defense 43 years ago, he said he aimed to prove that, and I quote, "Free men under God can build a community of neighbors working together for the good of all." Our efforts together since then have benefited all our peoples, not only the people of our own countries but in the Asian Pacific region, all who seek to live in peace and freedom. Our relationship has made this region more secure, more prosperous, and more free. Now with the cold war over and profound changes sweeping throughout your country, this whole populous region, and indeed throughout the world, we must create a new vision of how we as a community of neighbors can live in peace. I believe the time has come to create a new Pacific community built on shared strength, shared prosperity, and a shared commitment to democratic values.

Today I want to discuss the fundamentals of security for that new Pacific community and the role the United States intends to play. I had the opportunity just a few days ago at the G7 summit in Tokyo to travel to Waseda University to talk about the economic aspects of that new partnership. And I think clearly all the economic reforms that we can make will benefit a great market system like Korea.

But we must always remember that security comes first. Above all, the United States intends to remain actively engaged in this region. America is, after all, a Pacific nation. We have many peoples from all over Asia now making their home in America, including more than one million Koreans. We have fought three wars here in this century. We must not squander that investment. The best way for us to deter regional aggression, perpetuate the region's robust economic growth, and secure our own maritime and other interests is be an active presence. We must and we will continue to lead.

To some in America there is a fear that America's global leadership is an outdated luxury we can no longer afford. Well, they are wrong. In truth, our global leadership has never been a more indispensable or a more worthwhile investment for us. So long as we remain bordered by oceans and powered by trade, so long as our flag is a symbol of democracy and hope to a fractious world, the imperative of America's leadership will remain.

I believe there are four priorities for the security of our new Pacific community: first, a continued American military commitment to this region; second, stronger efforts to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; third, new regional dialogs on the full range of our common security challenges; and last, support for democracy and more open societies throughout this region.

The bedrock of America's security role in the Asian Pacific must be a continued military presence. In a period of change, we need to preserve what has been reliable. Today we therefore affirm our five bilateral security agreements with Korea, with Japan, with Australia, with the Philippines, and with Thailand.

Those agreements work because they serve the interests of each of the states. They enable the U.S.. Armed Forces to maintain a substantial forward presence. At the same time they have enabled Asia to focus less energy on an arms race and more energy on the peaceful race toward economic development and opportunity for the peoples of this region.

The contribution Japan and Korea make to defray the cost of stationing our forces underscores the importance of that presence to both of those countries. There is no better example of that commitment than our alliance with your nation.

As the cold war recedes into history, a divided Korea remains one of its most bitter legacies. Our nation has always joined yours in believing that one day Korea's artificial division will end. We support Korea's peaceful unification on terms acceptable to the Korean people. And when the reunification comes, we will stand beside you in making the transition on the terms that you have outlined. But that day has not yet arrived. The demilitarized zone still traces a stark line between safety and danger. North Korea's million men in arms, most stationed within 30 miles of the DMZ, continue to pose a threat. Its troubling nuclear program raises questions about its intentions. Its internal repression and irresponsible weapons sales show North Korea is not yet willing to be a responsible member of the community of nations.

So let me say clearly: Our commitment to Korea's security remains undiminished. The Korean Peninsula remains a vital American interest. Our troops will stay here as long as the Korean people want and need us here.

We lost tens of thousands of America's best in Korea's mountains and mud and sky. But Korea lost millions. That sacrifice affirmed some old truths: Vulnerability invites aggression; peace depends upon deterrence. We cannot forget those lessons again.

And so it is throughout the region. Our commitment to an active military presence remains. Our mutual agreement with the Philippines to close our bases there should not be cause for Asian alarm. The larger picture tells a different story. We have obtained increased access for our forces throughout Southeast Asia to facilitate our presence and, if necessary, to project our forces beyond the region.

Here in Korea we have frozen American troop withdrawals and are modernizing Korean and American forces on the peninsula. We have deployed to Japan the Belleau Wood Amphibious Group and the U.S.S. Independence Battle Group, the largest and most modern in the world. These are not signs of disengagement. These are signs that America intends to stay.

The second security priority for our new Pacific Community is to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. We cannot let the expanding threat of these deadly weapons replace the cold war nightmare of nuclear annihilation. And today, that possibility is too real. North Korea appears committed to indiscriminate sales of the SCUD missiles that were such a source of terror and destruction in the Persian Gulf. Now it is developing, testing, and looking to export a more powerful missile with a range of 600 miles or more, enough for North Korea to threaten Osaka or for Iran to threaten Tel Aviv.

We have serious concerns as well about China's compliance with international standards against missile proliferation. And since both you and we are attempting to engage China in a more extensive trade relationship, I hope together we can have a positive influence against that development.

The Pacific nations simply must develop new ways to combat the spread of biological, chemical, and missile technologies. And in the coming weeks, the U.S.. will propose new efforts aimed at that goal. But no specter hangs over this peninsula or this region more darkly than the danger of nuclear proliferation. Nearly 160 nations have now joined to resist that threat through the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the most universally supported treaty in all history.

Now, for the first time since that treaty was open for signatures, one of its members has threatened to withdraw. Our goals remain firm. We seek a nonnuclear Korean Peninsula and robust global rules against proliferation. That is why we urge North Korea to reaffirm its commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to fulfill its full-scope safeguards obligations to the International Atomic Energy Agency, including IAEA inspections of undeclared nuclear sites, and to implement bilateral inspections under the South-North nuclear accord.

Our goal is not endless discussions but certifiable compliance. North Korea must understand our intentions. We are seeking to prevent aggression, not to initiate it. And so long as North Korea abides by the U.N. Charter and international nonproliferation commitments, it has nothing to fear from America.

The U.S.. has worked to bring North Korea back within the fold of nuclear responsibility. But your nation, too, has a critical role to play. The future of this peninsula is for you and North Korea to shape. The South-North nuclear accord you negotiated goes even further than existing international accords. It not only banishes nuclear weapons from the peninsula, it also bans the production of nuclear materials that could be used to make those weapons. We urge full implementation of this path-breaking accord which can serve as a model for other regions of nuclear tension.

Even as we address immediate concerns such as proliferation, we must also have a vision of how we will meet the broader challenges of this era. That is what I sought to create during the recently concluded G-7 talks, for example, by proposing new ways to focus on new problems such as the slow pace of job creation in the G-7 countries. And it is why I have proposed a NATO summit so that we can adapt that institution to new times and new challenges.

In both Asia and Europe the dominant unitary threat of Soviet aggression has disappeared. In both regions, the end of the cold war has allowed a host of problems to emerge or to reappear, such as ancient ethnic rivalries, regional tensions, flows of refugees, and the trafficking of deadly weapons and dangerous drugs.

In Europe these changes require us to adapt an existing security institution, NATO. In the Pacific no such institution exists. Moreover, since the Asian Pacific face a unitary threat, there is no need for us to create one single alliance. The challenge for the Asian Pacific in this decade, instead, is to develop multiple new arrangements to meet multiple threats and opportunities. These arrangements can function like overlapping plates of armor, individually providing protection and together covering the full body of our common security concerns.

Some new arrangements may involve groups of nations confronting immediate problems. This is the model we pursued to address North Korea's nuclear program. Our two nations worked not only with each other but also with Japan and with others who could bring their influence to bear. Other arrangements may involve peacekeeping, such as the massive and promising U.N. effort to support reconciliation in Cambodia. Still others may pursue confidence-building measures to head off regional or subregional disputes.

We also need new regional security dialogs. This month's ASEAN post-ministerial conference in Singapore, which the United States will attend, offers an immediate opportunity to further such a dialog. Korea can play a vital role in the region's new arrangements, for it stands at the center of northeast Asia, within 2 hours by air from Singapore, Tokyo, Beijing, and Vladivostok.

The many economic discussions within the region also can play a role. By lowering barriers to trade and investment, we can generate jobs, ease regional tensions, and thus enhance regional security. That is why I welcome the new dialog for economic cooperation our two nations are launching on this visit. And that is why I announced in Japan that I would like to host an informal economic conference among APEC's leaders following the ministerial meeting in Seattle, Washington, this fall.

The goal of all these efforts is to integrate, not isolate, the region's powers. China is a key example. We believe China cannot be a full partner in the world community until it respects human rights and international agreements on trade and weapon sales. But we also are prepared to involve China in building this region's new security and economic architectures. We need an involved and engaged China, not an isolated China.

Some in the U.S.. have been reluctant to enter into regional security dialogs in Asia. They fear it would seem a pretext for American withdrawal from the area. But I see this as a way to supplement our alliances and forward military presence, not to supplant them.

These dialogs can ensure that the end of the cold war does not provide an opening for regional rivalries, chaos, and arms races. They can build a foundation for our shared security well into the 21st century.

Ultimately, the guarantee of our security must rest in the character and the intentions of the region's nations themselves. That is why our final security priority must be to support the spread of democracy throughout the Asian Pacific. Democracies not only are more likely to meet the needs and respect the rights of their people, they also make better neighbors. They do not wage war on each other, practice terrorism, generate refugees or traffic in drugs and outlaw weapons. They make more reliable partners in trade and in the kind of dialogs we announced today.

Today, some argue democracy and human rights are somehow unsuited to parts of Asia or that they mask some cultural imperialism on the part of the West. My ear is drawn instead to more compelling voices: the Chai Ling, who proclaim democracy's spirit at Tiananmen Square; to Aung San Suu Kyi whose eloquent opposition to repression in Burma has stirred the entire world; to Boris Yeltsin who is leading Russia toward becoming a great democratic power on the Pacific; and to your own President Kim and others in this multiparty assembly who have helped democracy flower here in the Land of the Morning Calm.

You are truly an example to people all over the Asian Pacific region because you have had the courage to confront the issues of political reform and economic reform; to ask the hard questions of yourselves; to have the public debates necessary when people honestly seek to improve and open their society and move forward. And I salute you on behalf of freedom-loving people everywhere in the world.

To be sure, every nation must retain its own culture, and we will all struggle about what it means to define that. But Korea proves that democracy and human rights are not Western imports. They flow from the internal spirit of human beings because they reflect universal aspirations.

Now we must respond to those aspirations throughout this region. We must support the nongovernmental organizations that seek to strengthen Asia's building blocks of civic society, such as open elections, trade unions, and a free press. And we must deploy accurate news and information against Asia's closed societies. I have proposed creating an Asian democracy radio for this purpose, and I look forward to its establishment in the near future.

Two hundred seventeen years ago, America's founders declared the rights of self-government to be God-given, and therefore inalienable. Today, here on Asian soil, let us together reaffirm that declaration, not only as an article of faith but as a sturdy building block in our region's shared security.

This, then, is our Nation's vision for security in the new Pacific community: a continued United States military presence, new efforts to combat proliferation, new regional security dialogs, and vigorous support for democracies and democratic movements. These elements of security can help create a Pacific region where economic competition is vigorous but peaceful; where diverse nations work as partners to improve their shared security; where democracy, as well as balanced military strength, takes its place as a guardian of our security.

We will not realize every aspect of that vision overnight, nor will the new Pacific community come to pass without great effort. But neither of our nations is a stranger to hard work.

I think in particular, of the image of your great long-distance runner, Hwang Yung Cho, who endured the final steep hill in Barcelona to capture the gold in the marathon in the 1992 Olympics. His energy and perseverance captured the spirit of the Korean people who have not only endured but prospered through a long, hard, and challenging history. We respect that spirit. We honor your values. We have stood shoulder to shoulder with you in days past, and so it shall be in the days ahead. The struggle for freedom and democracy and opportunity is, indeed, a marathon. Let us run the race together.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 5:33 p.m. in the National Assembly Hall. In his remarks, he referred to Park Jyun Kyu, Speaker of the National Assembly.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to the Korean National Assembly in Seoul Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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