The White House
Office of the Vice President
Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden on U.S.-Korea Relations and the Asia-Pacific
Seoul, Republic of Korea
2:46 P.M. (Local)
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you very much, Mr. President, for that generous introduction. And what a great honor it is to be here at such a fine university.
I was telling the president and the provost as I met them in the back when I walked in that, as a tradition in American universities, and I'm sure it's the same here, is students only have to wait 10 minutes for an associate professor. They can leave class after that and not be marked absent. (Laughter.) And 20 minutes for a full professor. The only full professor in my family is my wife, Dr. Biden, who is a university professor. So I can't tell you how much I'm going to brag at home about the fact that this many students waited more than 20 minutes to hear me speak. (Applause.) I thank you very, very much, and I apologize for being late.
In the States, when I'm late I always turn and say, it's the President's fault. (Laughter.) Well, I can actually say it's my fault for spending so much time with your President, and that's the reason I ran over. So I do apologize. Thank you for waiting.
Before I begin I'd like to take a moment to remember a man who I had the great privilege of knowing, spending some time with over the years, who changed the world and the way we see it -- Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela said, a good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination. A good head and a good heart are a formidable combination. In Mandela's case, he lifted a nation to freedom. He had wisdom, compassion, and courage. And maybe the hardest thing to possess -- forgiveness.
I remember when I met him first -- he came to my office. I tried to visit him when he was in prison. I went to South Africa with a group of members of Congress to make a point that we wanted to visit him. We were stopped, as you might not be surprised. When he was released, he came to my office to see me -- I was what we call the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. It was a great honor. And during our conversation I said to him, Mr. President, I don't understand why you don't feel more resentful and hateful for being kept in solitary confinement for the most productive years of your life. And let me tell you what he said to me.
He said, "Senator, I became good friends with my jailors. They were just doing their job. When I left, Senator, they all lined up to shake my hand and wish me well. They're my friends."
A much better man than me. A much better man than almost any man or woman I have met in my whole career. He inspired us. He challenged us to do better. He was a good man. And he met -- the excuse as we say in the United States Senate, a point of personal privilege -- he met my mother's test -- and I mean this sincerely -- what constitutes a good and great person. My mother used to say, you are defined by your courage and you are redeemed by your loyalty. Few people I've ever met in my life -- and I've had a chance to meet every major world leader in the past 35 to 40 years -- have met that test like Nelson Mandela. His courage was undeniable, and his loyalty to all the people -- all the people -- of South Africa was redeeming not just for him, but for South Africa.
I'd ask you to join me, to pause to honor Nelson Mandela with a moment of silence.
Ladies and gentlemen, we need women and men like Nelson Mandela in this moment of great change that's taking place in the world. We meet at a moment when the course of Asia Pacific affairs in the 21st century is still being written. The rise of economies up and down the Pacific Rim are literally remaking the world. But with this growth have come new risks and tensions above and beyond the enduring threats that we face. And the rules and norms that help advance security and prosperity are still evolving to keep pace with the remarkable changes of the 21st century.
Earlier this year, I had the great honor as the presiding officer in a joint session of Congress to sit behind your President, President Park, as she addressed the Congress assembled. She spoke both eloquently and passionately. She spoke of her vision for all our countries -- Korea and America. She said -- and I quote -- "The shared journey toward peace on the Korea Peninsula, toward cooperation with Northeast Asia, and finally, toward cooperation around the world -- that's the journey we're on together." A journey we've already embarked upon -- and that's not hyperbole, it's a fact. And we could not -- we, the United States, could not have any better partner to share that journey with than the Republic of Korea.
Today, I'd like to take a few moments to speak to you about our vision, President Obama's vision and my vision, for what that journey holds. Sixty years ago -- sixty years ago -- sixty years of progress and inspiration, from poverty to prosperity, from authoritarianism to democracy, from isolation to total integration in the global economy.
And how did your parents and grandparents do that? They did it by betting on you. By betting on ordinary Koreans -- not the elite, not a special class, but ordinary Koreans. Because they know what we know in America: Ordinary people are capable of doing extraordinary things if you give them an opportunity. They did it by trusting your parents with freedom. They did it by investing in education and opening your economy, although sometimes slowly, to global competition.
The result? The "Miracle on the Han River" that the whole world is aware of, that many nations emerging today from chaos and authoritarianism are attempting to replicate. We, the United States and Korea, we've grown together as our alliance has, as well -- an alliance born out of blood, sweat and tears of our warriors and yours, standing side-by-side six decades ago, defending the integrity of this country.
To this day, the American people still support, to the tune of billions of dollars, without complaint -- 28,500 of our sons and daughters standing side-by-side with their Korean brothers and sisters; standing watch, without complaint.
My son is a Major in the United States Army. Millions of mothers, like his mother watched him deploy to Iraq, watched his brothers deploy to and from South Korea, because they know -- they know, as difficult as it is, it's necessary, in our interest. Imagine you deploying, all of you sitting here, the age of my son -- almost 30,000 of you deploying, and your fathers before you for 60 years, to another country without complaint.
So you might not be surprised I find -- I'm somewhat incredulous when people question our staying power, question whether America means what it says, and does what it says. It's because of our shared commitment to democracy both at home and abroad, our shared passion to educate our children, allowing them to be the most competitive in the world. Reflecting that fact is this great university, as well as there are more Korean students studying in my country than the students from Canada and Mexico combined. A shared conviction that our economic partnership, although sometimes of rough patches, is overwhelmingly in the interest of both our people, creating jobs not here just in Seoul, but in Montgomery, Alabama, and our common sense of pride, a justified pride, in our people -- our parents and our grandparents -- and the sacrifices they made.
President Obama and I -- and it's really President Obama who did it -- we're proud to name for the first time a son of Korea -- Sung Kim. Stand up, Mr. Ambassador. Where are you? -- the Ambassador to the Korea Republic. (Applause.)
President Park's vision of our journey is already taking shape, our alliance as a lynchpin for peace and security in the Asia Pacific. I was criticized by some a couple of years ago when I said in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing that America is a Pacific power, a resident Pacific power, and we are going nowhere -- nowhere. We not only stand side-by-side in the Korean Peninsula with all of you, we stand watch around the world. Korean sailors are fighting piracy off the shores of Somalia. Korean troops are showing their mettle alongside our own in Afghanistan.
But the vision is not just limited to security. Together, Korea and the United States -- the Republic of Korea and the United States are fighting around the world disease, illiteracy, hunger, championing the rights of women. Witness the response to the crisis in the Philippines. The Republic of Korea is one of the only countries in the world whose development budget has actually gone up over the past years. You have not forgotten, apparently, what allowed you to rise again.
The Koreans and Korean-Americans have assumed positions of world leadership. Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations; Jim Kim, president of the World Bank -- I could name -- the list goes on. And now you're getting the Winter Olympics. Congratulations. (Laughter.) Give yourself a round of applause. (Applause.)
October is the 60th anniversary. Think of it. The last 60 years has been remarkable. Now, for you students, you say, my God, 60 years, that's four lifetimes. (Laughter.) But it's been remarkable. But as much progress as you've made in the last 60 years, we can make even greater progress together in the next 60 years if we're wise, trust one another, and are willing to make some sacrifices, shaping a peaceful and prosperous Pacific region. This is one of those inflexion points in history. We actually have a chance -- a chance to bend history just slightly.
That's why our administration adopted a policy of what we call "rebalancing" to the region. Rebalancing economically, diplomatically, and, yes, militarily -- and Barack, the President, and I and the American people are all in. We're determined to strengthen our alliances, cultivate new partners in the Pacific Basin, build constructive relations with China, pursue major agreements that further integrate our economies, and join and strengthen the institutions of the Asia Pacific and of the East Asian Summit -- APEC, ASEAN and others.
President Obama is absolutely committed to rebalance. And to make the point again, no one should underestimate or question our staying power. Just look at the last 60 years in Korea. Ask the people of Japan -- the Mutual Defense Treaty since 1960 and still going strong. Ask the people of the Philippines -- American helicopters, small ships, medical services, road clearing -- all responding on the backs of U.S. Marines when one of the most fierce tropical storms in history devastated their country. We were there and so was Korea.
And as I speak, my son has just boarded -- my grown son has just boarded a plane, an aircraft -- he’s heading to the Philippines. His name is Hunter Biden. He’s Chairman of the World Food Program U.S.A, and he’s going there out in the field, like so many of you did. I’m so incredibly proud of him, and the tens of thousands of young people around the world who either went or wanted to.
Or ask the people of Burma. When their leaders bravely chose to change their country’s path, they looked to America. And Secretary Clinton was there, and President Obama was there, not only to extend a hand but to help and commit, helping the people of Burma find a better future. Our commitment to rebalance starts with growing our economies, the lifeblood of this region.
By the way, when we talk about rebalance here, for years, as the General knows, I was in charge of the Senate of U.S.-European, U.S.-NATO, and U.S. then "Soviet relations.” All my European friends are saying, what does this mean for us? Are you leading? Let me make clear what rebalancing means. It means adding to, not subtracting from, existing commitments we have around the world.
What we seek is an open, transparent economic order to deliver the growth for all -- because in growth resides peace. And we believe the way to sustain and enhance the region’s remarkable economic progress is not just make sure it is physically secure, but to eliminate trade barriers at and behind borders, protections for intellectual property, one set of rules that applies to all companies, domestic or foreign. These are the principles behind the Korean-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.
Trade between our countries has already grown 65 percent from $80 billion a year in the year 2000 to $130 billion in 2012. That means employment. That means the ability to live a middle-class life. That means stability. That’s what’s happened. But before it went into force -- our Free Trade Agreement went into force -- now, it’s in force. Now that it is, bilateral trade will continue to grow if we fully implement it, and we still have implementation to do.
There’s more work to be done. We have to end the bureaucratic hurdles that close off trade in key sectors like autos and agriculture. We have to agree on final regulations that allow financial institutions to operate fully. And the United States welcomes Korea’s interest in joining the Transpacific Partnership. The negotiating taking place now literally encompasses 40 percent of the world’s GDP. That’s without Korea. With Korea added, it will be impossible for the rest of the world to resist moving toward sane 21st century rules of the road.
The 21st century demands new standards for trade and commerce. Think about it -- we talk about 60 years. At the end of World War II, before the Korean War, our grandfathers and grandmothers, they set in motion an entire new set of rules for economic intercourse and progress, from Bretton Woods all the way up to evolving WTO and so on. They didn't do that; we did that.
But the world has changed. It bears virtually no resemblance. You know, your parents used the phrase “global economy.” Your grandparents did. But they don't fully appreciate it like you do. I knew the economy was truly global when I was sitting at a computer at my home and my -- I get up to leave and the next thing, I came back and my seven-year-old granddaughter was sitting at the computer with a credit card. (Laughter.) We live in a little pond, and she had been out on the pond in this little kayak and she had lost the paddle, it went over the dam. And she was worried her uncle would find out. So she’s sitting at the computer, and she is buying a kayak paddle from Korea to replace it. (Laughter.)
I said, baby, what are you doing? She said, “Pop, this imputer” -- she called the computer "imputer" -- “this imputer is really good, Pop.” (Laughter.) Actually, she was six years old -- it was Naomie.
This is truly a global economy. And there's a need for new standards on state-owned enterprises, on foreign-direct investment, on fair labor standards, on the environment.
A number of nations have resisted the call to do more on environmental protection. But I have an expression that my staff always kids me about -- I guess I overuse it -- I say, reality has a way of intruding. I was just in Beijing. Ten years ago, five years ago, I couldn't get any discussion on standards for clean air. But since 4 million people a year are dying from air pollution, that it was remarkable the two days I was there people talked about they could see the sun. I’m not being facetious -- the idea that’s a remarkable occurrence that you can see the sun. Reality has intruded. One of the biggest bilateral efforts we’re trying to move forward with China is renewable energy, reduction of carbon consumption.
The point is the world has changed. Of course, all that we hope to accomplish economically for our people depends upon our physical security. And that starts with our alliances -- South Korea, Japan, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand -- all in the Basin. We’re modernizing our alliances to meet the demands of the 21st century. And we’re promoting better cooperation among our allies. The entire region will be more stable and more secure if -- if -- the leading democracies -- Japan, South Korea and the United States -- are able to improve their relations and cooperation with one another.
Along with our allies, we’re building new security partnerships with the ASEAN on emerging challenges -- maritime security, nonproliferation, disaster relief. We’re also working to get our relationships with China right, with the right standards. We’re committed to sustain a positive, cooperative U.S.-Chinese relationship -- because, again, we’re at one of those inflexion points. It is not written anywhere that this competition is destined to be conflict. I reject that notion. Leaders make a difference. It’s not only in our interest, it’s in the interest of the region, the interest of the world that we get that relationship right with China. As I said, there will be competition, but the President and I refuse to accept the proposition that it’s inevitably going to result in conflict. We don’t believe that.
We’re determined not to repeat the patterns of the past. And that requires direct, straightforward, and extremely candid discussions with one another. I’m sure you’ve read, to the extent you read anything about me, that I’m known for being candid. (Laughter.) No one ever doubts that I mean what I say. The problem is sometimes I say all that I mean. (Laughter.)
You know, you’re studying international relations and you hear about what the most important elements of good relations are. In international relations, all politics is personal -- I presume to say to you professors -- because it’s all ultimately based on trust. And trust only flows from personal -- not friendly -- personal, candid relationships with your counterpart, so you don’t have to wonder about intentions.
That’s how my many hours of discussions with the Chinese leaders this last week were conducted. They were very direct. I was very direct about my country’s position on China’s sudden announcement of an Air Defense Identification Zone. This announcement, to state the obvious, has created considerable apprehension across the region. But I was absolutely clear on behalf of my President: We do not recognize the zone. It will have no effect on American operations. Just ask my General. None. Zero.
I’ve also made it clear that we expect China not to take action that increases tensions at the risk of escalation. And I was crystal-clear about our commitment to our allies, Korea and Japan. More broadly, I’ve made clear that there are practical steps countries can take and should take to lower the temperature, to reduce the risk of conflict, including avoiding actions that seem provocative, establishing lines of communication between militaries to manage incidents and prevent escalation.
My dad used to have an expression -- he’d say, “Joe, the only conflict worse than one that is intended is one that is unintended.” The possibility of miscalculation, mistake is real, and could have profound consequences for your generation.
I discussed this today with President Park, and we agreed on the need for continued close coordination among Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington. Countries across this region -- whether the issue is the East China Sea or the South China Sea -- have to develop a common understanding of what constitutes acceptable behavior: No intimidation; no coercion; and a commitment, backed by actions, to reduce the risk of mistake and miscalculation.
There is one overreaching issue, though, that not only unites Korea and the United States of America, but unites the entire international community -- and that is the clear and present danger posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. But no one knows this better than the citizens of the Republic of Korea. Let there be no doubt: The United States is committed to do what it takes to defend our allies and ourselves against North Korean aggression -- period. The United States and the world have to make it absolutely clear to Kim Jong-un that the international community will not accept or tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea. That is the consensus that unites us, whether in Tokyo, Beijing, or in Seoul.
Each head of state with whom I’ve met reaffirmed their determination to see the denuclearization of North Korea. And North Korea needs to understand that it cannot return to the old pattern of seeking rewards for bad behavior. We are prepared to go back to six-party talks when North Korea demonstrates its full commitment to complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.
The simple fact is this: North Korea can never achieve security and prosperity so long as it pursues nuclear weapons -- period.
But this is about more than weapons. We will never forget that Koreans –- North and South -– are one people, equally deserving to be treated with dignity. And we will never accept the notion of the permanent division of the Korean Peninsula. And you can clap on that. (Applause.)
We will not stop working with you for the day when families are finally made whole and Korea is whole. As we work together to build prosperity and security across this Asia Pacific, we have to do so on a foundation of the values that we share: Freedom of speech and assembly; freedom of religion; democratic principles. These are the values that will power success for countries in the 21st century. And it’s what’s allowed my country and yours to succeed.
I recently was in Singapore at the end of this summer, and I asked to meet with Lee Kuan Yew -- he’s 92 years old, I believe, now. He was frail, but his mind was as alert and sharp as a 20-year-old. I asked him, I said, Mr. President, tell me what’s going on in China -- and I asked about other countries, as well. And he looked at me and said something unusual -- he speaks perfect English -- he looked at me and said, “They’re in America looking for the black box.” That’s a quote. And I said, black box? And he said, yes, you know, like data recorders when there’s an aircraft that goes down. He said, the black box that contains the secret that allows America to be the only country in the world that every generation or so is able to remake itself.
I said, I can tell you what’s in that black box -- two secrets. The first is we are a country of immigrants, constantly -- constantly revitalized by not minor infusion, significant infusion of different cultures, religions, ethnicities from around the world. That literally is our strength.
That’s one of the reasons, whatever problems we have with our education system, there’s not a student in America that doesn't have stamped into their DNA the notion that they are rewarded, not criticized, for challenging orthodoxy. (Applause.) The only way -- and the reason we remain the most innovative nation in the world is the only way you can create a new model is to break the old one. A constant stream of immigration has allowed us to do that.
For example, the woman who runs my office was born here in Seoul. Her parents emigrated. Her attitude is one of absolute, positive, unvarnished optimism. Oh, sometimes we retreat, like is going on now. But on balance from 1789 on, there have been those who want to pull the ladder up and say, “no more,” but those who say, “come” always prevail.
And the second thing that’s in that box is what I already mentioned. Unlike any other country in the world, there’s a high premium for students and individuals who challenge orthodoxy. You are never criticized -- hear me -- never criticized for saying, I don't accept that model.
The United States is back. We have rebounded, like you have and others, from the worldwide recession. And we are ready and we are anxious to compete. We have created 7.8 million new jobs in 44 months. We’ve reduced our operating deficit by half. We are on the road to energy independence. By the year 2022, North America will be energy-independent, and by the early 2030s, the United States will be totally, completely energy-independent. We’re the world’s largest producer of petroleum and natural gas on the Earth, including Saudi Arabia and Russia.
These are some of the many reasons why we’re optimistic. Most of the reason we’re optimistic is because of our people. They’re like you.
Let me close where I started -- reflecting on the lessons of Nelson Mandela, a great man we lost today, who taught us so much about human potential, about what we could become when we refuse to accept the limitations of cynicism and fear. That’s the story of the history of the journey of my country -- the refusal to accept anything as inevitable -- the absolute refusal; and the determination, although we have not been able to do it and maybe never will, the determination to make a more perfect union, a more peaceful and prosperous world.
I am absolutely convinced that the future belongs to societies that are open, where women are treated exactly equal to men with no exception -- none. None based on culture. None based on religion. None based on any assertion. (Applause.) My grandson -- my granddaughters are capable of doing every single, solitary thing without a single exception that my grandson can do.
There’s a writer in America named Kristof. He referred to women, and he said, they are half the moon. My sister -- who is smarter than me, and my best friend, and managed every one of my campaigns -- points out, why in God’s name will we waste half the brainpower, half the imagination, half the initiative, half the capacity of a country or the world? And nations, as I’ve said twice already, where orthodoxy challenged is rewarded, where your future is not determined by where you were born or what you look like, the color of your skin -- it’s what’s in your mind, what’s in your heart.
That's why I am so confident, so confident that Korea and the United States will continue to be allies and kindred spirits for a long time to come. It’s not merely our economic, our political and our strategic necessity for one another; it is ultimately based on shared common values.
And so I think your future is bright. I’m always quoting Irish poets, as the American press is tired of hearing. (Laughter.) They always think, and my colleagues think, I quote Irish poets because I’m Irish. I am. (Laughter.) But that's not the reason. I quote Irish poets because they're the best poets in the world. (Laughter.) That's why I quote them.
My favorite poet, who just passed away, Seamus Heaney, wrote in a poem called “The Cure at Troy,” about his Ireland, metaphorically. But there’s a stanza in that poem that I think should become the anthem of all of you -- not just you young people. If you notice if you ever follow the American press, I’m always referred to as the White House Optimist, like -- as my grandpop would say, like I’m the guy that fell off the turnip truck yesterday. I’ve been there longer than all of them. But I’m more optimistic than I was when I was elected as a 29-year-old senator a month before I was constitutionally eligible to take office under our Constitution because I know the history of the journey of my country. But Heaney said it best in his poem. He says, “History says, don't hope on this side of the grave. But then once in this lifetime, that longed-for tidal wave of justice rises up and hope and history rhyme.”
You have a chance. We have a chance to make hope and history rhyme so that your children and grandchildren will never live through a period like your grandparents and great grandparents lived through.
God bless the Republic of Korea. May God bless the United States and may God protect our troops.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
3:29 P.M. (Local)