Ambassadors: Biden should look at values, investment ties to strengthen relationship with South Korea

President Joe biden should benefit from growth we investment links with South Korea as a way to deepen the long-standing alliance across multiple dimensions.

This is a tip from Marc Lippert, who previously advised the president Obama on issues related to South Korea as Ambassador to the country from 2014 to 2017.

“I think there is a real opportunity on the trade and investment front,” said Lippert.

Mr. Lippert joined another American envoy to Korea, Kathleen stephens (2008-11), last week for a large Atlanta World Affairs Council conversation supported by the Korea Economic Institute, which provided perspective on the recent presidential summit between Mr. Biden and the Korean government Moon Jae-in.

During a trip to the United States that included a visit to the White House, Mr. Moon also visited Georgia, where South Korea SK Innovation is building a $ 2.6 billion battery plant to help power Mr Biden, hopes an electric vehicle revolution will come to the country.

The southeastern United States, in fact, was the epicenter of new Korean investment, giving it an outsized role in future conversations about economic and trade relations. Although much of it has already been planned, the stacked announcements have reached an “impressive” number – around $ 40 billion – sending a “strong signal” that Korea sees investment as a key part of the alliance, said Mr. Lippert during the conversation with President of the World Affairs Council Charles Shapiro.

Hyundai-Kia said it would invest $ 7.4 billion in its transformation of electric vehicles in the United States, which will presumably involve its factories in Alabama and Georgia. SK has pledged a second phase that would bring its total investment to more than $ 5 billion. LG energy solution, SK’s rival, works with General Motors on a Tennessee battery plant that will represent $ 2.3 billion, while Samsung said it would increase US production of semiconductors to the tune of $ 17 billion.

All of this is vital in light of the growing US imperative, embraced by both sides, to strengthen supply chains and domestic manufacturing for critical technologies as a buffer against reliance on China.

Korea, for its part, finds itself perpetually caught between the United States, its greatest security ally and umbrella against North Korean nuclear targets, and China, its main trading partner despite government systems and values. divergent.

The Trump administration’s transactional approach to stationing U.S. forces in Korea was flawed, Ms. Stephens said, because it betrayed a lack of understanding of Korea’s substantial military capabilities, including its growing navy, while putting the accent in the wrong place. This is exactly the values ​​side of the equation that needs to be further cultivated, she added.

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“Koreans are all for democracy and a rules-based trade order and that sort of thing,” Ms Stephens said in her own hypothetical advice to Mr Biden. “They are natural partners in this area, and we shouldn’t underestimate that. So I would say, keep remembering the values ​​that are part of this equation. “

On the trade front, Mr. Biden may begin to halt executive actions taken under Mr. Trump to investigate allegations of unfair trade actions by Korea. While it will not be easy to resolve all of them, priority should be given to sectors like steel and shipbuilding, where Korea is threatened by Chinese manipulation of free markets.

“There are a huge number of issues that could benefit the Korean people. This is going to be politically delicate and difficult, so it will take skillful negotiations and give and take, but there is enough give and take on both sides, I think, to conclude this, ”Lippert said.

The effect could help US companies enter the South Korean market, which in turn could better unite countries and mitigate the rise in “under- and unemployment” in Korea, as powerful conglomerates known as of chaebols are hiring fewer and fewer, he said.

“Let’s find a way to get American money into Korea as well, in terms (of foreign direct investment), in terms of more bilateral trade. And the reason I say this is because Korea has great natural advantages in terms of a highly educated population, excellent infrastructure, and excellent geographic location. Korea’s problem is a very difficult regulatory environment that prevents many small and medium-sized businesses from entering, ”Lippert said.

In Washington, Mr. Moon hosted a roundtable with Korean business leaders who pledged to invest $ 40 billion in the United States Photo: Cheong Wa Dae (Blue House)

Mr Trump sought to rectify some imbalances by renegotiating the KORUS free trade agreement, which was done during his tenure, but the confrontational approach included imposing damaging tariffs on steel and aluminum to one of the United States’ staunchest allies in the world, not to mention the important region of Asia.

The Korean presidential election next March could serve as a distraction at home, which means that it is all the more important to solidify the alliance before politics narrows the space for dialogue on foreign affairs.

Mr. Moon’s Progressive Democratic Party lost a lot in the April municipal and provincial elections and faces a challenge from the more conservative People’s Power Party and emerging parties critical of its management of North Korea and broader macroeconomic challenges, the two ambassadors said. Mr. Moon, who became the first South Korean leader to visit the North in 10 years, focused on dialogue, which has led some to criticize him as an apologist for the dictator. Kim Jong Un.

Whoever becomes the leader after Mr. Moon’s five-year term ends, Korean lawmakers should focus on building consensus on issues like North Korea to help the international community calibrate their respective approaches to the rogue nation, Ms. Stephens said. Lippert said the same about Korea’s stance on China’s market-distorting policies, adding that it should abandon the use of its China ties as a “hedging strategy.” in its relations with the rest of the world.

In her future conversations with the Biden administration, Stephens noted that Koreans should respect the President’s sincere goal of exploiting foreign policy to support the growth of the middle class at home.

“Think about what that means in terms of resources for Korean diplomacy, to reach out and understand what’s going on in the country,” she said.

The country’s influence in the southeastern United States continues with the arrival of a new Consul General Yoon-joo Park, who moved to Atlanta just two weeks ago as the successor to the former consul general Young-jun Kim.

“It is truly the honor of a lifetime to have the opportunity to serve as the Korean Consul General in this state,” Park said during the World Affairs Council’s appeal,

He added that he received a warm welcome in the South following the presidential visit, which highlighted the bilateral partnership in “advanced technologies,” Park said, noting that more than 200 Korean companies are operating. now in all six states. that Mr. Park covers from the consulate in Atlanta.

He called the ambassadors “celebrities of our country” for the way they engaged directly with the Korean people during their respective terms.

Learn more about the Atlanta World Affairs Council at

President Moon, right, tours the SK battery factory and learns about the technology.

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