Editor's Note

Jechun Kim, a professor at Sogang University, points out that the Biden administration appears to prioritize competition with China, the Taiwan issue, and the Ukraine War, despite the growing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities. In response, Kim underlines the importance of issuing a “2023 US-ROK Joint Statement on North Korea” after President Yoon’s visit to the White House. Given the fading interest and support for the reunification of the Korean Peninsula, Professor Kim emphasizes the significance of addressing the rapid advancement in DPRK’s nuclear capabilities. He then suggests that South Korea needs to create a conducive environment for peaceful reunification through strong support from the U.S. for the “Audacious Initiative.”

President Yoon Suk Yeol returned home on April 30 from his six-day state visit to the United States. It marked a historic occasion, as it was the first time a South Korean president has made a state visit in 12 years. Since President Biden’s inauguration in January 2021, only one other country’s leader, President Emmanuel Macron, has been invited for a state visit to the United States. As a guest of utmost importance, the host country typically extends a lavish protocol that includes official events, such as state dinners, and the head of the host country greets the guest at the airport. Most of the expenses incurred in state visits are also borne by the host country. Because of such hassle and extravagance, many leaders usually visit the United States in the form of an “official visit,” for which the protocols are relatively simple and inexpensive.


The Biden administration’s decision to host President Yoon hold a summit with utmost hospitality reflects the growing importance of South Korea as a comprehensive and strategic alliance partner. With the return of great power competition, South Korea is not only a traditional security partner but also a vital economic security partner to the United States. The country plays a significant role in the U.S. global supply chain rearrangement policy. During the Moon-Biden summit in May 2021, South Korea and the United States reaffirmed their commitment to developing the Korea-U.S. alliance into a comprehensive strategic partnership and agreed on various measures to do so. However, no significant follow-up occurred after the summit. In contrast, practical measures are being taken to achieve a comprehensive strategic alliance following the Yoon-Biden summit in May 2022. During the summit held in April 2022, the two leaders proudly displayed the maturity of their alliance, highlighting its deep and comprehensive strategic relationship.


President Biden having rolled out the red carpet for President Yoon seems to have reflected the U.S. President’s appreciation to his South Korean counterpart for his decisive effort in improving the strained relations between Korea and Japan. A harmonious relationship between Korea and Japan is a prerequisite for a successful ROK-U.S.-Japan trilateral cooperation. The Trump administration had remained inactive as the relations between the two countries worsened, but the Biden administration has been adamant that Korea adopts more progressive policies to restore the relations between the two countries. The Biden administration has noted that in 2018, the Moon administration destabilized the 2015 ROK-Japan comfort women agreement, which resulted from the Obama administration’s efforts to mediate the relations between the two countries. Additionally, the Biden administration assessed that the relations between South Korea and Japan had reached their nadir as Moon remained passive towards the Supreme Court’s ruling on forced labor. Hence, President Yoon’s “generous decision,” which could pave the way for improving Korea-Japan relations, has been welcomed with open arms by the Biden administration. Following President Yoon’s announcement, the head of the National Security Office visited the U.S. to confirm President Yoon’s state visit and the April 26th summit.


Moreover, the Biden administration welcomes South Korea’s Indo-Pacific strategy, presented by the Yoon administration in December 2022. Korea’s Indo-Pacific strategy endorses the ideals of freedom, peace, and prosperity, along with the principles of inclusiveness, trust, and reciprocity that do not exclude any specific nation. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the Yoon administration has strategically leaned towards the U.S. by adopting the Indo-Pacific strategy.


There are numerous challenges to overcome in the Korea-Japan relationship, and the Indo-Pacific strategy of Korea is still in its infancy. Still, the Yoon administration, which has accomplished the first Korea-Japan summit in 12 years and has implemented the Indo-Pacific strategy, has eased significant pressure regarding relations with the U.S. This appeared to be an opportunity to strengthen South Korea’s voice when participating in the ROK-U.S. summit. Despite the chaotic atmosphere due to the Office of National Security’s personnel crisis ahead of the summit and the U.S. wiretapping of Korea’s presidential office, President Yoon and Biden successfully adopted the “Washington Declaration” that advances the U.S. commitment to extended deterrence against North Korea. However, in the future, it will be crucial not only to deter the North Korean nuclear threat, but also to highlight the significance of resolving the nuclear problem and Korean reunifying the Korean peninsula.


On October 16th, 2015, President Park Geun-hye and President Obama adopted the “2015 United States-Republic of Korea Joint Statement on North Korea” following their summit. Specifically designed to address North Korea’s nuclear and missile issues and the reunification of the Korean Peninsula, the statement marked the first time that the two countries’ leaders adopted a joint statement solely focused on these issues. The background of this joint statement and that of the current situation in 2023 are comparable.


At the time, the Obama administration’s policy towards North Korea was referred to as “strategic patience” and faced significant criticism, particularly in South Korea, due to perceptions that the North Korean issue was not a priority in U.S. foreign policy. During Park Geun-hye’s presidency, relations between Korea and Japan deteriorated due to historical issues. Despite President Park’s lack of interest in Japanese Prime Minister Abe, the Obama administration urged her to act. Consequently, the South Korea-Japan comfort women agreement was reached in 2015, providing a momentum for restoring relations between Korea and Japan. Although the agreement on comfort women was reached after the summit, the Park administration’s efforts to improve relations with Japan served as leverage for the adoption of a separate “2015 United States-Republic of Korea Joint Statement on North Korea” at the Park-Obama summit.


Despite the growing threat of North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities, the Biden administration prioritizes U.S.-China competition, Taiwan, and the Ukraine war over the North Korean threat. Yet President Yoon, who has initiated meaningful improvement in ROK-Japan relations despite significant political costs, announced the Washington Declaration reinforcing U.S. nuclear extended deterrence to ROK against North Korea and reached an agreement to establish a Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) to bring this commitment to fruition. In the following ROK-U.S. summit, the two presidents must adopt a separate, comprehensive joint statement on the DPRK. The statement could echo much of what was included in the 2015 joint statement, stressing the “urgent” need to address North Korea’s nuclear program and the “resolve” of the two nations to find a solution. The statement should also call for international cooperation, which will likely require the involvement of China and Russia. Recently, some in the U.S. government and the public have expressed skepticism about the feasibility of denuclearizing North Korea. While the next statement should not justify hostile policies toward North Korea, it should emphasize that ROK and U.S. will not recognize North Korea as a nuclear state and that their final goal is to achieve a complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization (CVID).


Unlike the 2015 statement, which called for preemptive measures from North Korea to enable dialogue with South Korea, the next joint statement should indicate that talks can be held without preconditions. The statement should also express support for President Yoon’s “audacious initiative” towards North Korea, which does not require North Korea to take any preemptive measures and invites it to engage in denuclearization talks. The Yoon administration should further develop this initiative into a mid- to long-term strategy for building peace on the Korean Peninsula by expanding political and military compensation plans and emphasizing South Korea’s role as a bridge between the U.S. and North Korea.


In addition to the North Korean nuclear issue, the 2015 Joint Statement on North Korea declared “strong U.S. support for the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula.” The two countries agreed to “strengthen high-level consultations to create a favorable environment for the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula.” The discourse on the reunification of the Korean Peninsula has lost domestic and international momentum, and the ROK-U.S. summit should be actively utilized to restore it. As in the 2015 statement, the subsequent joint statement should reaffirm the “strong” support of the U.S. for the reunification of Korea.


At the 2013 ROK-U.S. summit, President Park Geun-hye and President Obama agreed to work together for the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula based on the principles of denuclearization, democracy, and a free market economy. Building on these accomplishments, it would be beneficial to include in subsequent joint statement that the reunification of the Korean Peninsula will serve as an global public good, contributing to humanity by addressing issues such as nuclear proliferation, nuclear safety, human rights abuses, environmental destruction, and cybercrimes, etc. President Yoon’s visit to the United States was successful, with the “Washington Declaration” being the most remarkable achievement. As President Yoon noted, the Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and ROK in 1953 is based on conventional weapons. However, given the growing nuclear missile threat from North Korea, it had become imperative to update the treaty to include not only conventional but also nuclear weapons. The upcoming ROK-U.S. summit declaration must contain a stronger commitment to comprehensively address the urgency and resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue. Furthermore, President Biden’s support for ROK’s “audacious initiative” as well as for the Korean reunification must be openly stated.



Jechun Kim is a professor of International Relations at the Graduate School of International Studies (GSIS) at Sogang University and currently Dean for Sogang GSIS. He is political scientist trained at Yale University (MA in International Relations; Ph.D. in Political Science). Before joining Sogang, he worked at Yale University as lecturer for the Department of Political Science and Yale Center for the International and Area Studies (YCIAS). He is currently a member of the advisory board for the National Security Council and the Ministry of Unification in South Korea. He was on the advisory board for South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for about 10 years. He also was a member of the Government Performance Evaluation Committee and a member of Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation in ROK. He was a Fulbright visiting fellow to the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at George Washington University and a visiting scholar to Denver University. Earlier in his career, he worked for the National Assembly of ROK as a legislative assistant. His research interests include International Security, US Foreign Policy, Northeast Asia Regional Affairs, and Inter-Korean Relations. His recent work includes a chapter for Contested Multilateralism 2.0 and Asian Security Dynamics, (Routlege, 2020) and many other journals. He can be reached at jaechun@sogang.ac.kr



Typeset by Junghoo Park, Research Associate; Che Yeon Kim, Intern
    For inquiries: 02 2277 1683 (ext. 205) | jhpark@eai.or.kr

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