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Event Recap

Following the US-ROK Summit between Presidents Biden and Moon in May, Washington and Seoul have prioritized efforts to act upon commitments made in the US-ROK Leaders’ Joint Statement. With the goal of fostering dialogue to enhance implementation of these commitments, the Atlantic Council’s Asia Security Initiative, housed within the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, co-hosted the 4th US-ROK Joint Public-Private Economic Forum with the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the US Department of State on July 21, 2021. The forum was held in a hybrid format with virtual and in-person participants, with an official delegation from the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs arriving from Seoul in attendance, led by 2nd Vice Minister Jongmoon Choi.

The conference opened with remarks from The Hon. Marcia Bernicat, Acting Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment from the US Department of State, addressed the forum’s first keynote remarks, followed by another keynote speech by H.E. Jongmoon Choi, 2nd Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs from the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Both Acting Under Secretary Bernicat and Vice Minister Choi agreed that the US-ROK alliance has evolved into a “prosperous, secure, and dynamic partnership” that is highly valued by the leaderships of both countries. Ms. Bernicat  highlighted that both Washington and Seoul have set “ambitious agendas that aim high” during the US-ROK Summit this past May in areas such as technology and supply chain resiliency, as well as in addressing global health issues and climate change. ROK Vice Minister Choi also noted that the two countries have become “all-around and irreplaceable partners” to each other, explaining to US participants that “you need us, and we need you” as two nations with common democratic values and commitments to free trade.

Session 1. Allies in innovation: Enhancing US-ROK cooperation on science, technology, and global supply chains

The first session explored assessing ways in which the US and ROK can enhance their cooperation in science, technology, and supply chains, featuring Ms. Meghan Biery, Director of Global Technology and Security Policy, Semiconductor Industry Association, H.E. Miyon Lee, Director General, Bilateral Economic Affairs, ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Matt Murray, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Trade Policy and Negotiations, US Department of State, Dr. Miyeon Oh, Director and Senior Fellow, Asia Security Initiative Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council, and Ms. Barbara Weisel, Former Assistant US Trade Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and Managing Director at Rock Creek Global Advisors. Deputy Director and Japan Chair at Hudson Institute, Mr. Riley Walters moderated the session.

Beyond the rhetoric: Moving forward to implementations

In addition to welcoming what the two leaders agreed upon regarding supply chain resiliency and  technologies during the May Summit, panelists underscored the importance of transforming these promises into actual policy implementations. Mr. Murray argued that the US has been striving to enhance supply chain resiliency through a government-led approach. He referred to the Biden Administration’s 100-Day Reviews on critical supply chains as a golden standard for various government stakeholders. MOFA Director General Miyon Lee commented that implementing crucial successes from the joint US-ROK Summit was the main task for the next stage in making progress on achieved agreements. She claimed that investments announced by major Korean industries would be of mutual benefit to both countries in the long run. Concerning the short-term burden to increased costs, large amounts of compensation and incentives are required to continue the momentum for these investments. In response to concerns regarding effective policy implementation of the Biden-Moon agreements, Dr. Oh proposed a strategic “roadmap” for policy recommendations that includes: (1) sector-specific working group under a US-ROK supply chain task force, (2) multilateral cooperative effort with major partners, (3) cooperation on rare earth minerals, and (4) A China + 1 strategy for Southeast Asia countries. 

Panelists agreed that the US-ROK joint summit this past May set the tone for strengthening the partnership between Washington and Seoul on technologies and innovation, as well as supply chain resiliency. Ms. Weisel praised initiatives mentioned in the joint statement for the US-ROK summit as “ambitious and robust” agendas for both countries to work with. “Nimble and flexible modular approaches,” indicating different initiatives for specific issues, were suggested. Ms. Weisel raised the question of how those approaches would fit into the bigger picture; joint efforts made by both countries should harmonize work led by other private partners or domestic policy goals. Given the Biden Administration’s heavy focus on domestic goals, such as creating new jobs and restoring the domestic economy (both mentioned in the 100-Day Review), she highlighted that it is crucial to understand how international efforts to enhance supply chain resiliency fit into domestic policy. Similarly, Ms. Biery pointed out the highest level of leadership from the US was necessary to set “the right tone on the top”. Dr. Oh contended that Asian stakeholders should urge the US to have more clarity in its “middle-class foreign policy” due to possible conflicting elements between stated objectives and actual implementation of different policies.

Private sectors on the center stage

While major Korean firms such as Samsung, SK Hynix, Hyundai, or LG promised more than 40 billion dollars worth of investment in the US during the last US-ROK Summit, government agencies also have a predominant role in science, technology, and global supply chains.

The forum’s panelists acknowledged that private sectors in the US and ROK have become the key driver for implementing bilateral economic policies between the US and ROK. For example, Mr. Murray highlighted the role of South Korean vendors (such as Samsung and LG) in US telecommunication strategies. The US-ROK partnership to build a global trade base in supply chains was necessary in a timely manner. Ms. Biery contended that significant incentives from the US were under the purpose of promoting supply chain diversification, since the US has vulnerabilities in its manufacturing capacities. Thus, the partnership between our two countries could lead to “tremendous opportunities” if the US and ROK governments promote better policies for bilateral cooperation in science, technology, and global supply chains.

Director General Lee cited the existing gap between the benefits and expenses in the 100 Days Review, arguing that generating commercial benefit from investment is the key for the government to “show the right way to invest”; the construction costs in the US are 50 percent higher than in other countries. In order to make sure both the public and private sectors are on the same page, Dr. Oh suggested a “steering committee” to accelerate communication between public and private sectors. While establishing a steering committee led by the government and narrowed down into specific “critical” sectors would be highly beneficial for both Washington and Seoul, she added that working groups should be private-sector driven. To this end, the steering committee was likely to function as a bilateral interagency body and the working group as a consultative body between private sectors.

Session 2. Partnerships for the global good: Advancing US-ROK cooperation on climate change and public health

The second session focused on the prospects for US-ROK partnership in climate change and public health. The session featured Dr. Tom Frieden, President and CEO at Resolve to Save Lives (an initiative of Vital Strategies), Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and former Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Tae Yong Jung, Professor at the Graduate School of International Studies of Yonsei University, The Hon. Marc Knapper, Senior Advisor at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs and Ambassador Designate to Vietnam, US Department of State, Mr. Hyunsang Muk, President and CEO of Korea Drug Development Fund, and Mr. Jie Tang, Practice Manager, Energy and Extractives Global Practice for East Asia and the Pacific Region at the World Bank. Dr. Mark Manyin, Specialist in Asian Affairs at Congressional Research Service, moderated the second session.

Promoting global public health by enhancing vaccine manufacturing

Moving forward from the first session, this session discussed specific issues related to global public health and climate change. All the participating panelists agreed with the urgency of these issues as well as striving to achieve solutions to them through bolstering US-ROK partnerships in these areas. On global health issues, Dr. Friedan asserted, the goal of multilateral cooperation should be to “prevent, detect and respond” to infectious diseases and health threats. He expressed his concern regarding the failure in global governance and “vaccine nationalism”, and recommended creating platform technologies to ramp up vaccine manufacturing capacities across countries worldwide. In this regard, South Korea has proved itself to be a robust regional hub and plays a role as a “collective insurance” provider for the Asia-Pacific region. Similarly, Friedan commended the KORUS vaccine partnership as a much-needed mechanism that provides global benefits by tackling the risk of future pandemics and other biological hazards. From a practitioner’s perspective, Mr. Muk, President and CEO at Korea Drug Development Fund, an ROK government-initiated program to enhance drug development, also highlighted Korea’s role in creating remedies for potential future pandemics by cooperating jointly with the US. In this regard, collaboration with Moderna, a US firm producing one of the most widely distributed mRNA vaccines worldwide, indicates “South Korea’s vigorous manufacturing capacity” with respect to science-oriented research and development.

Asked about his evaluation of the Biden-Moon Summit in May, Friedan laid out three lessons drawn from it: speed, multilateral partnership, and multiple entities. He underlined the importance of multilateral partnerships to tackle global threats despite the complexity of having more players involved. In his view, only through sharing intellectual property can countries effectively cope with global vaccine shortages. In conclusion, Friedan urged both the US and ROK to take appropriate actions “not through wishful thinking but by being suitably ambitious” in confronting global health issues. Muk raised the issue of patents since technology transfers have effectively boosted vaccine manufacturing capability globally. In his sense, the question of how to enhance the US-ROK alliance amid a global pandemic should be resolved in advance. In conclusion, both Friedan and Muk agreed that a transparent approach to global public goods should be prioritized by both Washington and Seoul.

Bilateral and multilateral coordination on climate change

Regarding global climate change, panelists praised US-ROK cooperation on this global issue and its important contribution to global welfare. Dr. Jung recognized the US-ROK alliance as a “good signal” to the world and an example for other countries to follow. Since the US and ROK both share similar fundamental elements such as a market economy and stated objectives to decrease greenhouse emissions, they have “a synergy” by effectively complementing each other in addressing climate change. Similarly, Ambassador designate Knapper evaluated the Biden-Moon Summit as “hitting nails on the head” in achieving agreements in this area. In his words, countries with common democratic values, especially South Korea, welcome the Biden Administration’s commitment to addressing global climate change and are likely to cooperate in green energy and decarbonization technologies. In this regard, Dr. Tang recommended for the US and ROK to search for “common ground” to collaborate through international institutions. By working together through institutions such as the Asian Development Bank and World Bank, the US and South Korea (along with other partners, such as the United Kingdom) can make significant strides towards building a global partnership in addressing climate change.

Panelists also expressed concerns in the current level of US-ROK partnership on the issue of global climate change. Dr. Jung expressed concern that South Korea was not as “aggressive” in addressing climate change-related issues as the Biden administration. In a similar vein, Tang pointed out challenges related to transforming the coal-based economies of multiple developing countries around the world, especially Southeast Asia. He acknowledged that reducing coal consumption and production in this region offered an irrefutable solution for climate change. However, the socio-economic effects of replacing renewable energy should also be considered carefully by governments throughout the world, including Washington and Seoul.


9:15 – 9:20 a.m. (EDT) / 10:15 – 10:20 p.m. (KST)

Opening remarks

Barry Pavel
Senior Vice President and Director, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security
Atlantic Council

9:20 – 9:50 a.m. (EDT) / 10:20 – 10:50 p.m. (KST)

Keynote remarks

The Hon. Marcia Bernicat
Acting Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment
US Department of State

H.E. Jongmoon Choi
2nd Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs
ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs

9:50 – 10:50 a.m. (EDT) / 10:50 – 11:50 p.m. (KST)

Session 1
Allies in innovation: Enhancing US-ROK cooperation on science, technology, and global supply chains

Meghan Biery
Director of Global Technology and Security Policy
Semiconductor Industry Association

Miyon Lee
Director General, Bilateral Economic Affairs
ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Matt Murray
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Trade Policy and Negotiations
US Department of State

Miyeon Oh
Director and Senior Fellow, Asia Security Initiative
Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security
Atlantic Council

Barbara Weisel
Former Assistant US Trade Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific
Managing Director
Rock Creek Global Advisors

Moderated by

Riley Walters
Deputy Director, Japan Chair
Hudson Institute

11:00 – 11:55 a.m. (EDT) / 12:00 – 12:55 a.m. (KST)

Session 2
Partnerships for the global good: Advancing US-ROK cooperation on climate change and public health

Dr. Tom Frieden
President and CEO, Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies;
Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; Former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Tae Yong Jung
Professor, Graduate School of International Studies
Yonsei University

Marc Knapper
Senior Advisor, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
US Department of State

Hyunsang Muk
President & CEO
Korea Drug Development Fund

Jie Tang
Practice Manager, Energy and Extractives Global Practice, East Asia and Pacific Region
The World Bank

Moderated by

Mark Manyin
Specialist in Asian Affairs
Congressional Research Service

11:55- 12:00 p.m. (EDT) / 12:55 – 01:00 a.m. (KST)

Closing remarks

Miyeon Oh
Director and Senior Fellow, Asia Security Initiative
Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security
Atlantic Council

Indo-Pacific Security Initiative

The Indo-Pacific Security Initiative works with US, allied, and partner governments and other key stakeholders to shape strategies and policies to mitigate the most important rising security challenges facing the region, including China’s growing threat to the international order and North Korea’s destabilizing nuclear weapons advancements. IPSI also addresses opportunities for cooperation in the region, such as transforming regional security architectures, harnessing emerging technologies, and developing new mechanisms for deterrence and defense cooperation.