A Conversation With Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong of the Republic of Korea

Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Ben Stansall/Pool via REUTERS

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea


Host, Fareed Zakaria GPS, CNN; Member, Board of Directors, Council on Foreign Relations

South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong discusses the peace process on the Korean peninsula, South Korea’s role in the Asia-Pacific and on the global front, and the ROK-U.S. comprehensive partnership.

ZAKARIA: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us. This is a hybrid meeting, so to all of those who are listening online, watching online, welcome as well. We have a very important visitor to New York and a very important visitor to the Council, and I am delighted that he’s taken some time out from a very busy schedule to speak with us: Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong of South Korea, formerly the national security adviser, now foreign minister, one of those rare diplomats who has held both top jobs.

What I wanted to start by doing, first let me say this is unusual for a Council meeting, though not unusual this week, in that the meeting is on the record. We are doing virtual questions as well as questions from people in the audience, so all those of you on Zoom please feel free to think about what you’d like to ask and we will try to get to several people who are on the Zoom call as well.

And what I thought I would do is just begin, Foreign Minister, by welcoming you, thanking you so much again for doing this. And give us a sense, you know, for you at some level, this week—U.N. General Assembly—is a little bit like speed dating in that you have to meet lots of people all the time, except that it never stops as with speed dating. You don’t ever find the right person. So what are you hoping to do while here in New York? What do you—how do you think about—what is your goal in coming to New York?

CHUNG: Well, UNGA is a diplomatic season, as you know. You know, you have a chance to meet many of your counterparts, because most of them are coming in New York for this meeting. Actually, I accompanied my president.

Well, President Moon Jae-in is the first South Korean president who attended the U.N. General Assembly for five consecutive years, so we are happy about it. He had delivered his keynote speech yesterday, which was very well-received. And as a surprise he brought with him the BTS group, and the BTS group opened the U.N. General Assembly this time with SDG Moment together with the secretary-general. And at the SDG meeting, because—thanks to BTS participation, there were 9 million people clicking, the first time for the United Nations to have such a big, big crowd. The secretary-general was very happy about it. And later on, I think the video was watched by several tens of millions of people.


CHUNG: So we made a big contribution to the U.N. General Assembly this year.

For me, as I said earlier, I am having a series of bilat meetings with foreign ministers. I look forward to meeting Tony Blinken this evening after this meeting. We’ll have a trilat meeting together with Japan first, and then bilat. And I also will have a meeting with Foreign Minister Motegi tomorrow. Koreans are very hopeful that the two foreign minister of Japan and Korea will work out something to improve—normalize relations between Korea and Japan this time. Well, we will try. It’s not an easy task. But those are the things I hope to achieve during my stay in New York this time.

Well, first of all, I am very happy to be here with the members of the CFR, especially Dr. Richard Haass. Congratulations, again, for—on the Gwanghwa Medal of Diplomatic Service Merit. The decision was—you know, the decision was made by the president himself to award the medal to you, and it has—it had to be approved by the Cabinet first before getting the final signature from the president. So, anyway, we are very happy, very honored to this chance—to have this chance to award you such a high medal of honor.

ZAKARIA: Congratulations from us as well.

Let me ask you, Foreign Minister: What do you think of this most recent very striking, important news in your region, which is that the United States is partnering with Australia, with the United Kingdom to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia? It is a—really strikes me as quite a pivotal shift. The United States has shared nuclear technology only with one other country, Great Britain, and that comes out of a joint experience of World War II. And it is being done, clearly, to deter what certainly in Washington is seen as a rising China. What do you make of this move?

CHUNG: Well, to be honest with you, it was a surprise for us. Actually, last week I had—we had a 2+2 meeting with Australia in Seoul with—I had with Minister Marise Payne and her counterpart from the Defense Ministry of Australia. And they went to Washington from Seoul, and immediately after they left I got a call from Marise Payne, foreign minister of Australia, and she wanted to have a telephone conversation with me. So—but we had—just had a meeting—(laughter)—so I was—I was wondering what was the news. And she said, it’s a very important national security issue. So I got the phone—it was almost midnight Seoul time—and she informed me in advance before the announcement was made. I was surprised, but I immediately responded to her that we would respect the decision made by Australia and the United States. And the U.S. Deputy Secretary Sherman also called her counterpart in my Foreign Ministry and also informed us in advance. So we appreciated their prior notice.

And we just hope that the decision will contribute to peace and stability in the region. We hope the decision won’t disturb the situation in the region.

Well, I want to hear more from Tony this evening because we are also very much interested in the—in the new security arrangement among the three countries. We want to see more—a few more details about their plan.

ZAKARIA: Well, you say it very delicately and diplomatically, but my sense is that South Korea is concerned that this could be destabilizing, that—I mean, the Chinese reaction has been very strong. Do you worry that this could be something that leads to a spiral where the Chinese then take countermeasures and—

CHUNG: Well, we don’t think—we don’t take it as a destabilizing factor. The United States is our close ally. We have full confidence in their decision, the decisions that they are taking.

And Australia is also a very close friend of ours. We’ve been holding a 2+2 meeting for years. This was the tenth 2+2 meeting between Australia and Korea. We have a very strong security relationship.

And the—and the United Kingdom is also a very close friend of Korea. Actually, I had meetings with the previous foreign minister, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab, a couple of times already. I was appointed foreign minister only six months ago, but I had two meetings with Dominic before Dominic was replaced recently.

So all these three countries are very—we have very comfortable and close cooperative relations. So we don’t see it as destabilizing factor. But we are—as I said earlier, we are very curious about the plan. And I had a very brief meeting with Marise of Australia this morning, but I didn’t have a chance to discuss this because the sub-regional gathering meeting among Australia, Korea, and Indonesia, Mexico, and Turkey. But we are—we are comfortable. We are comfortable.

ZAKARIA: Is Asia turning into a region where there are developing two blocs, a Chinese bloc and a—I don’t want to say anti-Chinese bloc, but let’s say a non-Chinese bloc—Korea, Australia, Japan, the United States? It does seem like that.

CHUNG: Well, Fareed, that’s the mentality of Cold War, like Chinese say. Well, I don’t think so, no. Well, we hope to see more stable relations between China and the United States because, from our perspective, both countries are very important.

As you know, the U.S. is the only ally we have. The alliance is the—is the main pillar of our foreign and security policy, and the alliance is essential for peace and stability not only on the Korean Peninsula but in the—in the region.

On the other hand, China is also a very important partner for us. China is the largest trading partner for us. The trade volume with China is larger than the sum of the trade volumes we have with Japan and the United States.

ZAKARIA: Put together.

CHUNG; Together.


CHUNG: So it’s huge. It accounts for almost one-quarter of our total trade volume. And China is increasingly becoming a close partner in many areas, in the new technologies as well. And many Korean companies have invested heavily in China. We do have a big manufacturing, you know, sector investment in China.

So we do hope the U.S. and China will get along better, and there are many areas in which the two countries can cooperate: fight against COVID-19, climate change, and also China can play a very important role in establishing a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

ZAKARIA: Do you sense in the last few years that China is becoming more assertive?

CHUNG: Well, I think it is natural because China is becoming stronger, economically more powerful. So it’s not China twenty years ago, so they want to project what they have into their foreign policy, which is only natural. But I don’t know whether we should call it assertive or not, you know. They want to have their voices heard by other members of the international community, and we should—we should try to listen to what they have to say to us.

ZAKARIA: So your experience is not the same, say, as Australia, where if you talk to Australian officials they will be very clear that China has become much more assertive, much more demanding, and indeed that public rhetoric around Australia has been pretty tough. I mean, they issued a set of demands.

CHUNG: Well, we are well aware of the concerns that the—that many countries in the—in the world have about the situation in China and about how China is trying to project itself to the outside world. And we have our own way to communicate with China conveying these concerns. But, well, we are doing our role. As I said, China is becoming increasingly important in our foreign policy and also in our economic activities.

ZAKARIA: Do you believe countries have to choose between America and China, countries in Asia?

CHUNG: No, I don’t think so. No. I don’t—I don’t think so. I don’t—I don’t think, as far as Korea’s concerned, no. That’s not a choice we are—we will be forced to make.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about the other small problem you have on your border, North Korea. What do you make of recent North Korean military activity?

CHUNG: Well, I think we have to look at the issue with some historical perspective. Well, actually, our approach to North Korea has been—lacked consistency, I think. We have been engaging North Korea in an on-and-off way for years until very recently. When North Korea provokes or a crisis erupts, then we scramble to find a temporary solution or come up with a way to avoid a crisis, and then forget. But for the last couple of years, we’ve been doing—we’ve been trying hard to engage North Korea, you know, more consistently, and I think our efforts in the last four years have not been completely in vain.

ZAKARIA: What do you have to show for it? What do you regard as progress?

CHUNG: Well, first of all, President Moon and KJU have met three times. KJU had met President Trump three times. It’s historical progress. And they produced the Singapore joint statement, which provides broad principles on how to improve bilateral relations between the U.S. and the DPRK, and how to resolve—how to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and how to establish lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. And we also, Korea—the two Koreas signed a comprehensive military agreement in 2019, and that provided an institutional basis for, well, relaxed tension on the Korean Peninsula by avoiding extant conflict, military conflict.

As you know, the DMZ—the Demilitarized Zone—is, paradoxically, the most heavily militarized and fortified area in the world. So, since then—since 2018, when we had the first summit between the North and the South, the situation in—on the Korean Peninsula has been stabilized, much more peaceful. At least there has been no major provocations by North Korea. And North Korea, as you know, have maintained its moratorium despite a setback in Hanoi in 2019.

ZAKARIA: So you—

CHUNG: The moratorium on nuclear test and moratorium on long-range missile launches.

ZAKARIA: So the recent missile activity you do not regard as provocative?

CHUNG: Not serious. It’s provocative, yes, but it’s SRBM—short-ranged ballistic missile. Well, it is a—it’s a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, but we don’t take it as serious as other long-range and medium-range missiles.

ZAKARIA: Do you really think North Korea would give up its nuclear missile—nuclear weapons? At the end of the day, it seems to me this is their insurance policy that keeps the regime alive, that keeps that state intact. They’re never going to give them up.

CHUNG: Well, it’s a very tough question, actually. But I think, instead of—instead of debating on whether North Korea is really meaning to dismantle its nuclear and missile programs as they promised in 2018, we should step up our pressure to meet their words into actions. Well—

ZAKARIA: In what way? Step up the pressure. What would you like to see in terms of enhanced pressure?

CHUNG: Well, step up pressures. Well, implementing U.N. Security Council, which is already putting a lot of—a lot of pressure on North Korea, its economy. But also, on the other hand, we should begin to see some other ways to induce North Korea, pull North Korea out of its self-inflicted isolation and become a more responsible member of the international community. We need to offer some incentives.

As we are discussing with the United States, we can start with less-sensitive areas like humanitarian cooperation. And we can then move on to improve—to move on to a period of confidence, take some confidence-building measures like announcing end-of-war declaration as President Moon proposed at his keynote speech yesterday at the U.N. General Assembly.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you, finally, one question that puzzles me but—I think maybe we understand the answer, but I wanted to be sure I understand it from you, which is Kim Jong-un says he needs no help from the world to fight COVID. Your government handled COVID very effectively, one of the most effective performances in the world really. What do you think is going on in North Korea with COVID? Is it really that just it is so isolated and has so little contact with the world that basically it’s one of the few places in the world the virus actually hasn’t gotten to? Or do they have COVID and they just don’t want to tell anybody about it?

CHUNG: Well, that’s a very interesting question. Well, they claim that there had been no case at all, and this is very interesting because they have been holding big rallies which were attended by thousands of people. But in some cases nobody wore facial masks, including their supreme leader. So it is really miraculous from our point of view.

But on the other hand, North Korea was very quick in responding to the outbreak of the pandemic early last year. The first thing they did was shut down their borders with China completely, and they—the borders are still, you know—are still shut down. And we know there is a complete lockdown domestically. So that is one way, I think, to contain the virus.

But still, it’s hard to believe that there has been no case at all. But we couldn’t any confirmed—any information on confirmed cases in the DPRK.

ZAKARIA: You’re not hearing about hospitals or—

CHUNG: No. But they must be very concerned because, as you know, they must be very wary of outside contact because they have no health-care response system and their medical infrastructure is very poor. So it’s—(laughs)—only natural for them to be—so they haven’t contacted.

But people can come out, but nobody can go in. For instance, China appointed new ambassador to Pyongyang and the new ambassador is still in Beijing.


CHUNG: So most of the foreign diplomats came out of Pyongyang and they—and they cannot go in.

ZAKARIA: They can’t go back.

CHUNG: Go back—go back to the country.

ZAKARIA: All right, let me—let me open it up. I think what we’ll try to do, because we are doing this hybrid, we’ll try and take the first question from the people participating online. I think there is somebody controlling that process, and if so, can you line somebody up and select them, please?

OPERATOR: Yes. We will take our first virtual question from Christina Davis.

Q: Hello. I’m Professor of Government at Harvard University Christina Davis.

It’s a great honor to hear your remarks, and I would like to ask about whether you are optimistic about improving relations with Japan given that you have an upcoming meeting. And what role would be there for trade? Your country has an incredible number of trade agreements that you have helped negotiate, and will Korea be joining the Comprehensive Partnership on the Trans-Pacific Partnership now that China, Taiwan, and the U.K. all want to deepen trade ties in the region? And is this an area for Japan-Korea cooperation?

CHUNG: Well, Japan is our closest neighbor, and we share the same values of democracy, market economy, human rights, and all of that. So we regard Japan as a close friend, but unfortunately we have some differences in how to see the past history. And there are some thorny issues for us to sort out, including comfort-women issue and also forced-labor issue during the colonial period. And we think that those past issues can be—can be dealt with through dialogue between the—between the two authorities.

But there is a lot of other areas for—Japan and Korea should cooperate, what is a—for future oriented relationship between Japan and Korea. And unfortunately, Japan imposed export restrictions measures three years ago. We think it was because of the differences we have on past history issues, and Japan says, no, it’s—they say it’s only technical reasons. But anyway, we have—we have overcome the difficulties which Japan intended to inflict upon us, but still the restrictions are still there. So we hope we can—(inaudible)—those restrictions soon, because otherwise we have to bring them to the WTO panel which we have suspended temporarily the process at WTO.

Well, there are a lot of areas—other areas for our two countries to cooperate. And Korea is—of course, is a major trading country. Trade accounts for more than 100 percent of our total GDP. So we are heavily dependent on foreign trade, so we are very active in expanding our trade—special trade arrangements with our major trading partners. Well, this is—it is very unfortunate that, because of political differences, Japan and Korea, the two active trading countries in the world and two close neighbors, to not have any bilateral trading arrangement. We’ve been talking about concluding an FTA with Japan.

And we are—we hope—well, in the initial stage we were reluctant to join CPTPP, and now we hope we can—we can join the CPTPP. But it is our understanding that Japan is reluctant to have Korea in this regional trade agreement. But on the other hand, it is very interesting that Japan is actively participating in the negotiations for a trilateral free trade agreement among Japan, South Korea, and China. So we are working on that. So it is a very complicated situation.

ZAKARIA: Do you think China should become a member of the TPP?

CHUNG; China wants to. I had a meeting with Wang Yi a couple of days ago and China expresses its desire to join the CPTPP. So that is another positive initiative.

ZAKARIA: Is it likely, given—I mean, the Chinese economy is not nearly as open as the other members of the TPP.

CHUNG: Well, China is a member of the WTO, and so why not? It depends on the negotiations with the other members of CPTPP to be—to be accepted to the group. So if China successfully concludes negotiations—China has to have a series of bilateral negotiations to join the group.

ZAKARIA: From the American perspective, this will seem ironic because TPP was sold, at least in the United States, in part as a way to economically counter the weight of China in Asia. And if the United States is out and China is in, it seems like a kind of jujitsu move.

CHUNG: But we know that the U.S. will be in soon.

ZAKARIA: You think so?

CHUNG: I think so, yes. I think—I think the U.S. should come back.

ZAKARIA: Should or will come back?

CHUNG: Should and will.

ZAKARIA: All right. Let’s take a question over here. Ma’am? Yes.

CHUNG: Well, I was expecting a lot of questions on Korean Peninsula issues—denuclearization and so forth—but none so far. (Laughter.)


Q: Hi. This is—my name is Grace Choi, formerly with the mayor’s office in New York City. Foreign Minister Chung, I do not have a question on—(laughs)—the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but—(speaks in Korean)—thank you so much for being here today.

And as Mr. Zakaria mentioned, Korea has been so effective in its COVID-19 response that the U.S. included and many countries around the world have looked to Korea as an example on that response and recovery. And my experience working at the heart of New York City in the mayor’s office of COVID-19 relief, we found that civil society plays a very important role, and we know how robust civil society is in Korea as it is in the U.S. It was really important for New York City and, as you can see, with the Biden administration to engage faith leaders—so pastors, Buddhist monks, Muslim imams, and Jewish rabbis—to be effective leaders in the community to talk about what the government needs in its COVID-19 response and recovery. I’m really curious what the South Korean government’s engagement is as part this civil society apparatus, specifically with the faith institutions like the churches and the temples. And I would love to hear more about that, specifically in response to the—the ongoing COVID-19 response and recovery. Thank you.

CHUNG: Well, thank you, Grace, for the question. I’m not sure whether I am the right person to give you the answer.

We have been doing relatively well in containing the virus. We lagged behind most of the advanced countries in terms of vaccination, but we have caught up rather quickly. By the end of last week, we have administered the first shot of vaccines to more than 70 percent of the population. And we hope we will be able to vaccinate completely—two shots—to more than 70 percent of the people by the end of October, very quickly, and hopefully to achieve the herd immunity.

In the course of this, the main factor which—for the success in our fight against the virus is the cooperation from the people. I think civil society is or religious groups have made great contributions as well. People have been following the very strict social-distancing guidelines set for us by the government, and without the voluntary participation by the citizens I don’t think we could have made such a successful fight against coronavirus.

I hope I—my answer is satisfactory to you.

ZAKARIA: Richard, do you want to ask something about the denuclearization? I thought I asked you about it, but—

CHUNG: Well, I have—(inaudible). (Laughs.) No—

ZAKARIA: We have—we have more than—(inaudible)—to hear more, but I—sir, you wanted to ask one? Yeah.

Q: Ed Cox of the Committee for Economic Development.

What is the minister’s view of the purpose of the Quad? And is there a rationale at some point for South Korea joining the Quad?

CHUNG: Well, we have not been asked to join the group, but we maintain a close relationship with the individual member of the Quad and I am having separate bilateral meetings with all the members of the Quad this time. I had already meetings with my Indian colleague and Australian colleague, going to meet American colleague and Japanese colleague tomorrow morning. And we support what the Quad is trying to achieve in the region. They are all very important members of the—of the region. And we hope the Quad remains inclusive, transparent, and open. So as long as Quad members maintains transparency, inclusiveness as their principles, we have no objections to Quad activities.

And as a matter of fact, we have been cooperating in certain areas with Quad members. For instance, in Southeast Asia we are coordinating with the United States to help those countries fight the coronavirus, fight the natural disasters. For instance, in the Mekong region recently I had a Korea-Mekong foreign ministers meeting. I visited some countries in the region and we have introduced a joint project together with the United States to help them beat natural—the challenges coming from natural disasters using satellite technology, for instance. So there are quite a number of programs we are working together with the Quad in the region.

ZAKARIA: Would you like to be a member of the—

CHUNG: Well, I don’t know. It is a more—(laughs)—geopolitical challenge for us. We don’t see any immediate need to be a part of Quad because we—as I said earlier, we are already maintaining close working relations with all members of the Quad and we are not asked to join in the first place.

ZAKARIA: Well, now, of course, you could not be asked to join the Quad; it would then become the Quintet if you were—if you were asked.

CHUNG: (Laughs.)

ZAKARIA: Let’s take a question from the Zoom members. Again, I’ll leave it to the operator to select somebody.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next virtual question from Mitchel Wallerstein.

Q: Good afternoon. My name is Mitchel Wallerstein. I’m representing Baruch College of the City University of New York and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Minister, thank you for being with us. You mentioned earlier that you were not overly concerned about the recent North Korean ballistic missile tests. But the North Koreans have also tested, presumably for the first time, a cruise missile which would be much more difficult to track, but it is capable of reaching the southern part of the peninsula. Do you have any specific concerns about this development? And what should be done either bilaterally or through the United Nations about cruise missiles?

CHUNG: Well, firing cruise missiles are not violations of the U.N. Security Council resolutions, but we are of course very concerned about those development, development of such technologies by the DPRK. But we are developing our own anti-missile defense system, including cruise missiles of our own, and we think we have far more advanced technologies—missile technologies. Although we are concerned, we are doing our best to develop our defense and deterrence capabilities as well.

Well, we don’t want to have an arms race with the DPRK. That is why we hope we can resolve this issue as quickly as possible by engaging North Korea. We think we should introduce all the possible ways to bring North Korea out to the negotiating table and jumpstart the denuclearization negotiations we’ve been having until 2019, until the setback in Hanoi.

ZAKARIA: Let’s take another question from the—from the virtual—from the Zoom group, if I may.

OPERATOR: Absolutely. Our next virtual question will come from Joanna Shelton.

Q: Yes. Mr. Minister, thank you so much, and I also have a question about the DMZ and North Korea.

China has been a party to the talks on North Korea for many years. China also reportedly does provide North Korea with oil and perhaps other commodities and goods as well. I don’t know, in light of COVID, to what extent there is much discussion going on in this larger group with the issues of North Korea, but could you please just tell us a bit about China’s current role in addressing the challenges that are collectively faced vis-à-vis North Korea? Thank you.

CHUNG: Well, China is trying to help us in their own way. For instance, China is strongly supporting our proposal to announce a(n) end-of-war declaration among the concerned parties—i.e., the U.S., China, and the two Koreas. Armistice normally means ceasefire, cessation of hostilities, which will allow then a peace treaty to follow. Like, you are celebrating Veterans Day on November 11th, and the day—the date is the day when Germany signed the armistice in 1918. And the armistice was followed by the Paris Peace Treaty in 1919 after six or eight months; I don’t remember exactly.

But a bizarre situation is going on on the Korean Peninsula. The armistice agreement was signed in 1953 and it’s been sixty-eight years. And it is the longest standing armistice in history. So we hope we can—we can change this situation, and we think that will build a confidence between the U.S. and the DPRK, that it will provide a good environment—atmosphere to restart denuclearization and negotiations. That is why President Moon made the proposal yesterday at the U.N. General Assembly. He did it, again, last year at the U.N. General Assembly speech.

So, as I said earlier, the DMZ is paradoxically—the demilitarized zone is, paradoxically, the most militarized area in the world. So—this is not right situation. So, we hope to correct it. The Korean people have been living under a pseudo-peace for the last sixty-eight years, even since the end of the war. And we still remain technically at war. So, it is not fair for the Korean people either. So, we do hope that we would be able to turn the page on this unfortunate legacy of the Cold War.

ZAKARIA: Right. Let’s take a question from here, all the way back. Sir?

Q: Good afternoon. I’m Myles Caggins with the Council on Foreign Relations. And happy Chuseok.

If we can switch to the Middle East and South Asia, Korea recently welcomed a number of Afghan evacuees, giving them special merit status. Over in Iraq, and particularly the Kurdistan region, Korea has a strong relationship with the people there and is a member of the global coalition to defeat ISIS. If there is a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces—security forces from Iraq and Syria, do you anticipate that Korea would also welcome guests from that region, and are there any lessons that your country can teach the United States related to an approach toward refugees?

CHUNG: Well, actually it was a first time for us to receive such a large number of people, especially from Middle East—that there had been some hesitancy among some groups in South Korea, especially among Christian groups. So, before taking the decision, I met with religious groups’ leaders. And surprisingly, they were readily accepted our suggestion that we should receive these Afghans who had cooperated with us in our projects in Afghanistan. They were the top medical doctors, nurses, and instructors at the vocational training centers, and we—and also the reconstruction team in Afghanistan, where we have received only 80 of them with their families. So, altogether, about four hundred people; exactly speaking, 391 people. We decided to grant their special residence permit, but we have to amend our immigration law in order to do that, so—but the decision was very well-received by the general public. After they were received, they arrived in Korea, and many people warmly welcomed them.

So, we are happy that the government made the correct—right decision. There are still some people in Afghanistan who worked for us, but who were not quite ready to leave the country when we evacuated the initial group of 391 people. So, we are now considering how to bring them out as well. So, we will see. We hope the new regime in Kabul will guarantee the safe passage of these people, and we are ready to receive them if possible. But we have to go through very strict procedures because of the domestic concerns. We have to, this year, who are coming to Korea. So, we would need to closely coordinate with our friends, especially with the United States. Well, actually the U.S. help was very essential in our efforts to evacuate those Afghans.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you, if I may, just since Afghanistan has come up. A number of people around the world commented after the fall of the Kabul government and the American withdrawal, that this is a sign that the United States will not back its allies when things get very tough. This is an issue near and dear to South Korea. Do you worry about America’s security guarantees to you, in light of what happened in Kabul?

CHUNG: No, not at all. First of all, Korea is no Afghanistan. (Laughs.) And we have full confidence in our alliance. And I—(laughs)—I don’t think any Korean was concerned or worried about that possibility.

ZAKARIA: Well, why not? They saw America leave a place that it had spent twenty years, promised to support the government.

CHUNG: Well, I’m not sure whether I should say this, but it was the problem of the previous government in Afghanistan. Incompetent and corrupt. The United States has poured a lot of money, and Korea also has poured a lot of resources. We tried our best to help Afghans to do many things for themselves, but we all failed. It is not our problem. We did our best, but they failed to do it on their own, because of the incompetence and the corruption in the government. So, we feel very sorry about what had happened, and I don’t think nobody should blame the United States for the mess in Afghanistan.

ZAKARIA: A lot of people who felt that the United States should not withdraw in America used the analogy of Korea. They say, look, yes, we were in Afghanistan for twenty years, but we’ve been in Korea since 1953. Actually, since 1950.

CHUNG: Well, even before that.

ZAKARIA: Is there an analogy there?

CHUNG: You know, you came in in 1945. (Laughter.)

ZAKARIA: That’s right. Is there an analogy there?

CHUNG: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Well, first of all, the U.S.-ROK alliance is rock solid. We need each other, and I don’t see any reason for the U.S. to consider—even consider—even think of leaving Korea. So, that’s not a question for us at all.

ZAKARIA: Richard?

Q: I’m Richard Haass. Thank you for what you said. I don’t usually ask questions, but I also want to be a good host and I sense the minister came here wanting to say something about denuclearization and about the nuclear situation on the peninsula.

So, in particular, you talked about taking steps towards denuclearization. What is your sense of a realistic architecture, and would you support now the kinds of things we tried in the past, where we would say, we would like North Korea to undertake certain steps, either shut down certain facilities, put certain limits, accept certain investigations in exchange for sanctions relief? What is your sense of what is a necessary and smart path towards dealing with the nuclear problem on your peninsula?

CHUNG: Well, thank you very much, Dr. Haass, for asking that question. (Laughter.) I have a very prepared answer for that. (Laughs.) Well, it is very important that we show North Koreans that they have concrete things to gain if they sit with us, if they come back to the negotiating table. And Korea and the U.S. agreed to continue to engage North Korea with a fully-coordinated strategy. At the 2+2 meeting in late March in Seoul, and also that pledge was confirmed at the summit meeting on May 21st at the White House. So, I think we could—we—I mean, the U.S. and ROK could explore many avenues to pull North Korea out of isolation, and actively restart this denuclearization process. And you know, this is what I wanted to say. We shouldn’t be timid on offering North Koreans incentives if they—if those incentives can be snapped back at the first sight of noncompliance. We can do it. We can—we can make, you know, such arrangements, we believe. So, maybe we will need to start on less sensitive areas, like humanitarian assistance, where they don’t want—North Koreans don’t like the word “assistance,” so we can use “humanitarian cooperation.” And then we can move on to CBMs, confidence-building measures, like the announcement of the end-of-the-war declaration.

And then, we should also consider presenting windows to relax sanctions, depending on their actions. So, the Americans are not quite ready for that, especially for relaxing—for lifting or easing sanctions, but I think we are—we are—it is about time for us to consider that, because North Koreans, as I said earlier, have maintained this moratorium for more than—for four years, since November of 2017, they haven’t fired a long-range missile. So, well, we are not—I don’t mean that we should reward for what they have not been doing, but as incentives we hope we can find some ways to ease sanctions.

ZAKARIA: All right. I think we have the last question here.

Q: Thank you very much. Paul Sheard from Harvard Kennedy School.

I was actually going to ask a question along the lines of Richard’s, but let me switch then, because I think that’s been well-covered. One major country in the region that hasn’t been mentioned today, Minister, is Russia. Have you got a word to say about South Korea’s relationships with Russia and how you see Russia fitting into, you know, the jigsaw puzzle of the issues that we’ve been talking about this afternoon, particularly the Korean Peninsula issues?

CHUNG: Well, Russia is one of the four major partners, other than the two Koreas, in this denuclearization process. We think Russia has been playing a constructive role and is committed and willing to continue to play that role. Recently, Sergey Lavrov, my counterpart, was in Seoul. We had a very good meeting, and I am going to see him again in Moscow in mid-October. And Russia has similar views, like China, and they support our idea of easing sanctions to a certain extent. So, of course, we have to closely coordinate with the United States first, but again, Russia is a very important partner, and we keep very close communication.

ZAKARIA: Minister Chung, you’ve been very open and direct, and as always, intelligent. And I think we also gave you an opportunity to lay out your plan for denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. So, all that is left is for me to thank you very much for your courtesy and your kindness in being here.

CHUNG: Well, thank you very much, Fareed. It has been my honor and pleasure to be invited to the CFR meeting—one of the most prestigious institutes in the United States. My president had a very good session here three years ago. We were very proud of it. I was sitting there—(laughter)—watching him perform. So it is my personal pleasure as well.

And thank you very much, Dr. Richard Haass and Fareed. You have—you have an army in Korea. You know what army is? (Laughter.)

ZAKARIA: We need every viewer we can get, so I’m very grateful.

CHUNG: You are very popular in Korea. You should come to Korea. You haven’t been to Korea?

ZAKARIA: I have been to Korea. I am a great fan of Korea. I think—you were asking why you guys had handled COVID well? You handle everything well.

CHUNG: Well, thank you. Thank you for saying so. We are trying our best.

But thank you very much. We owe a lot to America for what we are today, and we really do thank America for that—your sacrifices, your assistance. You gave us hope in separation and confidence that we can do, too, like you did, and we are trying our best. And we will never forget your cooperation and support and assistance in the past, and we will repay that debt in our own way.

Well, actually, Korea is one of a few American allies which have participated in most of the major military campaigns led by the United States since the end of World War II, including Vietnam, Iraq, Gulf, and Afghanistan. So, we are doing our best, and I thank you very much for that.

ZAKARIA: Thank you again, Minister.

CHUNG: Thank you. (Applause.)


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