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Korea can’t ignore human rights in China, says U.S. envoy

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U.S. Ambassador to Korea Philip Goldberg gives a lecture in Seoul National University’s Wooseok Economics Hall in Gwanak District, southern Seoul, Monday afternoon. [NEWS1]
U.S. Ambassador to Korea Philip Goldberg gives a lecture in Seoul National University’s Wooseok Economics Hall in Gwanak District, southern Seoul, Monday afternoon. [NEWS1]

South Korea and the United States should hold countries like China responsible for human rights, the new U.S. ambassador to Seoul said in a lecture Monday.  
Philip Goldberg gave his first lecture since arriving in the country at Seoul National University’s (SNU) Institute for Future Strategy Monday afternoon. He discussed South Korea-U.S. relations, Pyongyang’ denuclearization and other regional and international issues.  
“The Republic of Korea and the United States have the responsibility to promote democracy and defend against destabilizing authoritarian regimes,” said Goldberg. “Our collective effort will build a credible voice for promoting human rights and freedoms abroad like diversity, equality and tolerance.”

This includes criticizing countries like China, which “continues to carry out genocide and crimes against humanity against predominantly Muslim Uighurs and religious minority groups in Xinjiang,” he said, “and undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and protected rights.”

Describing Seoul and Washington as “like-minded partners,” Goldberg stressed that “Korea’s rapidly expanding influence gives Koreans a say in what happens in the world.”

He called for Seoul and Washington to “work together with our allies and partners to support peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait” and on disputes in the South China Sea. He described Korea as “an essential, equal and capable partner with the United States” in such efforts.

“Together, we face unprecedented threats from authoritarian states like the People’s Republic of China, Russia and North Korea, and we are redefining and re-enforcing the future of our shared security,” said Goldberg. “The United States and the Republic of Korea are working together to oppose all activities that undermine or threaten the rules-based international order and a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

He added that if Korea, the United States and Japan “work together to promote democratic values and principles, regional security and prosperity can be even stronger,” saying it’s “our fundamental interest to support closer cooperation with each other.”  

Goldberg referred to U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to Seoul for a summit with Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on May 21.  

“Both of our leaders share our commitment to advancing freedom, peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as to promoting democracy and the rules-based international order, fighting corruption and advancing human rights,” he said. “Our alliance truly is the linchpin for peace and prosperity in the region.”

Goldberg said that the two sides reaffirmed their mutual commitment to the defense of South Korea and stressed the importance of military readiness “to ensure that our combined forces have the highest capability to deter a North Korean attack.”

He said this included measures such as resuming full-scale military exercises and deployment of U.S. strategic assets to pre-2018 levels “as a demonstration of our seriousness in extended deterrence.”

On North Korea, Goldberg said the long-held goal is to establish “a sustainable and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula,” in cooperation with the international community.

He added that Seoul and Washington “put great effort into encouraging the DPRK to denuclearize, including through UN Security resolutions, while offering dialogue without preconditions.” DPRK is the acronym for the North’s full name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Regarding Russia, he said, “We applaud Korea for joining international efforts to support Ukraine, and hold Moscow accountable for its unprovoked invasion, including supporting international sanctions.”

As Russia’s aggression continues, he said, “It’s vital that democratic nations do all within their power to prove to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and to the world that his unprovoked, premeditated war will not succeed.”

He pointed to other areas of cooperation between South Korea and the United States, such as climate change and economic security, including joint ventures and investments in areas like semiconductors, high-capacity batteries, biopharmaceuticals and other critical parts of supply chains.

Goldberg noted that Korea has “evolved into a diplomatic, economic, military and cultural powerhouse” and that Korea’s “growing economic and soft power have translated into a natural progression towards a greater role in world affairs and evolution that will only serve as a positive influence in our global community.”

Goldberg also discussed Seoul-Washington matters with former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, honorary director of the Institute of Future Strategy, and Kim Byung-yeon, an SNU economics professor and head of the institute, during the event.  

Regarding the recently enacted U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, Goldberg said that he believed Korea recognized “its chief purpose was really part of the movement towards the green economy and trying to deal with issues of climate change while at the same time promoting the manufacture of electric vehicles and batteries for those vehicles.”

Goldberg became U.S. ambassador to Korea last month, 16 months after predecessor Harry Harris left the country. A career diplomat, Goldberg served as U.S. coordinator for the implementation of UN sanctions on North Korea from 2009 to 2010 during the Barack Obama administration and was ambassador to the Philippines, Bolivia and Colombia.  

As one of his first activities after his arrival in Korea, Goldberg gave a speech at the Seoul Queer Culture Festival on July 16, along with other foreign diplomats, to promote LGBT rights in Korea, an event that sparked protest rallies from conservative groups.  

When asked by a student his views on conservative Koreans’ stance on LGBT rights, Goldberg replied, “I support this policy, because I am a representative of the U.S. and we believe very strongly in human rights. As for gay marriage, or any of the legislative issues, those are Korean issues; you have to settle those here.”

He stressed in his SNU lecture, “Gender, race, national origin, disability status or sexual orientation cannot be an excuse to leave anyone on the sidelines.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]