While there were no big surprises, Friday’s speech was and exciting moment, in which the Vice President was able to explain the benefits of a strong United States and Korean relationship although a few moments could been seen as cultural awkward.
The speech began with a began with Biden reflecting on his experience meeting Nelson Mandela, who’s death was announced hours before the speech began, telling the audience how Mandela became friends with his jailers instead of resenting them. He then transitioned to discussing the need for new leadership as the Asia region grows in influence. Examining the sixty years since the end of the Korean war, “the miracle on the Han River,” the period of rapid growth and success for South Korea, he compared to America’s growth, saying that it happened because of the audiences parents and grandparents “betting on ordinary Koreans” Having been in Korea long enough to understand that Yonsei is considered to be the number 2 school in the nation to me such a statement would be comparable to somebody going to Yale and praising the student body for having overcome a lower middle class lifestyle especially as he added “not the elite, not a special class, but ordinary Koreans. Because they know what we know in America: Ordinary people are capable of doing extraordinary things if you give them an opportunity.” In South Korea the elite cheabol companies such as Samsung and Hyundai control wide sectors of the economy making independent opportunity hard to accomplish. One could compare this cultural moment to one in America where elite politicians attempt to appeal to the everyday public or contrast it assuming that the White House does not understand these dynamics of Korea fully.
But the main motivation of this was probably in the purpose of the speech to bring the United States and Korea closer together. On North Korea and the China air defense zone Biden reaffirmed America’s stance to be similar with South Korea saying that negotiations with the North required disarming of nuclear weapons. He also spoke of the need to renew trade agreements and improve economic ties. Environmental cleanup and joint humanitarian missions such as typhoon Haiyan relief were also discussed as important relation builders.
Text of the full speech can be found on the White House website, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/12/06/remarks-vice-president-joe-biden-us-korea-relations-and-asia-pacific