Commentary: Mutual trust will help ensure freedom in the Pacific

South Korean President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party, during their meeting at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul on June 12.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party, during their meeting at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul on June 12.
(Kim Hong-Ji / AFP / Getty Images)

I am an immigrant to the United States born in South Korea. My parents fled the North to escape communism. I understand the important relationship that exists between the United States and Korea. It is a history that is forged in blood and sacrifice.

During the Korean War, about 140,000 South Koreans and more than 35,000 Americans gave their lives to stop the spread of communism and bring freedom to all Koreans.

After the war, the United States continued to aid Korea with financial and military assistance that helped with Korea’s post-war recovery. The U.S. continues to support Korea to this day. Nearly 30,000 Americans are stationed in South Korea, risking their lives every day to defend freedom on the peninsula.

North Korea’s unstable communist dictator, Kim Jong-un, continues to test ballistic missiles, increasing the threat to the Republic of Korea and freedom in the Pacific.

Of course the previous American presidential administration’s laissez-faire attitude toward North Korea’s belligerence are in part to blame for making us more vulnerable to its increasing threats.

The constant threat of North Korea, not only to the U.S. national security but to our allies in the Pacific, is becoming more concerning. North Korea poses a physical threat to our allies, Japan and the Republic of Korea.

Dealing with an unhinged oppressive leader is not something unfamiliar to the United States. However, the previous administrations diminishing of the number of troops and military funding, increasingly aggressive actions and changes in leadership there are cause to be anxious. The scandal and impeachment of President Park Geun-hye and recent election of President Moon Jae-in in the South have created an even greater concern with the instability of the region. The change in leadership in the South and the reckless aggression in the North is a dangerous combination for our regional allies.

Therefore, it is now more important than ever to ensure our alliances in the area continue to be strong. We can’t afford to allow either Japan or the Republic of Korea to be threatened by such unpredictable power in the region.

The United States is resolved to remain loyal to its longtime allies. It is even more important for Koreans to understand what is on the table and to trust the United States. We understand the importance and the great mutual advantages of our alliance.

Ranked as the 11th largest economy in the world, the Republic of Korea has continued to grow as a global power. Once a recipient of U.S. aid, in 2010 the Republic of Korea became a member of the Development Assistance Committee and officially moved from an aid recipient to a donor; managing to become an official democracy and global power in only a few short decades.

Now is not the time to create greater turmoil with South Korea, which is still unstable from its latest election. However, it is important the new leaders understand the people of the United States will not be patient and complacent when it comes to matters of security. If forced, the United States could be put in the position to take preemptive action against the North.

Both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence have shared after their visits to Korea the continual use and testing of ballistic missiles by the North is unacceptable, and the new leadership in the South should understand the United States wants to see immediate change concerning the North.

As Pence stated during his trip to the Demilitarized Zone, the alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States is “ironclad.” Our loyalties will always remain with our allies in the Pacific. In return, it is their loyalty we will need in order to ensure our mutual protection, safety and continued freedom.

Surfside resident MICHELLE STEEL serves on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.