중앙데일리

Korea’s diplomatic disgrace

June 01,2019
Ko Dae-hoon
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

One thing is for sure on the East Asian front — U.S. President Donald Trump is at war with China and may not be happy with South Korea over its policy on North Korea. But he is clearly pleased with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The two were like any old buddies, each tweeting off selfies of themselves beaming together during their round of golf on Sunday. Trump was not shy about whose side he would be on at a time Seoul and Tokyo are testy over a number of issues.

Abe played the perfect host. His guest and he golfed, watched a sumo match and had a barbecue course dinner. He escorted Trump to the banquet hosted by Japan’s new emperor, Naruhito, at the Imperial Palace. Abe did not mind the mockery about playing a tour guide. The Japanese are famous for their omotenashi hospitality. But Abe raised the bar. Trump, the U.S. president, went on a warship of Japan, the country the United States defeated in the World War II. The move has been regarded as a symbolic condoning of Japan’s military buildup. Abe more or less won Trump’s blessing for his longtime ambition to rearm Japan. The No. 1 and No. 3 economies boasted of their “treasured alliance” to the globe, mostly to neighboring China and South Korea.

The boisterously showy friendship must have made the Blue House uncomfortable. Trump was business-like when South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited the White House last month. Moon traveled across the Pacific but got just two minutes of private time with Trump. Despite the political complexities in Washington, Trump devoted four days in Japan to his 11th summit meeting with Abe, covering a total of 25 hours and 45 minutes. They also played golf five times, spending 16 hours and 10 minutes on the course. Whether the Korean president plays golf or not is not an issue. It is not pleasant to see your own country’s leader being discriminated against.

Abe’s flattery and indulgence has paid off. It may not have been a coincidence that Trump referred to the East Sea as the Sea of Japan. Emboldened by the newfound confidence of his U.S. ally, Abe claimed he could meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at any time, as Japan was completely in agreement with the United States on North Korean affairs. Abe has turned the tide in his favor ahead of the Group of 20 Summit Conference in Osaka on June 28-29. He does not care whether he sits down for separate talks with his Korean counterpart or not. Seoul, however, now needs Trump’s buddy on its side. It won’t be able to reverse its previous position that the government cannot get involved in the Supreme Court rulings ordering Japanese companies to compensate Koreans for forced labor during colonial period. But it will be an embarrassment for the Korean leader if he cannot meet the host of the event. Seoul may have to pay the price for underestimating Tokyo.

U.S. President Donald Trump, second from left, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, third from left, flanked by U.S. first lady Melania Trump, left, and Abe’s wife Akie Abe, onboard the Japanese destroyer JS Kaga, in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo on Tuesday. [AP/YONHAP]
Abe knows how to play the global power game well, where there are no permanent friends or foes, just national interests. The playing field will become more unfavorable for Seoul if Washington decisively values Tokyo more. Beijing will take Seoul more lightly and Pyongyang will rely less on Seoul. South Korea could become an outsider. Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly turned down Seoul’s request to stop by on his way to Osaka for the G-20 meeting. Moon won nothing from his visit to China in December 2017 except being denied a state dinner. China has been pressuring South Korea to take a side in its struggle for hegemony with the United States. Korean enterprises cannot easily join the U.S.-led sanctions against Chinese tech giant Huawei after suffering big for Seoul’s installation of a U.S. antimissile system.

The South is of little use to the North if it loses favor with the United States. It is no surprise that Pyongyang has turned cold towards Seoul, ridiculing Moon for being a “meddlesome mediator.” It lectured and humiliated Moon and the Seoul government, which has been generous.

Former President Roh Moo-hyun quoted an ancient Chinese saying about a famed general who in his childhood kneeled in front of a village bully to explain why he had to bend to U.S. President George W. Bush upon return from a summit meeting in Washington in 2003. Seoul may find itself in the pitiful situation of trying to court not just the United States but also China, North Korea and Japan.

The economy can speak for national strength. Moon boasted South Korea has become the seventh country in the world to join the 30-50 club, with a population of over 50 million and a per capita income of $30,000. But no country in the 30-50 club — the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain and Italy — have ever suffered such diplomatic disgrace. Moon’s idealistic diplomacy has hurt the Korean people’s pride.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 31, Page 31


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