[INSIGHT]Foreign Policy Based on Self-EsteemWhen the matters were getting complicated surrounding the midair collision of an American spy plane and a Chinese fighter, the Washington Post ran a column under the headline "With Friends Like These . . ." The column asked, "Where were our Asian allies during the China standoff?" According to the column, when the standoff with China started, America's East Asian allies abandoned the United States as they did during the 1996 crisis in the Taiwan Strait. As a result, the column argues, it is time for American leaders to rethink the U.S. strategy on East Asia since "the countries that benefit from U.S. protection seem inclined to stand on the sidelines whenever a crisis erupts."
Now is also the time for us to ask the following questions. Is the conservative alliance among the United States, Japan and South Korea, which was formed to contain communism in Northeast Asia, still valid? What does the trilateral alliance mean, in particular when the United States is pursuing a missile defense shield, and when Japan is tilting toward the right as shown in the recent history textbook flap? What would be the rewards if we kept the alliance?
The alliance has been strained since the Kim Dae-jung government began its engagement policy toward North Korea. The Kim administration worked hard to get Russia and China to support its policy toward the North. There were no obstacles to the engagement policy when the Democrats held the White House and China was considered a "strategic partner." However, the dilemma of Kim's engagement policy started to emerge in the light of Bush doctrine revealing a different color from the traditional diplomatic principles of conservative liberalism.
South Korea's foreign policy has been considered something inherited. However, recent developments demand a fundamental review. The proposed missile defense shield has raised a question whether we have to accommodate it because the United States is our blood alliance even though it would hurt North-South relations.
Do we have to consider the right-wing government of Japan as a party in the alliance, even though it accepted historical perspectives which cover up aggression on the Korean peninsula? Emotional nationalists and people from the left are crying out for self-reliance and anti-American foreign policy, condemning loudly Japan's militarism.
But we are not in the position to boost anti-American feelings and to demand a change in foreign policy, considering our economic reality is so vulnerable to trade pressures from the United States and the trends on Wall Street. Everyone knows our economy is under America's thumb. Pragmatism dictates that we fall under the U.S. defense umbrella. But do we have to give up the engagement policy toward North Korea? Are the alliance with the United States and Japan and the reconciliatory policy on the Korean peninsula incompatible?
All these conflicting factors should be integrated into our future diplomatic strategy. South Korea needs to secure a certain level of self-reliance to be able to say "no" to the missile defense shield in order to pursue the reconciliatory policy with the North.
South Korea needs the diplomatic prowess to declare theatrical neutrality if we cannot participate in the containment of China by the United States, Japan and Taiwan. South Korea must play the role of an independent variable, not of a dependent variable in America's foreign policy for East Asia. In this context we have to start forming diplomatic agendas and confronting issues of the status of American forces in South Korea and setting a time limit on the Korean-American Mutual Defense Agreement.
The current issues with Japan should be reviewed. To think that South Korea can forever put pressure on Japan for a sincere apology for historical atrocities on Korea is naive. The United States has already started delegating the responsibility to protect 1,000 miles of sea lane in South East Asia to Japan, since they recently forged the new guideline concerning Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation. Japan will probably revive its army and revise its peace constitution. We can not have full-fledged political and military cooperation with Japan as the United States wishes. We have to degrade the current defense ministerial meeting to a meeting between military attaches and limit the participation of Japan in matters concerning North Korea. We have to remain in a strained but polite cooperation with Japan, at the same time paying close attention to Japan's tendency toward militaristic expansionism.
The alliance between South Korea, the United States and Japan, based on conservative liberalism in the past, is in the middle of a restructuring process. Yet, we cannot assume a sort of left ideology that suggests moving closer to the alliance of China, Russia and North Korea. We have to start preparing for our own diplomatic direction that will help us maintain independence regardless of what kind of government gets sworn in the United States and how much Japan tilts to the right.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-bae