[INSIGHT]Korea Doesn't Have to Be a Pushover

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[INSIGHT]Korea Doesn't Have to Be a Pushover

The Dalai Lama's visit to Seoul has failed to materialize. I don't know the details of the process through which the Tibetan leader's visit was sought, but I felt once again how helpless a small nation can be against a powerful country like China.

The Korean people were upset recently over negotiations with China concerning the trade in garlic. China insisted that we buy more garlic than we needed from them in order to obtain a license to market cell phones in China. At the time, we consoled ourselves with the thought that profits from phone sales would soon recompense us for the expense of the garlic. But it makes me uneasy that there are more and more instances where we postpone protest and assume a stance of patience and concern for the Chinese position.

Not only China causes me consternation. Observing the Bush administration's North Korea policy makes me wonder whether the United States actually regards South Korea as its ally. The "sunshine policy" of engagement toward North Korea was in reality the result of close coordination and cooperation between South Korea and the United States. If the United States were a true ally, it would have consulted South Korea before it went ahead and changed its policy framework. I am dumfounded that the United States unilaterally declared an overhaul in its North Korea policy without seeking South Korea's understanding first. It's as though South Korea were just an onlooker. This is why the government's desperate effort to save the framework of the engagement policy looks pitiful.

Defense Minister Kim Dong-shin and U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reportedly agreed last week to give South Korea a leading role in negotiations with North Korea over the North's conventional forces capability. The government has in reality merely been scrambling to regain its previous position. There was nothing else the government could do, and I can only lament South Korea's limited diplomatic and military clout in the face of the heated struggle among the powers jostling the nation.

Japan's go-it-alone attitude adds to my stress. From the time he took power, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has been supportive of the right-wing's textbooks, and he has pledged to visit the shrines where Japan's wartime criminals are buried. All this he does without regard to the storm brewing among Japan's neighbors, including South Korea. More recently, Japan took issue with the fact that Korean fishing boats are operating in the seas off the Kuril Islands, which are not even Japan's territorial waters. Everything that Japan does seems intended to enrage us and they are very dogged about it, too. The South Korean government must be doing its best but not one issue has been resolved to the Korean people's satisfaction.

National power is one of the most important assets in international politics, but it is not everything. A good example is the moral authority exhibited by Nelson Mandela three years ago over Bill Clinton, the president of the most powerful country in the world. Mr. Clinton went on a tour of six African nations with an attractive economic package intended to expand American influence in the region. One of his goals was to break the ties South Africa maintains with so-called rogue states, such as Cuba, Libya and Iran.

Mr. Mandela took Mr. Clinton to Robin's Island, 13 kilometers off the South African coast, where Mandela served 18 out of his 27 years in prison. Walking side by side, the two men even went inside the tiny cell where Mr. Mandela was held. There was a small window, a sink and a blanket but no bed. It was exactly as it was when Mr. Mandela was there.

Although he was brutally abused by his white rulers, Mr. Mandela fielded a policy of reconciliation toward the very people who had oppressed him in the past, and won praise for it throughout the world. A visit to the prison cell where he was imprisoned worked to maximize the effect of his policy of reconciliation.

The two heads of state held talks after touring the prison. Mr. Clinton expressed his concern that South Africa was maintaining close ties with nations Washington disapproved of. Mr. Mandela countered by saying the United States as a world leader should set an example of reducing tensions. He called on Mr. Clinton to hold a sincere dialogue with his "enemies" on how to bring about peace. At that point, Mr. Clinton could not insist on his policy anymore. The American media reported the encounter was a lesson for Mr. Clinton on Mr. Mandela's moral authority.

President Kim Dae-jung's record of pro-democratic activism is on par with Mr. Mandela's moral authority. The Nobel prize that he won last year can serve as a great national asset. Instead of being squeezed out of the power game played by the nations surrounding us, the government should be more forthcoming in its relations with the powers by utilizing its great diplomatic assets. But unfortunately, the government is mired in an internal struggle.

This is eroding the diplomatic clout we do have, instead of making good use of it.


The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Heo Nam-chin

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