[OUTLOOK] 3 Neighbors, a Superpower and 2 Koreas

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[OUTLOOK] 3 Neighbors, a Superpower and 2 Koreas

The year 2001 is expected to become a year of the two Koreas. The strong powers in Northeast Asia are pursuing diplomatic activities more dynamically than at any other time in the past.

Following this week's Korea-Russia summit, South Korea and the United States will hold summit talks in Washington on March 7. Kim Jong-il, chairman of North Korea's National Defense Commission, is scheduled to visit Russia in April, and Chinese President Jiang Zemin might also visit Pyongyang. U.S. President George W. Bush is likely to make a tour of Northeast Asia about the time of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Shanghai in October. All in all, summit diplomacy is set to gather force in Northeast Asia this year as though a floodgate has been opened.

The key reason for the vigorous summit diplomacy in Northeast Asia is attributed to, in a nutshell, the United States and North Korea. Following the change of administration in the world's only superpower in the post-cold war era, global interest is focusing on the direction of the George W. Bush administration's foreign policy, and especially on North Korea's diplomatic response.

Unlike the previous Clinton administration, the Bush administration stands ready to aggressively pursue the introduction of a national missile-defense system. It perceives China not as a "strategic partner" but as a "strategic competitor," and it also calls for a strict application of the principles of reciprocity toward the North.

In response, Russia denounces the U.S. pursuit of a national missile shield as a part of expanding its global hegemony. China, while placing the top priority on developing its economy through trade with the United States, is nevertheless concerned that the gap dividing their military capabilities will grow bigger. Japan, meanwhile, hopes to expand the scope of its international activities by making the most of the Bush administration's firm resolve to strengthen U.S.-Japan ties.

The most concerned country of all would be North Korea; it is anxious to know whether the inception of the Bush administration might cripple the hard-earned momentum it had secured during the Clinton administration for improving relations with the United States. Chairman Kim Jong-il thus tried to show the Bush administration his determination for opening his nation by visiting Shanghai last January, and he is also seeking to establish a strong alliance with China and Russia in preparation for a diminished possibility of improving ties with the United States.

China and Russia, for their part, are trying to capitalize on North Korea's efforts to expand their influence on the nation and to have a greater say in Korean Peninsula issues.

At this point in time, with the Korea-Russia summit successfully behind us, we have to deal with the planned series of multilateral summit diplomacy while taking the following issues into consideration, for the sake of defending national interests, namely stability in Northeast Asia and peace on the Korean Peninsula.

First, we have to accurately grasp the relationship dynamics in Northeast Asia as we pursue our foreign policy. The international relationship in Northeast Asia is one marked by the balance of power among China, Japan and Russia being maintained by the great power of the United States. The U.S. role in the region is manifested in the form of its military forces stationed in Japan and Korea. Should the United States withdraw from the region, it is hardly likely that any country will take over its role in maintaining order, at least not for some time. Moreover, Northeast Asia does not yet have a ramified system of security cooperation like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Second, South Korea has to always bear in mind its alliance with the United States. While we have to maintain friendly relations with neighboring powers apart from the United States, the goal of our foreign policy cannot be, like China's or Russia's, "checking U.S. hegemonism." South Korea is accorded the current level of treatment from China and Russia only because of its alliance with the United States. Believing that these countries would treat us better once we were to become estranged with the United States is a naive thought that takes no account of the harsh reality of international politics.

Finally, we have to use our neighboring countries to advantage if we are to encourage changes in North Korea. More than anything else, North Korea's relations with the United States and Japan have to improve if it is to adopt genuine changes and secure the investment resources necessary for its opening. We might be able to look forward to North Korea's changes and normalization of its ties with the United States and Japan if we reach an agreement with the United States during next week's summit that reconciles our policy of reconciliation and cooperation with the Bush administration's principles of reciprocity. We have to accurately fathom the flow of power amidst this year's deluge of summit talks to successfully pursue the process of North-South reconciliation and cooperation.

by Kim Sung-han

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