[VIEWPOINT]A strategy for the 21st century

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[VIEWPOINT]A strategy for the 21st century

2001 was Korea's worst year on the diplomatic stage. South Korea begged Kim Jong-il, chairman of North Korea's National Defense Commission, to visit Seoul, to no avail. The working level meeting between North and South Korea has been on hold without any further improvement. The diplomatic relations between Japan and South Korea conflicted with the Japanese textbook issue, and there was Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni shrine and the saury fishing grounds disagreement off the southern Kurils.

The credibility between the United States and Korea was questioned as well. While the Bush administration saw North Korea as a threat, President Kim Dae-jung's administration asserted that the level of threat had been reduced. The different points of view affected both countries' diplomatic strategy toward North Korea. The South Korean government denounced the Bush administration's strategy as being too strict and the U.S. government disapproved the Korean government's strategy as being too ambiguous. As a result anti-U.S. sentiment started to build up among the younger generation as the United States was portrayed as a country that obstructed reconciliation and unification between North and South Korea.

Although things can be seen in many different ways, one thing is for sure: President Kim's government has focused too much on its sunshine policy. Paradoxically, his sunshine policy resulted in an outcome much similar to that of past North Korean strategies, which aimed to promote dialogue with the United States while keeping relations with the South at bay.

The United States and Japan are still cautious about China though the relationship with China has improved since the terrorist attack in New York. However, Korea is in an awkward situation as Korea is under suspicion by the United States and Japan of double-dealing in diplomatic matters, while China defies South Korea over the way Korean diplomats handled the execution of a Korean drug dealer by Chinese authorities. The Chinese government recently even banned four Korean legislators from entering China on no specific grounds.

Is this diplomatic situation fine the way it is? What are the diplomatic strategies of South Korea in the 21st century? The most important thing would be to recover the trust between the United States and Korea. Moreover it is important to establish a policy of cooperation among Korea, the United States and Japan. We should learn to express our discontent over certain issues to the United States and Japan if it is necessary but we must not be infuriated under the influence of nationalism and threaten our ties with the United States and Japan.

However, the government must not be self-satisfied with all diplomatic alliances. The alliance among the three countries is necessary for our survival in the 21st century. In order to establish peace and unification on the peninsula, the cold war in East Asia, which has lasted 10 years after its demise in Europe, must come to an end. The Korean government has two specific projects it must complete. First, South Korea must build up trust within the U.S.-Japan-South Korea alliance and with China. Additionally, South Korea must persuade North Korea to accept the global trend of anti-terrorism by opening the country. For this purpose, Chinese help is necessary as well as that of the U.S.-Japan-South Korea alliance. China can play an important role in opening up North Korea. To project China as a military and economic threat and try to restrain the country by strengthening ties among the three countries is not the most productive strategy. South Korea in the 21st century must try to establish multiple cooperative relations with friendly countries while strengthening diplomatic relations with its allies. International politics of the 20th century was governed by the balance of power amongst allies. But the world was constantly at war and the balance among superpowers only took place through the sacrifice of smaller and weaker nations.

During the period of the Western powers' advancement into the Asian region, the Joseon Dynasty (1392 to 1910) employed the Chinese method of balancing power by inviting Western powers to restrain Japan and Russia. Unfortunately the dynasty was ruined. The South Korean government must think beyond the strategy taken up by the Joseon Dynasty and overcome the limits that the dynasty could not surmount. To neglect an ally is the progressive inclination of the left wing; being too attached in trying to be favorable to allies is an anachronistic inclination of a conservative right wing. We should combine both the strategies of the left wing and the right wing in order to survive.


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The writer is a professor of political science at Kookmin University.

by Kim Young-jak

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