[OUTLOOK]Rebellious youth and unificationIf the development of a nation could be compared to human growth, South Korea would appear to be going through the peak of its rebellious puberty. Welcome to a "Korea that can say no."
The Bush administration has distanced itself from Kim Dae-jung's "sunshine" policy and probably hoped Lee Hoi-chang would be elected. The South Korean public probably detected that thought process.
So it would seem natural that some South Koreans would turn to anti-Americanism, saying, "What? We are not stupid. We, not the United States, pick our president."
At the core of the anti-American sentiment is the problem of U.S. military bases around the country. Despite South Korea's economic progress over the past 50 years, the American forces remain at the heart of its capital as if they own the place. The transplanted America inside the bases was an object of envy when South Korea was poor, but once South Koreans became rich enough to travel and see the real America, the bases became an undesirable periphery.
South Koreans feel repulsed at the thought of being defended by soldiers stationed at those bases. There are certain similarities here with the problems Japanese have with U.S. bases in Japan.
Anti-American sentiment also stems from the view that the United States does not realize how pivotal a state South Korea has become in Asia and in the world. As President-elect Roh Moo-hyun said in his interview with Shinichi Hakoshima, the president of the Asahi Shimbun, the protesters want South Korea to be on an equal footing with the United States. They are not outright anti-American.
That sentiment was once prevalent in Japan. Edwin O. Reischauer, U.S. ambassador to Japan during the Kennedy administration, called for an "equal relationship" between the two countries. The 40 years of U.S.-Japanese relations since then arguably have been a struggle about how to make that relationship more equal.
Japan's economic prowess, the main source of its pride, generated strong anti-American sentiment. In South Korea, anti-American sentiment in the economic arena is not that strong.
Anti-American sentiment in South Korea and the affinity that South Koreans feel toward China are two sides of the same coin. It has only been 10 years since South Korea and China established diplomatic relations; the shorter the history, the stronger the tendency to magnify the good aspects of the other.
Many South Koreans believe that the United States discriminates against Korea as compared to Japan. There are complaints that the Status of Forces Agreement in Japan is more favorable to the host country than it is in Korea. Hidden somewhere is the thought, "If Japan is so important to you, be friends with Japan only. We will break up with you."
How should the United States and Japan react to a South Korea like this? They must first try to understand the view that North and South Koreans are basically one people, which forms the basis of current anti-American sentiment. Then policy should be developed along the lines that the unilateral role of the United States in the Far East should become trilateral and strive toward the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula. Troop reductions should be actively considered; trilateral consultations should be upgraded to the ministerial level and enhanced.
The North Koreans, after reunification, could hold a more favorable view of the United States than do South Koreans, just like the Poles and Czechs do now.
Of course, that depends entirely on how the United States manages its Korean Peninsula policy in the future. It would not be too much to say that is also up to how successfully the United States, Russia, China and Japan together create an atmosphere for reunification. The economic strength of South Korea, which will eventually have to pay the bulk of the costs stemming from reunification, is also a variable.
The best scenario would be for all these variables to eventually result in reunification. North Korea's friction with the Chinese and South Korea's with the Americans will, I hope, turn into mature diplomatic relations someday.
A reunified Korea would then be able to look back at its puberty and say, "We were immature then."
* The writer is chief diplomatic correspondent and columnist of the Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese daily newspaper.
by Yoichi Funabashi
More in Columns
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?
Fighting Chinese patriotism
The curse of the presidency