[FOUNTAIN]China’s help then and nowThe trilateral talks in Beijing between North Korea, China and the United States ended last week, suggesting that a long and winding road lies ahead. While watching the talks in which China participated as a mediator for the first time since the North Korean nuclear problem emerged as a hot international issue, I thought of a negotiation 121 years ago.
On May 22, 1882, the Joseon Dynasty of Korea and the United States signed an agreement with the mediation of China. The agreement was the fruition of an effort by the United States, which for 16 years had tried to open the reclusive kingdom in East Asia.
The United States before the agreement made repeated diplomatic and strategic blunders. Its strategy relied on military power on two occasions, which ended in failure. The clashes between the two countries took place in 1866 and 1871, both initiated by the United States. In 1871, in particular, the United States attacked Joseon with five military vessels and 1,200 soldiers.
The United States then started looking at diplomacy. It first asked Japan to preside over the talks. But Joseon refused Japanese mediation. The United States did not want to recognize China’s influence over Joseon, but because Joseon wanted Chinese mediation, changed its strategy and allowed China to play a role.
The agreement was made possible by the three countries’ different policy goals. In return for fulfilling the U.S request for talks, China wanted to be seen as a traditional power in East Asia. Indeed, after the 1882 pact, China signed a treaty with Joseon, which states Joseon is subordinate to China. The United States thought it would ultimately realize its interests in East Asia after crowding out China. As for Joseon, it saw the United States as less imperialistic than other powers at the time. It thought its long friendship with China would be a balance against the United States. But Joseon depended too much on a failing China, and the days of Joseon thereafter were tragic.
Unlike during the talks more than 100 years ago, China is now growing more powerful. North Korea, unlike Joseon, which had nothing to depend on, has South Korea to help its cause. But it excluded the South from the Beijing talks. China indeed has become a vaunted mediator this time.
What gains have China and the United States shared this time? Are we confident that our analysis is correct and that the situation is different from what it was 121 years ago?
by Kim Seok-hwan
The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.