[OUTLOOK]Most important moment for BushDear President Bush,
It may seem that you and President Roh Moo-hyun don’t have much in common to talk about in your meeting Wednesday. Your advisers have probably informed you that President Roh is a foreigner and a leftist. Both charges are true. Mr. Roh has been critical of the United States, and you don’t want to hear about some of his economic policies. But if you treat him as an amalgam of the godless Karl Marx and the duplicitous Jacques Chirac, you will be missing an opportunity to make a friend in Asia.
Think of Mr. Roh rather as a potential Tony Blair. The British prime minister is un-American and left-of-center, but he stood by you in Iraq. If you can find a way to work with President Roh on the North Korea issue, the United States could reap huge geopolitical dividends in Northeast Asia.
Seoul’s policy on North Korea can seem spineless and self-defeating: Keep pushing carrots at the North, promise not to use any sticks ― and see if that will make them change their ways. Better a nuclear-armed North Korea than one in collapse, said Yoon Young-kwan shortly before he became Mr. Roh’s foreign minister.
Who can take this seriously? A rumor briefly flickered last week that only 15 minutes had been set aside for the summit meeting. The rumor was promptly quashed, but it occurred to more than one analyst that 15 minutes was more than enough time together for interlocutors with hopelessly divergent views.
But please take President Roh seriously, Mr. Bush. He is smart, tenacious and practical, qualities you respect. And he is a straight talker. As far as I can see, Mr. Roh hasn’t a cynical bone in his body; he doesn’t play double games. Perhaps that will eventually be his downfall, or perhaps it will change as he gains experience; but meanwhile you can trust what he says.
Mr. Roh knows as well as you do that the North Korea problem is fiendishly difficult, and not likely to be wished away with an unending stream of carrots. But these events are unfolding in his neighborhood, half a world away from yours. The two core points of Korean policy are seen here as bedrock: No risk of war ― none! And no abrupt collapse of the North, which would trigger a refugee crisis and sabotage the South Korean economy. If you can find a way to incorporate these points into coordinated pressure on the North, you will be surprised at how cooperative and pro-American Mr. Roh will prove to be.
A nonnuclear North that respects human rights and develops rapidly with the help of massive foreign investment may seem unattainable so long as Kim Jong-il stays in power in Pyeongyang. But that should be the outcome you are working for, not the short-term objective of ousting Mr. Kim.
The payoffs would be terrific. Northeast Asia is potentially the third-largest economic center of the world, after North America and Europe. With nearly 1.5 billion people and a combined GDP of $6.3 trillion in 1999, Northeast Asia accounts for 20 percent of the world’s economy. Of course, Japan and China are the main players, but smack in the middle ― or the “hub,” as Koreans like to say ― is the Korean Peninsula. If it can be safely reunited, Pacific Russia, too, will be brought into a net of economic growth and cooperation.
That the United States has a strategic interest in encouraging this development ought to be obvious. Nobody says it will be easy, but it should be the joint policy of the United States and South Korea.
In closing, Mr. Bush, a little social advice:
As foreigners, Koreans attach more importance to protocol, ceremony and language than we plain Americans do. They are already wondering if your failure to invite Mr. Roh to your ranch in Crawford, Texas, is a snub. (Jiang Zemin has been to Crawford. Junichiro Koizumi has been to Crawford.)
South Koreans, living in a country about as big as Indiana, have no idea of the size of the United States; it is beyond their imagining that you couldn’t at least chopper Mr. Roh out to Texas for an hour or two and get back to Washington for dinner at the White House. So find an occasion to say, “Next time, I hope President Roh will come to Crawford.”
And please use those words. Call him “President Roh.” I have spent two years explaining to Koreans that you meant no slight when you referred to Kim Dae-jung as “this man.” You and I know that you were affirming his manhood, putting him on the same elemental human level as yourself.
But that’s not how Koreans saw it. To them failure to call him by his title, “President,” was disrespectful. Koreans have not forgotten. Believe it or not, the most important thing you can do Wednesday will be to call your visitor “President Roh.”
* The writer is editor of the JoongAng Daily.
by Hal Piper