[GLOBAL EYE]Heading off a quickie divorcePresident Roh Moo-hyun’s visit to Washington is a “working visit.” Of course what matters is the content, not the formalities, of the visit; but from the point of view of most Koreans, it still seems that the Bush administration is being unkind. There are five levels of White House protocol in greeting a foreign head of state: state visits, official visits, official working visits, working visits and unofficial visits. This is Mr. Roh’s first visit to the United States after his inauguration and it is the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-Korea alliance and the 100th anniversary of Korean immigration to the United States. Albeit belatedly, South Korea has sent non-combatant troops to assist in Iraq. He should be accorded an official visit instead of a working visit.
This is in stark contrast to the buzz in the Japanese media because Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has been invited to President Bush’s ranch in Texas to announce a joint declaration urging North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. How could our president be getting such offhand treatment? Who really believes the explanation that this is indeed a working visit to discuss war efforts in Iraq and North Korea’s nuclear program? The Blue House sounds very clumsy in explaining that this is “almost as good as an official visit” and that the president is getting “a relatively cordial reception because there is even a dinner event to be held.” How desperate the situation must be if almost the entire business community is traipsing along behind the president and they had to advertise the visit in major U.S. newspapers?
No matter how smoothly the investment exposition goes in New York, it will come to nothing if sparks fly between the two leaders in Washington. Generally, the meeting is the easy part of a summit. All they need to do is make small talk, shake hands and flash their teeth at the cameras. Every detail of the meeting has been arranged by the working staff in advance and all the points of agreement are covered beforehand. Unfortunately, the first Roh-Bush meeting will have almost the tension of the gunfight at the OK Corral, where the outcome will, one way or another, be an important turning point in the relations between the two countries. The two leaders seem to have more or less made up their minds about each other, and it seems that Mr. Bush is the more eager to see what Mr. Roh has to say. Under those circumstances, perhaps a working visit is best.
The United States is puzzled because South Korea does not seem to feel as threatened by North Korea’s nuclear capabilities as it does. Feeling that it must even risk war to keep the peace, the United States is taken aback that South Korea opposes even economic sanctions on Pyeongyang. The United States is appalled that South Korea sometimes seems to side with the North Korean regime out of ethnic sympathy and now has even put itself forward as the “mediator” between the North and the United States. If the two governments really mean what they hint at, then the 50-year alliance is over. The United States will give up “the trip wire” role of its troops and South Korea will build a self-reliant defense posture. Redefining the U.S.-Korea alliance is only a matter of time.
Because the Americans are contemplating a quickie divorce, it would hardly be rational to expect one working visit to turn Mr. Roh and Mr. Bush into good friends. The first thing President Roh should do is to clear all misunderstanding away with his frank and clear rhetoric and to answer any questions that the U.S. government might have. Only then would the two leaders be able to find common ground and compromise on their differences. Alliance changes must be separated from all other issues so that investors here do not lose confidence. If the president, in a hurry to bring back a souvenir of his visit, stops at ice-breakers and comes up with a shallow joint communique with no content, he would hurt our national credibility. The new framework for U.S.-Korea relations must be sturdy enough to last five years, and the first step is to clarify how far apart we are.
* The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Byun Sang-keun