[FORUM]Watching Roh transformationI have talked with several U.S. citizens who crossed paths with President Roh Moo-hyun when he visited Washington. Arnold Goldstein, chief of the management office of the Lincoln Memorial, showed Mr. Roh around the memorial. Mr. Goldstein recounted, “President Roh said he highly respects Lincoln, as Lincoln succeeded in integrating the people. I was impressed.” I told him that Mr. Roh wrote a book on Lincoln. He marveled at that revelation.
Phil McCaine, a Korean War veteran, watched Mr. Roh at the Korean War Veterans Memorial. He said he hoped that Mr. Roh would honor the spirit of the phrase engraved on the monument. It reads: “Freedom is not free.” I told him that Mr. Roh said, “If the United States had not helped us in the Korean War, I would have been in a North concentration camp.”
“Is it true?” Mr. McCaine asked. “I’ve heard Mr. Roh is favorable to North Korea and critical of the United States.”
Joseph Reed, a manager at Verizon, a mobile telecom firm, attended a social gathering for Korean residents in the United States with his Korean friend. At the gathering, President Roh spoke highly of the United States, saying, “The United States is a really good nation in which freedom and justice always win in the long run.”
“It was the highest praise that a foreign leader could give," Mr. Read said.
At the joint seminar organized by the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Korea National Defense University, held on the day after Mr. Roh left Washington, the keynote speaker, Ralph Cossa, president of Pacific Forum of Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “The summit was successful, though lowered expectations boosted the evaluation. We are watching Mr. Roh’s critical change.”
In Washington, people began to see Mr. Roh differently. His message that he wants to maintain good relations with the United States gained public favor. He seemed to be determined to change his anti-American image. As president-elect, he criticized his predecessors, saying that “South Korea has never said ‘no’ to the United States.” But his pro-American remarks were much more straightforward than those of any other president of South Korea.
Mr. Roh seemed to make gracious comments to cover the harsh words he had uttered about the United States. Now he might realize such harsh words are dangerous in the stark international order.
On returning to Korea, he said, “If [I] want to have proper leadership in domestic or international politics, [I] should keep good relations with the United States. That is a reality. [I] cannot do as North Korea wants.”
Such an attitude is desirable for the leader of a nation. How to relate to an ally that is the most powerful nation in the world is the basis of our diplomacy in the midst of the delicate and tangled issues on the Korean Peninsula. If the alliance with the United States wavers, our economy suffers, dampening the driving force for political reform.
The passion of leftists advocating pure sovereignty cannot solve the North Korea nuclear crisis. Mr. Roh supports South Korea as a business hub for Northeast Asia. It is impossible without support from the United States to be a hub that competes effectively with Japan and China.
Naturally, Mr. Roh cannot do as North Korea, blackmailing with nukes, wants him to do. He should ask North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons, feed its famine-stricken people and improve human rights. That is what he praised: freedom, justice and integration of the people. The Korea-U.S. alliance is at a new starting point. Mr. Roh says he became friendly and built confidence with U.S. President George W. Bush. Confidence should be backed up with action. Americans are pragmatic. They judge people by behavior, not words. The United States is watching the next steps Mr. Roh takes.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Park Bo-gyoon