[FOUNTAIN]Shifting centers of power in East and West

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[FOUNTAIN]Shifting centers of power in East and West

The center of power is in motion. Feb. 9, 1904, marks the day when the West experienced its first major defeat at the hands of the East, in the Russo-Japanese War. Of course, the Mongols had invaded Europe and Attila the Hun had founded an empire powerful enough to threaten the Roman Empire. We all have heard of the glory of the Saracen Turks’ Islamic empire. But the Russo-Japanese War is not a story from legend, myth and folklore, but a chapter in modern history.
To Koreans, the Russo-Japanese War was the beginning of the contest between the West and imperial Japan over the peninsula and the loss of sovereignty. But at the same time, the war was a symbolic incident that concluded an era that revolved around Europe in the Far East.
After the Russo-Japanese War, Japan secured hegemony over the East, which it successfully maintained until World War II. Meanwhile, Russia went down the road of extreme systemic reform and consequent collapse as the Bolshevik revolution ended the era of the czars. But Japan’s triumph over Russia did not last forever.
In world history, there has never been an absolute “top dog.” The dynamics of power are especially apparent in the East Asian region. Once a prey of the great powers, China has emerged as a new powerhouse. Korea successfully completed industrialization and now is considered a leader in the electronics and information technology fields. Russia boasts abundant natural resources and has become an energy giant. In contrast, Japan, which is suffering from a decade-long economic slump, has lost vitality.
The change in power configurations is destined to bring a reshuffling of relationships, and it has become a new challenge for the United States, which had solely assumed leadership in the region since World War II. The quagmire in which the United States finds itself in Iraq shows that leadership requires more than mere military force.
If the United States wants to remain the leading nation of the world and maintain unchallenged clout, it should not emphasize its military strength and physical power only. Instead, Washington needs to assure the world that it is a country that champions and protects universal values such as liberty, democracy and human rights above all else, and must prove that it would actually do so.

by Kim Seok-hwan

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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