[NOTEBOOK]No multiple-choice diplomacy“Our country’s foreign relations have recently become diversified. Of the following countries, which is the foreign trade partner to which our country should give priority in the future: the United States, China, Japan, the European Union or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations?”
The ruling Our Open Party’s Policy Committee recently surveyed the party’s representatives-elect in the 17th National Assembly. The question quoted above was the last one on the questionnaire.
As has been reported, 63 percent of Our Open Party’s respondents counted China as the foreign trade partner that should be given priority. Twenty-six percent chose the United States, 5 percent chose ASEAN, 3 percent the European Union and 2 percent Japan.
A few days later came a report that among representatives-elect of the opposition Grand National Party, 64 percent considered the United States to be Korea’s most important trading partner, and 33 percent cited China.
For thousands of years, Korean history has been inseparable from China’s. Both countries have constantly been in conflict, whether in a minor way or a major way.
From 1945 to 1992, as China kept its doors closed, Koreans had seemingly forgotten its existence despite geographical proximity. Since 1992, Korea-China relations have developed rapidly. But given the history between the two, this is nothing surprising.
Moreover, China of late has emerged as the world’s factory. Surpassing the United States, China has become our largest trading partner, and gives us the largest trade surplus. The North Korean nuclear problem can scarcely be resolved without China’s help. It is no wonder that most Our Open Party representatives-elect consider China a valuable trading partner.
Likewise, it is understandable enough that an overwhelming majority of the Grand National Party counts the United States as such. Korea could only overcome poverty and enjoy the prosperity it does today because of the safety valve called the U.S.-Korea alliance. Both North and South Korea accept as established fact that, even after reunification, the U. S. forces should be stationed on the Korean Peninsula. As this suggests, the United States has a long-term and fundamental significance to our national security. There is no need to explain how the United States directly contributed to the development of the Korean economy.
Therefore, while the answers from the newly-elected lawmakers of the ruling and opposition parties seem contradictory at a glance, in fact, they are not. They both read our reality properly. It is simplistic to interpret the results of these surveys as meaning that Korea’s ruling party will shift the focus of diplomatic relations from the United States and Japan to China.
Newly elected representatives of both Our Open Party and the Grand National Party should not, and cannot, become entangled in the “side-choosing” way of thinking that is described in history textbooks about the end of the Joseon Dynasty. If that is how they think, it will be as though the past 100 years have been in vain.
In other words, although 63 percent of the representatives-elect of Our Open Party favor China, no one would think that Korea should center its foreign policy on China, or that, in our foreign relations, China is more important than the United States.
In the same context, the 64 percent of Grand National Party representatives-elect who favor the United States would never assume that Korea will have no foreign policy problems as long as it has the United States’ help.
The problem lies in the very fact that the ruling party carried out such a survey.
How could it think of conducting a survey with multiple-choice, quiz-type questions about complicated diplomatic issues that are directly linked to Koreans’ survival, and on tasks that require a delicate, precise way of thinking? I can hardly understand this.
Though the party belatedly added an unnecessary caveat ― that the question was based on the premise of a solid South Korea-United States alliance ― it was very rash of Our Open Party to conduct such a survey. Indeed, what the ruling party should be concerned about is avoiding a situation in which Korean diplomacy has to make such a choice.
* The writer is the international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Jae-hak