[OUTLOOK]Strategy? What’s that?Are we repeating the historical mistake we made in the 19th century? Are we going to relive the painful experience of the Joseon Dynasty, which became a colony because it could not adapt to a changing world?
The speech that a senior official of the ruling party made at a Nosamo meeting, President Roh Moo-hyun’s personal fan club, is worrisome. According to press reports, he said, “The indignation we are suffering right now is due to the Pax Americana.” He also stated that China, Japan and Korea had to lead the world together, and that this was the main point of the era of Northeast Asia that President Roh proposed to accomplish.
There is a part of this statement that makes sense. In 1997, when Asia faced a financial crisis, many Asian countries groaned under the giant waves of globalization which were led by America. We were also internationally criticized, being accused of crony capitalism. The vice finance minister of Japan at the time, Eisuke Sakakibara, who was known as “Mr. Yen,” suggested setting up an Asian Monetary Fund as a backup to the International Monetary Fund and guarding the Asian economy.
Going along with the tides of the world while maintaining our nation’s pride as well as our pride as Asians is a hard thing to do. In this new century, when globalization is really happening, scholars are finding problems between the world order and international powers of today.
However, we have to break away from dichotomous thinking when it comes to national strategy. We need to stop thinking that we have to choose among the United States, North Korea and China, and we need to stop considering America as just good or bad. In Korea’s modern history, America was a friendly ally and a dependable supporter of our financial development, but also a “strong country” that we had to be careful of. There are some shameful diplomatic cases where we had to forget about profit or obligations because America was such a “strong country.” Nevertheless, trying to maintain our pride no matter what, simply because of past grief, is only an expression of an inferiority complex and just an extension of cold war tensions.
We are suffering from a bad complex of belonging to a country situated on the border, not in the center. It is easy to lose track of what we have to do now, when we focus heatedly on where we want to be instead of where we are right now. Right now, we are giving up efforts that were made to become one of the main countries of the world. Instead, we are walking backwards in history. Criticizing the main countries of the world, yet getting further away from a national strategy to become one of the main countries ― this is a border area psychology.
President Roh said that it was time for us to be self-reliant in national defense, befitting as a country that ranks 12th among the world’s economies should. Should we, though? The gross domestic product of our neighboring country, Japan, is ten times ours. Also, China is showing super-speedy growth and is closing in on fifth in the world in gross domestic product and trade. Being surrounded by China, Russia and Japan, our geopolitical situation is not very secure.
The financial giant Japan also showed great economic growth after World War II under a security alliance with America, and their alliance is still being reinforced now. The Japanese international relations scholars and diplomats that I recently met are all seriously concerned about the consequences that will result from the damage on the Korean-American alliance: Korea’s economic setback and the threat to Northeast Asian security. While Japan, even though it will suffer indirectly, is so much worried over damages, they say it is difficult to understand the cause that makes Koreans sacrifice practical interests. It was also said that China does not see Northeast Asia from where they are standing. They see beyond that.
Talk of independent diplomacy and independent national defense indicate an absence of a national strategy. Koreans will have to pay more for national defense as the United States Forces Korea make reductions. An extra 2 trillion won ($1.7 billion) has been put into next year’s budget already. We would be much better off if we used that money for developing scientific technology or creating new jobs or day care centers.
Korea’s clock must be set to the same time as the world’s. Only then will we become an independent country in the 21st century.
* The writer is a professor of sociology at Information and Communications University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Kak-bum
More in Columns
More good than harm
For balanced information intake
Room for alignment
A cautionary tale