[NOTEBOOK]Strengthening Korea-U.S. tiesUri Party Chairman Shin Ki-nam was in Washington last week. It was his first official visit as the head of the governing party. Last year, Mr. Shin scolded some foreign ministry officials as “worshippers of America.” That was when the controversy arose over the Korea-United States relationship, and whether we should pursue a self-reliant or alliance-based foreign policy.
Probably because of this controversy, the auditorium at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington was filled with 150 American figures who had come to listen to Mr. Shin’s speech.
Richard Lawless, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia Pacific policy, who is in charge of negotiations on the reduction of U.S. troops in Korea, came too. His attendance was interpreted as the U. S. government’s consideration for Mr. Shin in its own way.
Mr. Shin made unexpected remarks which emphasized the importance of the Korea-United States alliance. He broke the ice by saying, “I came here to strengthen the Korea-United States alliance,” and continued, “The alliance has protected peace and stability not just on the Korean Peninsula but also in the nearby regions and it will keep expanding, and both the ruling and the opposition parties in Korea firmly believe this.”
He also delivered a message. “I know there are some worries about the Uri Party in the United States, but there should be no distortion or exaggeration. The majority of the Korean people respect and value the strong friendly relations between the two countries.”
Mr. Shin said in an informal discussion with correspondents that he had maintained the same position when he met with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley. The United States reportedly welcomed his stance gladly. This makes us wonder why we are concerned about Korea-United States relations.
But in fact, we were in a similar situation about a year ago. It was when President Roh Moo-hyun visited Washington in May last year for the first time since he took office.
At that time, President Roh keenly stressed the importance of the Korea-United States alliance in a meeting with correspondents. When he met with ethnic Koreans, he even said, “Had it not been for the U.S. troops (in the Korean War, Korea would have become a communist country) and now I would be in a concentration camp.”
Washington officials said, “Now that he is in a responsible position, he has indeed changed.” But in the year since then, we can hardly find experts on Korea who make the same remarks.
The White House and the U.S. State Department repeat the same saying, “No problem in Korea-United States relations,” but no one believes them. There is no denying that Mr. Shin’s visit to the United States will not follow the suit of Mr. Roh’s.
Now actions as well as words are needed to support his position. Mr. Shin should be able to make his argument clear with the same sincerity when he speaks not only in Washington but in Seoul, and not only with Americans but with supporters of the Uri Party.
We can hardly deny that whether intentionally or coincidentally, the Uri Party gained the greatest benefit from the anti-American sentiment in the last legislative elections.
Among experts on Korea in Washington, some talk about their self-reflection that the United States is largely to be blamed for Korea’s anti-American sentiment. Perhaps because of this atmosphere, the U.S. government seems to welcome the visits from Korea’s heavyweight politicians or minister of foreign affairs.
The United States may have treated Korea too easily and certainly needs to make an effort to correct this attitude. But reckless anti-American sentiments is like a couple demanding a divorce just because they feel bad. This is not a wise thing to do.
As Mr. Shin said, for a healthy Korea-U.S. alliance, responsible politicians in both countries should take the initiative. I hope I will no longer hear complaints such as “Why are Korean politicians’ remarks made in Washington different from their behavior in Korea?”
* The writer is a Wasington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jong-hyuk