[GLOBAL EYE]The travails of a lonerThe German ambassador to South Korea, Michael Geier, pointed out that Korea “seemed to stand almost alone” diplomatically. These are remarks too serious to hear just once and forget. An ambassador from another country rarely makes a public comment on the diplomatic situation of a country where he is stationed.
He made the comment spontaneously while comparing the differences of the two countries during a lecture entitled “Korea and Germany, close and similar partners.” But it was a lasting shock to us in that Korea appeared to be a diplomatic loner in the sight of an ambassador from a major country, who has nothing to do with the issues of conservatives versus liberals, reform versus anti-reform, and pro-Roh versus anti-Roh.
He said that Korea wanted unification like Germany, but its relations with concerned countries were not so strong as those of Germany, and its friendly relationships were different from those of Germany. He even wondered how much progress the Korea-Japan reconciliation has made.
When I compared the German economy to “the sick man of Europe” in a column last month, Mr. Geier was so thorough and positive as to send me files of reference materials along with an e-mail in which he commented, “We believe it [German economy] needs reforms, but no catastrophies are in view.”
German unification was possible because the exchanges of people between East and West Germany became mature and the diplomatic efforts of interested countries helped to prepare the ground for unification. In our case, the true inter-Korean exchanges of residents are a long way off. Turning away from the human rights issues of North Korea, we are bent on winning the favor of the North Korean regime. While pursuing the abolition of the National Security Law because of human rights, we criticize the North Korean Human Rights Act in the U.S. Congress as intervention in North Korea’s domestic affairs.
Our diplomacy with the four major powers reminds us of “chartless navigation.” We put national cooperation before international cooperation and at times regard allies as anti-unification forces. Korea-United States relations are in their worst condition, to the extent that when the U. S. administration sets schedules for high-ranking officials to visit Korea, they are reluctant to plan even an overnight stay in Korea.
Believing the diplomatic rhetoric that the Korea-United States alliance is solid, we do not try to see the danger underlying the transformational strategy of the United States. Ha Young-sun, a professor at Seoul National University, thinks it regrettable that we miss the essence of the problem because of invisible sentiments that we should be equal to the United States, when it is more urgent to secure international confidence for maximum security than advocating slogans such as self-reliance or cooperative independence.
Japan follows the United States as the thread does the needle. We have already tasted, during the financial crisis, the bitterness of being denied the money promised by Japan because the United States did not approve it. China is arrogant enough not to throw a glance at us, but we do not have any alternative strategy to adjust our position and role untill 2020, while the relationship between the United States and China remains in a state of slumber. The strategy of being the hub of Northeast Asia, the brand of the Roh administration, has shrunken from the Northeast Asian hub to the Northeast Asian economic hub to a committee of the Northeast Asian age amid the jeers of surrounding countries. In the geopolitical situation where our four surrounding powers are the world’s four powers, and in an economy where the foreign trade dependency rate is over 60 percent, being a diplomatic loner is the way to death.
The professor and philosopher Kim Yong-jun laments that we are mentally closing the country as the Prince Regent Daewon did in the 19th century, talking about self-reliance and the exclusion of foreign forces. Some may ask what is wrong with bragging about our economic scale, ranking tenth in the world. But our sovereign power grows weaker due to the globalization of the economy and the flows of investment, production, and consumption to foreign countries according to the domestic atmosphere ends up causing domestic industrial hollowing-out.
Making diplomacy ideological, in particular a closed self-reliant structure unsupported by power and strategy, is the shortcut to being estranged from the international community.
A case in point is the recent situation in which Korea was driven into a corner after a one-time academic experiment to extract plutonium was blown up to be an international “nuclear incident.”
* The writer is the editor in chief of the monthly publication NEXT.
by Byun Sang-keun