[TODAY]Don’t throw off ties too easilyThere was a time when Koreans alternated between joy and sorrow over whether the Unite States considered the safety of Korea as a small thing to be taken care of in relation to the safety of Japan, or as a vital problem to be dealt with seriously.
This was back in the later half of the 1960s when North Korean provocations against the South were very active, and in the middle of the 1970s when Vietnam was communized. Korean newspapers used heavy headlines on the front page whenever U.S. officials mentioned a word to the effect that protecting South Korea was essential to the safety of Japan.
The situation of the Korean Peninsula has changed drastically since then. Socialist systems have broken down and the power of South Korea has become stronger than the North.
The mood in the South is that of not paying much attention to the expressions used even by a U.S. cabinet member, not to mention a deputy undersecretary, when he speaks on the importance of defending South Korea.
But there is one thing that has not changed since 30 years ago, despite this new feeling that we Koreans have. That is the reality that Korean security still largely depends on the Korea-U.S. alliance.
Koreans were shocked when U.S. President George W. Bush failed to mention Korea among the names of alliance countries that “should receive the respect of all Americans” for sending troops to Iraq in his acceptance speech at the Republican convention in New York.
He mentioned Japan, Denmark, El Salvador and Australia ― all countries that sent a few hundred troops to Iraq. Yet he did not mention Korea, which sent about 3,600 troops.
Does this mean that Korea is not qualified to “receive the respect of all Americans?” Think of all that trouble we went through to dispatch the troops!
The U.S. national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, explained that failing to mention Korea was a mistake, and the Blue House and our government accepted this explanation as an answer.
But this explanation is one that only people with a one-dimensional way of thinking would believe. Even though it was a Republican political event, President Bush is the one who gave the speech. Top speechwriters and various specialists of the White House and the Republican party take part in writing his speeches. There is no way a single word or punctuation mark would be put in carelessly.
The effects a speech could have domestically and internationally are also carefully weighed. The speech at hand was also so well-structured that it is hard not to be impressed.
If this were the 1960s or ’70s, this incident would have triggered an air of panic in our country. It feels like we are seeing the ghost of Dean Acheson’s speech.
Mr. Acheson, who was secretary of state in the Truman administration, delivered a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. in January 1950, in which he said that the U.S. defense line in Asia was a line joining Japan, Okinawa and the Philippines. He left Korea out.
Like Bush’s speech, omitting something sends almost as strong a message as commissioning its elimination. Mr. Acheson's speech was an invitation to Kim Il Sung to invade South Korea.
There is no way Mr. Bush could have mistakenly omitted Korea. This speech was in line with reducing the size of U.S. forces stationed in Korea, not wanting to present Korea with satellite data concerning the explosion in North Korea and giving a smile of encouragement to the International Atomic Energy Agency for picking on the Korean nuclear experiments. President Roh Moo-hyun’s egalitarian left-wing tendencies cannot be compatible with the neo-liberalism of Mr. Bush. The United States has finally shown a reaction to the pro-North Korean, anti-American statements and rallies of Korea’s liberals and candlelight demonstrators who advocate independence from Washington.
The rumor that U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “Damn it, just take our troops out!” after watching anti-American protests on television and that those demonstrations directly influenced the reduction of American troops stationed in South Korea suggests a lot. The 386-generation assemblymen of the governing Uri Party claim that we do not need to be so sensitive about each and every one of Mr. Bush’s speeches.
This is a short-sighted reaction, resulting from the failure to read the general atmosphere of Washington in the background of the omission of Korea in the speech. In international society, each country pursues its own national interests single-mindedly. If the United States distances itself from South Korea, other countries are likely to follow suit. What else could the German ambassador to Korea, Michael Geier, have meant when he said that Korea “almost seems to be standing alone” in its relations with the United States and neighboring countries?
Independence is an ideal, and ideals are not achieved at one stroke. Independence that strays away from the development of inter-Korean relations, relations with neighboring countries and growth of our national power can be a risky venture that brings on isolation. Our present relations with the United States is evidence of this.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie