[FORUM]Not Latin, but Asia is linkedPresident Roh Moo-hyun left to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting and visit major countries in South America. Chinese President Hu Jin Tao also left for South America with a similar itinerary. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizmi will also visit this region during the same period. Almost alone among East Asian countries, Japan has had close economic and blood-tie relations with Latin American countries for more than a century.
Probably, it is for the first time in history that the leaders of three East Asian countries will conduct summit diplomacy in South America at the same time. Up until now, South America has been a stage for Europe and the United States. During the period of the APEC meetings, South Korea, China and Japan will have opportunities to discuss intensively major global issues, regional problems and economic issues with South American countries. Thus, their participation in the meeting signifies that functionally the three Northeast Asian countries are now related and linked to the South American region economically and politically, although they are not South American countries.
China’s rapid economic growth over the few recent years has changed the pattern of economic cooperation in the South American region as well as in the Northeast Asian region. South American leaders, including Brazil, are now taking pains to strengthen cooperation with China, a leading market for the agricultural products and goods of their countries. Coupled with the emergence of successive leftist administrations in South America and the movement of enacting new “standards,” China’s rapid emergence has caused the United States and Japan to be anxious. In addition to this, South Korea has also rapidly increased the quality and scale of cooperation with Latin American countries of late.
As such, South Korea, China and Japan have already established their presence in South America, transcending the regional boundary of Northeast Asia. This shows that the three countries have plenty of current issues and fields of common interest that should be promoted and find means mutually not only in Northeast Asia, but also in other areas. The leaders of the three countries will discuss diverse issues including energy, cooperation in resources development and free trade agreement.
Therefore, it is very significant that the three leaders have various types of summit talks in the framework of multilateral cooperation and discuss the global issues and the current issues of Northeast Asia in South America ― called the “courtyard” of the United States ― after the re-election of George W. Bush. The three Asian countries are now in a similar position as that of the United States and Europe, which have responded to and coped with the issues of Northeast Asia functionally as if they were Northeast Asian countries.
Even so, why are South Korea, China and Japan hesitant to build a structure of working in concert with each other and expressing a common voice about intra-regional problems? In the past, it was largely because of the Cold War. The South Korea-United States alliance and the United States-Japan alliance were an essential security structure to confront China and the Soviet Union during the Cold War period. After the Cold War, the relations among the three countries actually put more emphasis on disharmony of confrontation and conflict than harmony of cooperation because of the rivalry between China and Japan, Japan’s distortion of past history and lack of reflection on its imperialistic invasions and the existence of the North Korean problem. But except for some tough issues like security, this region has shown the most dynamic economic development in the world and increase in mutual exchange and investment.
At present, Europe and the Americas are forming a big framework of a community. Despite this, South Korea, China and Japan have adopted a method of holding a dialogue on regional issues only after consulting with extra-regional countries. This proves that politicians and diplomats in the Northeast Asian region are still locked in the vestigial thoughts of the Cold War.
The Northeast Asian region never falls behind the European Union or the Pan American Union in terms of population, technological capability and capital. On top of this, the region never lags behind the Western countries in light of past history, cultural power, moral value, religious diversity and tolerance. It may be good for the heads of the three countries to compete to maximize their individual ability and performance respectively, but they should coordinate their efforts to adjust the intra-regional flow of Northeast Asia to the post-Cold War period.
For the birth of a bigger framework of regional cooperation in Northeast Asia, I expect the leaders of South Korea, China and Japan will form a consensus that they draw up a draft by regularizing summit meetings or founding a consultation body among the three countries.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Seok-hwan