[VIEWPOINT]Summitry and the peninsulaPresident Roh Moo-hyun met with U.S. President George W. Bush in Chile. This meeting, held before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting, was an informal one with no official announcement, but was important in that it was the first talk between the two presidents since the re-election of President Bush. It also attracted a lot of interest because President Roh had asserted earlier in Los Angeles, “North Korea has a reason for keeping nuclear weapons as a means of self-defense.” This statement was interpreted as criticism against the aggressive U.S. policy toward North Korea, and there were concerns that it might have a negative effect on the meeting. With President Roh’s statement causing such a stir and the many interpretations by the media and political parties on the hard-line atmosphere in the United States, many Koreans have a sense of anxiety.
Nevertheless, the summit meeting seems to have been successful. The presidents reconfirmed the principle of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and agreed to solve the North Korean problem within the framework of the six-nation talks in a peaceful and diplomatic manner. President Roh is said to have explained that Korea will take a leading and active role in solving the North Korean nuclear problem. The leading and active role of Korea is not specifically clear yet, but it seems President Bush said that he understood and accepted what was said.
So does this mean Korea and the United States will find a point of agreement on North Korean policy and pursue the issue together consistently? That’s hard to say. As we all know, President Roh and U.S. President Bush are on different routes. Neo-conservatism is the basis of the ideology of President Bush, and we can assume that with his re-election, his conservatism and unilateral diplomatic policy will gain more power. On the other hand, President Roh has the support of anti-authoritarian democratization forces, and is actively accepting the opinions of anti-conservative liberals. His supporters have a strong antipathy against the conservative policies of the United States and place more value on inter-Korean cooperation than Korea-U.S. cooperation.
A delicate fundamental difference also exists between the two concerning the method of solving the North Korean nuclear problem. While the United States continues to say its priority is to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, President Roh states that finding a peaceful solution is the most important. In other words, President Bush is saying that using armed forces could be a possibility if North Korea does not give up its nuclear weapons. But President Roh is of the opinion that we could acknowledge, for a peaceful settlement of the issue, North Korea’s nuclear weapons for the time being. President Roh is not going to give up inter-Korean cooperation for South Korea-U.S. cooperation. This difference was probably not narrowed at the summit meeting, and considerable conflict could follow at working-level meetings to come.
But President Roh seems to think Korea will be able to play the role of mediator between the United States and North Korea. There are also rumors of special envoys to be sent to North Korea and of the pursuit of summit talks between North and South Korea. The problem is that if his efforts for inter-Korean cooperation go in a direction against the principles of the United States, there will be difficulties in Korea-U.S. relations. because it seems that the even stronger second-term Bush administration will not welcome such actions. Our concern here is that concentrating too much on inter-Korean cooperation will lead to the mistake of losing our Korea-U.S. relationship.
Korea-U.S. relations need to change. The vertical and dependent relationship that was established back in the days of the Cold War and military dictatorship needs to change into a horizontal interdependent relationship in light of the modern age. It is also true that from a long-term perspective, both Korean-U.S. cooperation and inter-Korean cooperation should be pursued simultaneously. But changes cannot happen overnight. The reality of the Korean Peninsula is that the remnants of the Cold War still remain, and the Korea-U.S. alliance is an absolute necessity for our security. It is important to pursue “independent diplomacy” in which we say what we have to say, but we need the wisdom of using the existing Korea-U.S. alliance, that has been consolidated in the past, for bigger benefits.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Soh Chang-rok