[VIEWPOINT]Ms. Rice’s skillful balancing act

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[VIEWPOINT]Ms. Rice’s skillful balancing act

During U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s first visit to Korea, she focused on the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Korea-U.S. alliance.
Probably in consideration of the emotional dispute between Korea and Japan, two major Asian allies of the United States, over the Dokdo dispute, Ms. Rice refrained from commenting on the sensitive issue. However, she reiterated her position of supporting Japan’s ambition to get a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.
Considering that the Korean government argues that Japan does not deserve to have a leadership position in the international community because it has failed to win the trust of its neighbor, her expression of support of Japan’s candidacy can be interpreted as the diplomatic expression of her position that she doesn’t agree with Seoul’s policy. Of course, Ms. Rice pointed out and reminded us that security reform must happen before Japan is selected as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Moreover, she maintained a neutral stance by emphasizing that Washington has very good alliances with both Korea and Japan.
Putting what Ms. Rice has said together, we could conclude that Washington equally values Korea and Japan and demands a more active contribution from Japan in foreign policy in the post-Sept. 11 world.
Ms. Rice has frequently made comments emphasizing the healthy relationship between Korea and the United States, mentioning the importance of the Korea-U.S. alliance and expressing Washington’s appreciation for Korea’s participation in the peacekeeping activities in Iraq.
At the same time, she stressed that Washington hopes Korea and Japan would understand each other and resolve the tensions between them, both being allies of the United States and sharing the same democratic values. Since Japan is a key partner with Washington in the six-way talks for the nuclear issues on the peninsula, Washington’s stance is understandable as a diplomatic strategy.
Of course, Ms. Rice also extended her support for Seoul’s policy during her visit. What is most noteworthy is that she called North Korea a sovereign state and confirmed that Washington has no intention of invading or attacking it. Her comments certainly suggest a change of attitude, compared to the “outposts of tyranny” or “axis of evil” remarks, which indicates support for the engagement policy towards the North.
However, Ms. Rice reaffirmed Washington’s determination to expand freedom and democracy and did not forget to urge Pyeongyang to return to the six-way talks unconditionally. This could be seen as a more powerful message than what’s been issued in the past.
If Washington had been focused on urging Pyeongyang to give up the nuclear arsenal in the past, Ms. Rice now displays an unwillingness to tolerate an anti-democratic regime in North Korea.
During her visit to Japan, Tokyo thoroughly sided with Washington. Japan suggested bringing the North Korean nuclear issue to the U.N. Security Council if Pyeongyang does not come back to the six-way talks by June. In return, Washington is helping Japan rise in the international community with its role in the six-way talks.
The United States and Japan have also established a joint strategic goal that intends to check China. Therefore, the world watched Beijing’s reaction when it welcomed Ms. Rice, especially now that China adopted the Anti-Secession Law and prepared legal grounds to use force to interfere with any independence movements in Taiwan. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that China, which is not free from Washington’s expansion of freedom policy, will make a strategic compromise with the United States over the North Korean nuclear crisis in association with the Taiwan issue.
In the long run, it is fortunate that Seoul and Washington share the will to resolve the nuclear crisis within the frame of the six-party talks for the prosperity of the Korean Peninsula and the East Asian region.
If we consider peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula after the resolution of the nuclear crisis, we should prepare a concrete long-term plan for multilateral security. The need for a strategic security policy will only grow after Ms. Rice’s tour of Asia.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at the Graduate School of International Studies, Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Soh Chang-rok
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