[OUTLOOK]Intrigue in Northeast Asia orderThe circumstances in Northeast Asia nowadays remind me of Emily Bronte’s novel “Wuthering Heights.” The story of love and revenge encompassing three generations on a windy Yorkshire farm is quite similar to Northeast Asia today.
The Northeast Asian situation is made up of a triangular structure, with the United States, China and Japan as the major players. The new “Outline of Defense Plan” that Japan announced in December singled out China as a “potential threat” to the country, resulting in a rapid spread of mistrust between China and Japan.
In fact, China and Japan started a silent war for hegemony in Northeast Asia a long time ago. While the United States was busy concentrating on Middle Eastern issues, China launched regional cooperation diplomacy with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries. By coming out with numerous propositions such as “ASEAN +1,” “ASEAN + 3,” “China-ASEAN Free Trade Zone” and “Northeast Asian Free Trade Zone,” China, which gained confidence through economic growth, challenged Japan’s stronghold.
Then Japan launched its own offensive to protect its economic turf. This resulted in a diplomatic war between China and Japan for the upper hand in regional cooperation, and ultimately Japan come to define China, along with North Korea, as its potential enemy.
Then Japan borrowed the power of the United States and started to expand the country’s political and security influence in international society. In return for Japan’s promise to the United States that it would support its war against terror and the “globalization of the U.S.-Japan alliance,” the United States promised to support Japan’s efforts to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
The problems started to arise after that. As Japan became close to the sole superpower, the United States, whose influence is said to exceed that of the Roman Empire, it started to regard its old friends in Northeast Asia as a nuisance. Japan started to consider China and North Korea as potential threats and at the same time disgraced 2005 Korea-Japan Friend-ship Year by raising the Dokdo issue.
Japan is also asking Russia to return the northern islands under Russian occupation as soon as possible. China is outraged by Japan’s new attitude, but it is not making any friendly overtures to us.
So what are the strategic points of consideration for Korea in the middle of this stormy Northeast Asian situation? First, we need to choose a strategic position advantageous to us. As a country located at the end of the Eurasian continent, if Korea chooses to side with China, the confrontation in Northeast Asia will become one between the oceanic powers, the United States and Japan, versus the continental powers, South Korea, North Korea, China and Russia. President Roh was correct when he said, “The power structure of Northeast Asia will change according to the decision we will make between the two.”
However, we have to understand that China and Russia, as well as the United States and Japan, do not want to see such a confrontation in Northeast Asia. Both China and Russia are trying to gain economic and domestic political benefits through cooperating with the United States in the post-Sept. 11 world. Yet North Korea would probably welcome such friction because it could hurt cooperation among Korea, the United States and Japan regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
Second, for Korea to play the role of “a balancer for peace and prosperity,” we need the alliance with the United States. The reason the United Kingdom is able to play the role of a balancer in Europe to a certain extent is because it maintains a strong relationship with the United States. In the 19th century, Britain could unfold a diplomacy of balance, even praised as “splendid isolation,” because the national power of England was far superior to that of France and Germany at that time. Korea has to increase its power to be strong enough to exceed that of China and Japan; otherwise, it must maintain the stability and balance of Northeast Asia by using its alliance with the United States.
Finally, finding a solution to the North Korean nuclear problem is crucial if we want to have the multilateral security cooperation succeed in Northeast Asia as it has in Europe. The Dokdo Islands issue is a problem on which our own national interest depends because it is a matter pertaining to our national territory.
However, the North Korean nuclear problem is an issue that not only affects our fate, but also decides whether Korea will become a place of mistrust and confrontation or a place of trust and cooperation. It is a vital problem for us.
We have to put our strategic priorities, and concentrate our diplomatic abilities, on the North Korean nuclear problem.
* The writer is a professor and director-general for American studies at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Sung-han