[TODAY]Roh and Bush need a dealIt is ironic that sullen remarks concerning Korea-U.S. relations by the Japanese vice foreign minister might have an effect on setting the agenda for the summit meeting to be held by the two countries next month.
The comments made by Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi, that Japan cannot share information on North Korea with South Korea because the United States does not trust the South, indicates that Seoul is being left in the dark with respect to the relationship between Korea, the United States and Japan. If this is truly the case, I wonder if information is the only thing Korea is being left out of.
Mr. Yachi also said, “In the six-way talks the United States and Japan are on the right-hand side, and China and North Korea are on the left, but Korea seems to be moving from the center towards the left.”
No matter what the objective situation may be, if the United States and Japan think of South Korea’s position in the six-way talks as the same as that of North Korea and China, cooperation between Seoul, Washington and Tokyo, vital to solving the North Korea nuclear problem, becomes impossible.
South Korean diplomatic authorities expressed strong disappointment over Mr. Yachi’s sour remarks on the sensitive issue of Korea-U.S. relations. They said there was no problem in the exchange of information with the United States. This is a routine expression of regret that our diplomats make on occasions like this. However, let us think about the incident again.
The fact that a high-ranking Japanese diplomat who certainly knows about diplomatic practice and etiquette spoke as he did means that the United States and Japan think that South Korea is positioning itself away from Korea-U.S.-Japan cooperation on the North Korea nuclear issue.
Awareness of the truth is just as important as the truth itself in both personal and national relations. The awareness of Korea, the United States and Japan on the North Korea nuclear problem cannot be exactly the same. The main premise of South Korea on solving the nuclear issue is to prevent war, but that of the United States is to never allow North Korea to possess nuclear weapons. However, prevention of war and the abandonment of nuclear weapons are not contradictory. If North Korea reinforces its nuclear arms build-up and even exports these weapons to terrorist groups and hostile countries, the United States may actually launch pre-emptive attacks on nuclear facilities in North Korea.
Consequently, for the prevention of a war that is the main premise of South Korea’s North Korea policy, a Pyongyang regime that is armed with nuclear weapons cannot be acceptable. Here lies the common interest of both South Korea and the United States, and this is the starting point for cooperation on North Korea.
In April 2002, the United States was surprised at the rocketing popularity of then-presidential candidate Roh Moo-hyun. James Kelly, assistant secretary for Asia Pacific Affairs at the State Department, said during a speech at the Asiatic Society that it is hard to predict what will happen in a democracy and that the United States must keep in mind that Korea’s next generation of leaders might challenge the traditional role of the United States in Korea and could try to redefine the character of Korea-U.S. relations. What great insight!
As Mr. Kelly and many other Korean Peninsula specialists in the United States had suspected, the Roh Moo-hyun administration started to redefine Korea-U.S. relations and how it viewed the role of the United States. The administration objected to the strategic flexibility of United States Forces in Korea whereby troops stationed in Korea could become involved in disputes outside the Korean Peninsula, and announced that Korea would free itself from the shackles of the triangular alliance of Korea-U.S.- Japan and play the role of the balancer in Northeast Asia. It gave the impression that the South was putting more weight on inter-Korean cooperation than Korea-U.S. or Korea-U.S.-Japan cooperation. There is talk that even China complains it is having a hard time in playing the role of a mediator with North Korea because of South Korea’s overly friendly attitude towards the North.
I am thankful that a high-ranking Japanese official gave Korea a chance to reflect seriously on Korea-U.S. relations at a time when a summit meeting between Messrs. Bush and Roh is around the corner. The most important item on the agenda will be the North Korea nuclear problem. However, we cannot expect to find a solution to the issue without Korean-U.S. cooperation, or, on a larger scale, Korea-U.S.-Japan cooperation.
We need a significant agreement between the two leaders. What are we going to give, and what are we going to take? Mr. Roh should promise to reconsider Korea’s independent diplomatic policy toward the United States, which has caused a good deal of misunderstanding and led the nation to nationalistic romanticism. Pragmatism is needed. The policies to step away from include the theory of becoming the balancer of Northeast Asia, and the raising of objections to the growing strategic flexibility of the U.S. Forces in Korea. In return, we can ask Mr. Bush to promise that the United States will provide North Korea with sufficient inducements to participate in the six-way talks and solve the nuclear problem.
The basis for any agreement is trust between South Korea and the United States. North Korea emphasizes “inter-Korean cooperation,” but the North probably thinks that the only things South Korea can provide are fertilizer, rice and the profits from the Kaesong industrial complex and the Mount Kumgang tourism project. But those efforts fail to impress the United States. Preparations for the summit meeting have to start with finding a way to recover the trust of the United States and gaining its confidence in the South.
* The writer is an adviser and senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie