[OUTLOOK]Maximise own image and abilityAmerican President George W. Bush, who visited Japan before arriving in Busan, immediately flew to Beijing after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum closed, and met with the Chinese leader. Mr. Bush’s travel itinerary is a good illustration of what U.S. thoughts are regarding bilateral relationships with the region’s two major powers: Japan and China. The United States solidified its existing strong ties with Japan while showing it sees the need to attend to its relationship with China. In his meetings with leaders of Japan, South Korea and China, Bush addressed different agendas, demonstrating that different issues topped the agendas of Washington’s bilateral relationships with the three Northeast Asian countries. With Japan, he focused primarily on strengthening the military alliance; with South Korea, on the North Korean nuclear issue; and with China, on economic relations.
The United States feels a significant sense of injustice because of the large trade deficit with China. The U.S. view is that China’s surging export market is possible not just because of cheap and abundant labor, but more importantly because the Chinese government lets its currency, the yuan, remain undervalued in the name of adhering to a fixed exchange rate system. The Chinese government’s lack of enthusiasm to crack down on infringement of intellectual property rights may also come across as market-averse to the United States. Such economic friction between the two countries will invariably spill into the political arena and result in political distrust. America believes the socialist politics of the Chinese leadership spur unfair transactions and competition in military strength. By beginning his visit by attending a church service, Bush sent an implicit yet strong message to the Chinese government that it should respect the religious and political freedom of its people.
China, for its part, has responded to pushes and nudges from the United States that were raised when the two leaders met mostly by avoiding or postponing answers. On the U.S. push to tackle the issue of the under-valued yuan, China replied it would seek a “win-win” solution for the two countries. Chinese President Hu Jintao gave the impression that while China will improve its human rights record and give greater freedom to the Chinese people, it will do so on its own terms and not at anybody else’s behest. Mr. Hu made it clear the United States should not support Taiwan’s independence.” While Mr. Bush and Mr. Hu concurred that breaking a nuclear disarmament agreement for the Korean Peninsula would be in no one’s interest, no one seems quite sure what China will do to encourage North Korea to honor the agreement.
Essentially, the following are what we can draw from the general ambience and tone of the recent Bush-Hu meeting in Beijing, China.
China is growing rapidly and powerfully. The United States considers that such a China will be able to integrate harmoniously with America when it becomes more open and more free. The concern of the Chinese leadership is that China would become subordinate to external powers if it were to open up China’s politics and economy all at once. Therefore, China’s position seems to be that it will globalize, but slowly, and that it will reform, but gradually, based on its own priorities. In response to the U.S. request that China recast itself as a responsible superpower that plays by the universal values embodied by the existing world power structure, China made it clear it does not intend to merely uphold values set by the Western powers. At the same time, however, China said it will pursue peaceful development so that other nations need not excessively question its intentions.
A friendly relationship between the United States and China means less likelihood of a conflict between the two on Korean peninsula affairs, and smoother bilateral relationships for South Korea with the United States and China respectively. Seoul would not have to base its actions on the premise that cooperation with one would inevitably prompt tension with the other.
In the 21st century, however, we can not survive on a passive strategy to determine our national fate, based on what our neighboring superpowers do. South Korea should commit itself to a core set of values that it wants to promote in its strategic relationships with both the United States and China, regardless of where the Washington-Beijing relationship stands. South Korea’s key strategic value with the United States should be about North Korea and national security, and with China, about trade relations. In particular, South Korea cannot push ahead in its relationship with China, when its relationship with the United States ― which works as a lever for South Korea-China ― is weak.
Furthermore, South Korea must go beyond the passive diplomacy of aligning itself to the approaches of neighboring superpowers toward North Korea and the greater Korean Peninsula. It should, instead, develop and strengthen its diplomatic and negotiating skills to aggressively seek a common interest that serves all the nations involved. In order to do that, South Korea must find a way to maximize its own capacities and its image.
* The writer is professor of international relations at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Tae-hyo
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