[OUTLOOK]Prepare for the worst“From domestic politics to foreign affairs, things tend to get tangled instead of resolved smoothly, and as unexpected natural disasters gave added sufferings to the people, the government is increasingly losing popular support. I worry how the president will get through his remaining three years in office,” said former U.S. Speaker of the House Thomas Foley a few days ago, expressing his concern over the desperate situation faced by President George W. Bush. Many opponents of Mr. Bush within the United States and abroad might be more delighted than sympathetic as Mr. Bush slips deeper into the quagmire.
However, there is something poignant about Mr. Foley’s diagnosis that the political blunder of Mr. Bush regarding the war against Iraq could divide the American public and even create a temptation for isolationism. George Washington, the first president of the United States, earnestly requested citizens not to intervene in conflicts happening in other countries and other continents in his farewell address and isolationism has functioned as one of the important principle of U.S. foreign policy for two centuries.
Now, the polarization of American public sentiment over the Iraq war suggests that the global strategy of the United States will inevitably have to seek a new balance between isolationism and interventionism.
Unlike European nations, every Asian country pursues competitive foreign policy as individual, independent states. They have entered a phase of re-establishing relations with the United States. While the mutual distrust between the regional giants China and Japan is growing, we must not fail to pay attention to the fact that Beijing and Tokyo are working hard to strengthen cooperative relations with the United States. In some sense, the Chinese and the Japanese have higher regard for the national strength and strategic status of the United States than Americans.
Without exception, the Chinese leaders I met last week stressed their intention to work together with, not stand against, the United States, while promising peaceful development of China. The confidence and composure originating from their amazingly rapid economic development must have given them the wisdom to calmly make a realistic judgment. The Chinese leaders are contemplating the problems and limits they face instead of boasting of the improved national power and influence of China. They have acknowledged they still have a long way to go. While the gross domestic product of China is seventh in the world, the per-household income is still at 109th place. The country has to create 20 million jobs every year, and the Chinese navy can only control 200 nautical miles. Therefore, Beijing emphasized that peaceful cooperation with the United States was not an option but a prerequisite. The decision to increase the number of staff and the budget at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, out of concern that the U.S. Congress has considerable misunderstanding and prejudice against China, proves the strategic judgment of the Chinese.
Meanwhile, the Japanese government led by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has spared no effort to maintain and strengthen its alliance with the United States for several years. Unconcerned with harming friendly relations with or popularity among his Asian neighbors, Mr. Koizumi has been working to reestablish the national status of Japan. Although it is hard to predict the result of Mr. Koizumi’s approach when Mr. Bush’s popularity and influence falls, leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) and the Japanese specialists in the United States are increasingly concerned.
If the isolationist tendency grows among the American public just as Mr. Foley apprehended, Korea, whose national development strategy has been centered on the Korea-U.S. alliance, has to refine its strategic planning more sensitively than any other country. When Beijing and Tokyo are throwing themselves into strengthening their relations with the United States, we cannot afford to repeat the regrettable scene of a divisive national opinion as was shown over the statue of General Douglas MacArthur. It is a survival tactic for a relatively small nation to hasten preparations for a worst case scenario. We need to take all possibilities into consideration, from deadlock or rupture of the six-way talks in the short term to the second “Nixon Shock,” ― a collaboration between the United States and China surpassing the Korea-U.S. and Japan-U.S. alliances.
* The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Hong-koo