[EDITORIALS]Trouble with the allianceAbnormalities in U.S.-South Korean relations appear to be continuing. Reacting to U.S. ambassador to Korea Alexander Vershbow’s labeling of North Korea as a “criminal regime,” Wi Sung-lac, the political affairs minister at the South Korean Embassy in Washington, expressed concern to the U.S. government. The U.S. State Department, however, said Mr. Vershbow’s remarks were the official U.S. government position.
When a U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights came to Seoul to attend an international rights conference last week, South Korea’s unification and foreign ministers rejected his requests for meetings. On the issue of realigning U.S. forces in Korea, the two countries have also disagreed. Despite the Roh Moo-hyun administration’s explanations that the U.S.-South Korea alliance is firm, the situation is moving in a completely different direction.
In the past, Washington took into account Seoul’s position by delaying the announcement of the appointment of the special envoy on North Korean human rights until after the six-party talks opened. But Washington acted differently this time. Although it knew Seoul would feel uncomfortable, senior officials including the special envoy and the U.S. ambassador attended the international conference on North Korean human rights. Mr. Vershbow even emphasized that as a U.S. ambassador he could not stay indifferent about human rights, equating it to the identity of an American.
Regarding North Korea’s production of counterfeit bills, the U.S. completely ignored South Korea’s position. Around Sept. 19, when the members of the six-party talks adopted a joint statement, Washington barred transactions with a Macao bank involved in money-laundering by North Korea and froze the assets of North Korean firms in the United States. South Korea’s position was not reflected in measures that were taken.
The conflicts between South Korea and the United States have arisen because they see North Korea from different perspectives. As a part of its global stategy, the United States views the North as a dangerous proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and a sponsor of terrorism. At the same time, Washington believes that the military threat by North Korea still exists in Northeast Asia.
In contrast, South Korea wants to stress that North Koreans share the same blood in an attempt to maintain smooth inter-Korean relations.
Moreover, demonstrators that shout anti-American slogans steeped in leftist ideology are linked to the Roh administration, further deteriorating the alliance with Washington.
At this point, what is important is deciding what to do for our national interest. Because South Korea is geographically surrounded by the world’s four superpowers, intervention by powerful neighbors is inevitable. That is why an alliance with the United States is extremely valuable. Without it, we would be treated differently.
It is necessary to appreciate and foster the alliance. Inter-Korean relations must be handled in relation to maintaining the alliance with the United States. To resolve the nuclear crisis, Washington’s support is vital.
Seoul, of course, must speak clearly to Washington if it is an issue of protecting our national interest. Allies can quietly resolve conflicts through diplomatic channels. Why is the Roh administration favoring the North, and risking discord with the United States?
The United States should also make an effort to understand the South’s peculiar nature in order to keep the alliance healthy. With the sound spirit of alliance, the ongoing disputes between Seoul and Washington can be resolved smoothly.