[OUTLOOK]3 worries for domestic politics

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[OUTLOOK]3 worries for domestic politics

The New Year begins not with well-wishing remarks but with worries. The year of the dog will be a year of domestic politics. While the march of economic struggle has not ended, and the presidential election is still two years away, domestic politics will take center stage in 2006. The regional elections in May will be a watershed of politics. If the ruling party is defeated, the presidential election campaign will inevitably begin early. The ruling party’s politicians with an ambition to be the next president will have to focus on differentiating themselves from the current administration. The opposition party will have to keep pace with the ruling party. The Roh Moo-hyun administration has to use all the means it can possibly think of in order to delay the onset of lame duck status as long as possible. What is especially worrisome during this process is that inter-Korean issues and international politics might turn into domestic political issues. Unlike other domestic issues, the other side holds the hilt of the sword in these two tasks, and therefore, we might take the blade end and get hurt unless we approach them very carefully. In order to avoid the blade and make the other side put the sword back in the sheath, we have to resist the short-term temptation of domestic politics and follow advanced strategic thinking.
The first concern is the North Korean nuclear issue. If the Sept. 19 Beijing joint statement is not to follow the fate of Dr. Hwang Woo-suk’s stem cells, the six-way talks will have to show visible progress in the new year. That prospect, however, is not very bright. Pyongyang prioritizes a material guarantee to safeguard its leader-oriented system, while Washington believes that an ultimate peace is only possible based on the foundations of liberal democracy. Therefore, it is realistically difficult for the two parties to agree on a road map for dismantling nuclear weapons. Under the circumstances, a plan to make a breakthrough by establishing a peaceful system on the Korean Peninsula through an inter-Korean summit is very inadequate. Pyongyang is afraid of Washington, not Seoul. What North Korea wants from the United States is a firm guarantee to safeguard the current system under Kim Jong-il. But what Washington wants is a democratic leader and ultimately an open, reform-minded leadership system. South Korea is in a position to play only a limited role. If we imprudently attempt to have a summit meeting with Pyongyang, we might find ourselves in jeopardy of losing both Pyongyang and Washington while trying to catch both at the same time. We have to seek a realistic alternative from an open and peaceful leadership system.
The second concern is the South Korea-U.S. relationship. If we really believe that there is no trouble in our relations with the United States, as the South Korean government has officially claimed, we are truly in trouble. South Korea-U.S. relations are experiencing friction as they goes through inevitable modifications following the shift of the international order in the 21st century and domestic changes in South Korea and the United States. In the 21st century, the United States is expected to play the role of the major shareholder in the management of the world order for a considerably long period of time. In an article Condoleezza Rice contributed to the Washington Post on Dec. 11, the U.S. secretary of state summed up the New Year’s agenda of the superpower as “the promise of democratic peace.” She stressed that peace in the 21st century depends more on the democratic character of regimes than the international distribution of power. Therefore, the balance of power for freedom is important, she wrote. More precisely, Washington considers Japan as a “partner,” expects China to be a substantially interested nation with responsibilities and calls North Korea a “criminal regime.” South Korea’s place in the U.S.-led balance of power and freedom in East Asia is unclear. In the 21st century, South Korea should be able to grow beyond post-Cold War insights and reinvent its relations with the United States with a 21st-century mindset.
The last concern is the theory of the East Asian community. The year 2005 was a year of antipathy, not friendship, for Korea-Japan relations. As political and economic exchanges with China grow explosively, we are experiencing conflicts of national interests. The relationship between Beijing and Tokyo is more about discord than cooperation. As we have seen in recent Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meetings and East Asia summits, however, Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo all expressed interests in the theory of an East Asian community based on different political intentions. Some hastily suggest learning from the precedent of the European Union and call for establishing an East Asian community. However, we need to understand that the European Union is not an outcome of a half-century-long effort but a result of modern experiments in the last five centuries. The discussion about cooperation in East Asia has to be planned for Asia in terms of centuries and millennia in the future. If these three worries in the New Year actually come true due to domestic political reasons, the presidential election in 2007 will become a challenge to solve three very complicated problems.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University. Translated by JoongAng Daily staff.

by Ha Young-sun
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