[OUTLOOK]With wisdom, Korea can lead

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[OUTLOOK]With wisdom, Korea can lead

In order to survive and thrive in this age of chaos, you need to be able to read the fast-changing situation, and so should a nation.
Insight into the changing tides of the world combined with good judgment becomes the wisdom for state administration. Such wisdom is the indispensable virtue for leaders and citizens alike.
Leaders who don't have insight about global trends and the slow-witted citizens who go raging without a proper understanding of the situation will only bring disaster to the country. In a historic pivotal moment like today, wisdom in leaders and citizens is desperately needed.
The biggest determinant of current global trends is the relationship between the United States and China. After the Cold War ended, the United States initiated a management of the world order as the sole superpower, but its control and influence have revealed limits in many places.
The most notable example is the chaos in the Middle East, especially in Iran and Iraq. On the other hand, the rapid rise of China has bewildered everyone in the world.
Of course people like Joseph Nye of Harvard University say that China's emergence is hardly surprising in the broad sweep of human history. For a millennium, from 500 to 1500, China was at the top of the world in terms of its economy and technology, and the sudden rise of China in the early 21st century can be considered a return to its original position.
Regardless of history, especially for neighbors like Korea, we have to pay special attention to the direction of development of the relationship between the two powers, the United States and China.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who played a key role in normalizing U.S.-China relationship in the early 1970s, has frequently expressed a rather optimistic perspective, saying that the U.S.-China relationship is not likely to lead to any sort of military confrontation. China has traditionally expanded its influence with economic and cultural imperialism, he says, rather than overwhelming military strength, and such a legacy is still seen today.
While Washington should focus on the economic competition rather than military confrontation with China, Mr. Kissinger adds, he is concerned that such is not the case today. He also stresses that unlike the Soviet Union, China has a diplomatic tendency to seek compromises between interested parties instead of a monopoly for a winner.
Such an optimistic theory about the U.S.-China relationship is not widely accepted, mostly because the trade imbalance between the two countries has passed the dangerous level. China enjoys a $150 billion surplus, about 7.5 percent of its gross domestic product, while the United States suffers a deficit of $800 billion, 7 percent of its GDP.
Such a serious imbalance in trade encourages skepticism about stability in relations. In the summit meeting scheduled this week, U.S. President George W. Bush and China’s President Hu Jintao must address the issue.
There are more than a few obstacles for establishment of friendly and cooperative relations between the United States and China. In a democratic society like the United States, the public, the media and the Congress can encourage fear about the threat of China. The aggravated relationship between China and Japan, an ally of the United States, can also weigh heavily, and the North Korean nuclear issue and the Taiwan Strait issue can elevate tension between China and the United States. There may also be competition over resources.
Perhaps the biggest uncertainty in China is the growing gap between regions, generations and the rich and the poor as a result of China's rapid growth. Korea has been given a role to provide the wisdom to make the U.S.-China relationship a cooperative one.
Already the 11th largest economy in the world, Korea has an opportunity to use active and self-reliant diplomacy in this era of a global market economy.
We have no reason to refuse to rescue U.S.-China relations and China-Japan relations from the bog of mutual distrust, and bringing them altogether into an Asia Pacific community for the prosperity of us all.
In a meeting in New York last week, Dr. Kissinger emphasized that Washington would not remain a spectator if Beijing planned to create an Asian economic bloc excluding the United States.
The remark indirectly suggests the importance of the negotiations for a free trade agreement between the United States and Korea that will begin in June. Korea needs to find a way to the future with wise choices from the decisions of insightful leaders and sensible citizens.

* The writer, a former prime minister, is an advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-koo
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