[OUTLOOK]Support Roh on trade agreementWhat contributed most to Korea's transformation from one of the poorest countries in the world into the 11th biggest economy? I think the answer is the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Republic of Korea and the United States of America. Had it not been for this treaty, what would have happened to South Korea?
Let's go back in time 50 years and map the Korean Peninsula and its neighboring countries. China and the Soviet Union were two major communist powers. Half of the Korean Peninsula was communist as well. If we apply colors according to ideology, most of Northeast Asia was red and just the southern part of the peninsula was white. What if South Korea had become red also? Our standard of living would have been similar to that of China or Vietnam, at best, or even that of North Korea.
The Mutual Defense Treaty was the main force that helped South Korea remain white ― that is, to stay a country of liberal market economy. The treaty is a promise from the United States to protect its ally as if America itself were invaded, should the South be invaded.
America had wanted to sign a truce and leave the peninsula as soon as possible, fed up with the war in which they had been involved in haste and which cost the lives of tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers. Fortunately, President Rhee Syng-man had an insight into the future of the peninsula. He believed that if America left Korea, the peninsula would become communist and that would be the end of freedom and prosperity.
The United States tried not to sign the treaty because they didn't want the obligation. America made other suggestions, such as, “The U.S. President will give his word on the security of the peninsula,” and “The U.N. will offer a joint resolution.” However, President Rhee saw that America wanted to leave the peninsula. Before the Korean War, The United States had excluded Korea from the U.S. defense line, known as the Acheson Line. Mr. Rhee thought there was no choice but a mutual defense treaty in order to keep an American presence here.
It was almost impossible for a newly born and poor country to negotiate with the U.S. superpower. Mr. Rhee was prepared to die during the negotiations, convinced that dying would be easier than seeing the peninsula become communist. In a U.S. cabinet meeting, Rhee's strategy was called a “suicide strategy.” Mr. Rhee asked for the impossible, arguing that he would release the anti-communist North Korean POWs, and that South Korea would withdraw from the U.N. Force and fight for reunification on its own. General Mark W. Clark, the negotiation partner for the United States, praised Mr. Rhee as a “smart politician.” (“An Analysis of the Korea-U.S. conflicts” p. 91-111.)
The mutual defense treaty between the two countries served as protection for South Korea's prosperity for the past 50 years, an era of confrontation between communist and liberal blocs.
How then, now the Cold War is over, should we secure our next 50 years' prosperity? I would say that a free trade agreement with the United States is the answer. Under such an agreement, we can earn economic benefits, increase our trade with America and adopt advanced finance and service industries from the United States. Not only that, but the framework of our strategy to enter the world economy could be transformed. We would become a partner with the United States and enter China and India, countries with unlimited potential. The United States wants to have an agreement with South Korea before one with Japan.
For the past 50 years, we have tried hard to make America stay here. But this time, America proposed it first, which means we have grown. Japan feels anxious. The other day Shotaro Oshima, the Japanese ambassador to Seoul, emphasized the importance of a free trade agreement between Japan and the United States at a breakfast meeting with Korean newspaper editors and TV producers.
In that respect, I appreciate President Roh's insight and vision. He presented the agreement as the major task for his remaining presidential term. Mr. Roh, who once was anti-American, has changed after three years in office. I want to believe that now he can see America not from the angle of parochial ideology but from the “national interest.” Because he was regarded as an anti-American politician, his argument sounds more convincing.
Last weekend pro-Roh forces protested against the talks. He could be isolated among his supporters because of this. Conservatives should now support and help the president. This is not a debate over ideology but the only way for this country to survive. It is our good fortune that our once anti-American president has changed his stance.
* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk