[OUTLOOK]Prepare for approaching storms

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[OUTLOOK]Prepare for approaching storms

The May 31 elections caused a major storm in Korea. The voters effectively turned their backs upon the ruling party, protesting the way it has tried to find solutions for 21 century problems using a 1980s political outlook. Even more worrisome, however, is that the storms show no sign of ceasing. The storm of domestic problems has been followed by an East Asian power shift typhoon, along with a North Korean nuclear hurricane ― and these tempests are hurling at top speed toward the Korean Peninsula. In spite of the dissatisfaction the Korean people have expressed toward the government, ’80s-style political thinking has proven tough to shed, and these storms have a potential for destruction that will be difficult to overcome.
On April 25, President Roh Moo-hyun gave a special message on Korea-Japan relations, focusing especially on the Dokdo islets issue. The Japanese response was frosty.
On May 1, the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee agreed to a roadmap for restructuring American troops in Japan, for the purpose of strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance. Japan emphasized that the foundation for a new alliance between the United States and Japan was thus established, with an eye on the next 100 years of East Asia’s future. Japan has made the most of American strategic flexibility, while establishing a 21st century-style modified operational control authority. This is the military basis that the new US-Japan alliance will use to lead and control the East Asian balance of power.
At a speech at the American Center for Strategic and International Studies, Aso Taro, the Japanese minister of foreign affairs, gave the following as top priorities of Japanese diplomatic policy: first, strengthening the US-Japan alliance; second, deepening cooperation with China in matters of common interest; third, promoting regional cooperation toward the establishment of an East Asian community; fourth, enhancing strategic relations with India, Australia and New Zealand, as well as reinvigorating ties with Asean, and fifth, working to address problems related to North Korea, including nuclear and abduction issues. On May 26, at the 2006 International Conference on the Future of Asia, Mr. Aso stated a “networked Asia” was the way to an Asian community of the future, and emphasized the importance of building knowledge networks and avoiding the trap of nationalism. Upon seeing the new developments in the U.S.-Japan alliance, China has been following a diplomatic policy that focuses on its domestic economy. Once the economy has been established, however, it is only a matter of time until China will pursue its dream of becoming a pan-Asian entity. The problem lies with the Korean Peninsula. North Korea is losing its sense of historical direction, using 19th-century standards to cope with 21 century change, all while striving to build a “strong and powerful nation.” South Korea, with its inability to rid itself of the 20th century outlook called “cooperative autonomy,” is searching for ways to survive in the 21st century.
The North Korean nuclear storm is also a worrisome issue. A fierce diplomatic battle is taking place to resume the six-party talks that have been stalled for nine months. Even if they do restart, however, a solution to the North Korean nuclear issue will be impossible unless North Korea itself makes a decision regarding its nuclear strategy. Because of this, the North Korean nuclear tempest has a high risk of taking a course that veers away from our hopes. First of all, both North Korea and the United States consider this to be a matter of vital importance, so it will be difficult to strike a compromise between the two countries’ hotly contested demands. Next, both North Korea and the United States will use all sorts of carrots and sticks to cajole, force or threaten the other into making a strategic decision. Lastly, North Korea will have to face a tough decision regarding nuclear disarmament, due to the danger of political change that could come from refusing disarmament, and the possibility of political change that could come from accepting it. As the North Korean nuclear storm approaches the Korean Peninsula, it is futile for South Koreans to think that their efforts can weaken the storm.
We need to get rid of expectations that overcoming our storm of domestic problems will automatically result in clear blue skies. The two big tempests of the East Asian power shift and North Korean nuclear capability are on the verge of entering the South Korean atmosphere. The Blue House and the National Assembly must wake up to the fact that 21 century problems can only be solved through 21 century solutions. We must accurately measure the speed and direction of the coming tempestuous winds and thus establish an ambitious plan for the next 100 years of Korean history.

* The writer is a professor of international politics at the Seoul National University.

by Ha Young-sun
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