[VIEWPOINT]Reflect on Maryland official’s faux pas

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[VIEWPOINT]Reflect on Maryland official’s faux pas

Korean-Americans in Washington, D.C. and states around the American capital are upset because a high-ranking official in Maryland state, William Donald Schaefer, made insulting remarks when he spoke about North Korea’s test-firing of missiles.
On July 5, Mr. Schaefer, Maryland’s state comptroller, made the comments during a meeting of his state’s board of public works, during discussion of the budget for an English program, for the 30,000 foreign students in Maryland, including Korean immigrants. He said, “Korea is another one. All of a sudden, they’re our friends, too, shooting missiles at us.”
Later he was reported to have yelled at representatives of the League of Korean-Americans in Maryland who called on him to ask an apology. He said there was nothing wrong with his remarks except that he omitted attaching “North” before Korea.
Korean-Americans in the state, who were infuriated by Mr. Schaefer’s intolerance and indifference to immigrants, have launched a campaign urging Democratic voters to choose someone other than him for state comptroller in the Sept. 12 party primary.
The Washington Post reported on July 17 that a broad-ranging coalition of Maryland’s ethnic minorities, including Korean-Americans, denounced Mr. Schaefer and told the former governor that “it is time to go.” Mr. Schaefer could be defeated in the primary, since not only Korean-Americans but also his own Democratic Party have been critical of him.
But the problem will not be resolved by his defeat because election failure will not change his views on Korea.
Leaders of the League of Korean-Americans in Maryland assert that the state comptroller, a two-term governor of the state who visited South Korea as a governor in 1994, did not speak in error because he could tell South Korea from North Korea.
They view Mr. Schaefer’s remarks as expressing his displeasure with South Korea, taking North Korea’s firing of missiles as an opportunity. His remarks, according to them, reflect the views of some in the United States leadership, a consequence of the disarray in the Korea-U.S. alliance.
The fallout from Mr. Schaefer’s intolerant remarks show us that the cracks in the Korea-U.S. alliance have already become aggravated to the extent of doing damage to Korean-Americans.
The government has to reflect on the reason why things have gone this far. There is nothing wrong with pursuing an alliance based on a “horizontal partnership” as the government said, but it has to reflect on what it did in the meantime. This is the right time for the government to examine its own actions when North Korea test-fired missiles and the UN Security Council passed a resolution on the North.
Right after North Korea fired its missiles, the Wall Street Journal editorial on July 6 said: “In South Korea, one question is whether a change in policy toward the North must wait until a change of government in Seoul.”
It is a comment to be expected from a newspaper that represents the views of conservatives in the United States, but it still makes us feel uncomfortable.
It can be said that the comment shows the gap of understanding between the South Korean government and the conservatives who are at the helm in America.
Some in the government in Seoul must have been upset by the comment, but what is important is not an explosion of passion, but rather, making reason work.
What has made the Korea-U.S. alliance deteriorate this far? Isn’t there anything that the government should reflect on before blaming the United States?
An alliance based on an equal partnership can’t be accomplished with words only, which seems to be how the government has pursued it. The notion that Korea will play the role of a balancer in Northeast Asia has the same problem. When North Korea fired missiles, was there any role that South Korea played as a balancer of Northeast Asia? It is necessary to ask such questions about Korea’s diplomacy in general, including its policy toward Washington.
The government must understand that it can be relegated to the confining frame of “the upcountry way of thinking,” if I may borrow an expression from Kim Yong-goo, a well-known scholar in the history of diplomacy and a professor at Hallym University.
What I mean is that the government must take a critical look at its own vocabulary, such as “balancer of Northeast Asia” or “alliance between horizontal partners,” which seem to be products of a periphery complex that underlies an upcountry way of thinking.
In more familiar terms, these words seem to be a reflexive response by someone feeling himself sidelined.
Meanwhile, how about keeping in mind a British proverb, “Least said, soonest mended.” President Roh Moo-hyun and high-ranking officials of his government have so far made too many promises that have not materialized.
If they close their mouths and open their ears wide instead, won’t they see a new world in the future?

* The writer is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Sang-il
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