[OUTLOOK]‘Self-reliance’ from logicThe Roh Moo-hyun administration’s foreign relations policy with the United States is getting worse. Lee Baek-man, senior presidential secretary for public information, wrote on the Web site of the Blue House that the administration pursues “pro-American self-reliance” and that its pursuit of a free trade agreement with the United States is a good example of this. The expression “self-reliance” is perceived as anti-Americanism by most Koreans, so what the government official is trying to say is there is such a thing as attaining self-reliance while having good relations with the United States.
We all know what self-reliance means. But what does pro-American self-reliance mean? Does it mean that the president of Korea can make public remarks such as “What is the big deal of being anti-American?” or “Are Korean government officials not allowed to say the United States has failed?” Does it mean that when we need to give something to the Americans, we make them leap over all sorts of hurdles until the last minute instead of forming a consensus without trouble?
No independent country shouts so much about “self-reliance.” Self-reliance by the Roh administration has seemed to mean confronting the United States head-on. Looking at the characters in this administration, it would be hard for them to be pro-American. People are worried about possible cracks in the Korea-U.S. alliance. Some compare it to a wife and husband who cannot divorce for fear of losing face. How will Americans then accept the expression “pro-American self-reliance?”
It is far-fetched to say the administration’s pursuit of a free trade pact with Washington is a good example of its pro-American self-reliance. Signing the pact has nothing to do with pro-Americanism or anti-Americanism. Partners try to sign a bilateral trade pact out of necessity, for the sake of their own goods.
The United States has been pursuing free trade accords with not only Korea but also many other countries, including Malaysia, Thailand and Panama. Korea also plans to have two-way pacts with 20 other countries. Many countries are making bilateral trade pacts with one another, a trend that will lead to global trade liberalization.
Signing a free trade agreement with the United States will accelerate the progress of pacts with China and Japan. In this process, Korea could assume an advantageous position.
However, the idea that signing a free trade pact with Washington is a pro-American act fuels protests by anti-American demonstrators and others who are opposed to opening the doors to the outside world. This argument provides an excuse for anti-American and anti-imperialist protesters, workers and farmers to stage demonstrations.
The government chose to pursue a free trade agreement with Washington. The United States has not forced Seoul to do so. In January, the Korean president said in a speech that the administration would pursue the pact. The Korean administration accepted the four conditions of the United States. Two weeks later, it was announced that the two countries would start negotiations.
However, the Korean administration did not present the big picture, about why Korea should hurry to sign the trade agreement with the United States. What they presented was not clearly related to the administration’s road map for reform. The United States was taken aback when the Korean government proposed the pact first, because it had been confronting Washington over issues of foreign affairs and national security.
The United States seems to be suspicious about Korea’s intentions, given that Korea has brought political issues to the table, such as accepting products from the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea as made in South Korea.
Another problem is that proponents of a free trade accord with Washington are not necessarily supporters of the Roh administration. If, among the proponents of the trade agreement, the number of people who oppose the administration is larger than those who support it, it is hard to see how the trade agreement could go forward.
While the members of the ruling party and some of the ministries oppose the agreement or take vague stances on the issue, its opponents have become increasingly organized and are getting Korea-U.S. relations into trouble. If the negotiations for the agreement drift or fail due to its opponents’ protests, the pursuit of the agreement will ruin the relationship between the two countries, instead of becoming a good example of pro-American self-reliance.
In the meantime, the government’s plan to take operational control over the military makes little sense, even less than self-reliance in diplomacy. Countries cooperate with one another for national defense, and a military superpower like the United States tries its best to work with other countries.
Regarding wartime operational command, it is not that the United States has taken it from us, but instead we entrusted it to the United States because we were not able to handle it. We should share wartime control on the basis of the alliance, instead of taking over command. Adventurism in the name of self-reliance will not benefit Korea but endanger our country. Pro-Americanism is much more honorable than imperfect “self-reliance,” which is what phrases such as “cooperative and independent national defense” and “pro-American self-reliance” represent.
The United States decided not to react to the Roh administration’s numerous provocative remarks. However, a person can smile and pretend not to hear anything while still bearing a grudge. President Roh Moo-hyun and President George W. Bush have lost trust in each other, because they have argued over many issues and their understanding on and approaches to North Korea are very different. Some already worry that the summit meeting scheduled for September will not go well if the two leaders fail to narrow their differences.
Mr. Roh’s remaining 18 months in office seem too long to leave the country’s foreign policy and national defense to the pro-American self-reliance policy, which is much worse than simple anti-Americanism.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Byun Sang-keun
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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