[VIEWPOINT]South Korea must act, or be isolatedThe security situation of Northeast Asia has been disturbed by the nuclear test North Korea dared to carry out on Monday. The entire international community, including the United States, China and Japan, denounced the test in unison. The North’s nuclear gamble created an enormous ripple effect around the Korean Peninsula.
First of all, it provided the chance for China and Japan to get closer faster than expectations. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan paid a visit to China on the first leg of his tour of Asian neighbors and held a summit meeting there with President Hu Jintao. Since President Hu was inaugurated in 2003, relations between China and Japan had deteriorated to the degree that it had been impossible to hold a summit meeting in the two countries, due to former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to the Yasukuni Shrine.
At the summit meeting this time, the two leaders agreed to establish “strategically reciprocal relations.” Although the two countries do not share common values such as democracy, they agreed on the need to establish reciprocal relations based on a common strategic interest. For this, Japan showed the will to manage history-related issues at a diplomatic level.
North Korea has provided a touchstone to test whether China and Japan can actually establish strategic relations. The main agenda of the China-Japan summit was how to respond to North Korea’s nuclear test. China and Japan share a common interest in preventing North Korea from arming itself with nuclear weapons.
Prime Minister Abe has proclaimed that the North’s nuclear test will not be tolerated. China, which had been the staunchest supporter of the North in international society, had already taken part, together with Japan, in the move to adopt the chairman’s statement of the UN Security Council that condemned North Korea’s nuclear test.
The UN envoy of China has even declared openly that China can no longer provide protection to a rogue state.
The focus of the strategic cooperation between the two depends on Japan’s evaluation of the influence of China, which has provided most of the energy and food that North Korea needs.
In case of UN-led sanctions on the international level, we cannot exclude the possibility that general sanctions, including maritime restrictions, could be imposed on North Korea as part of a strong military deterrence.
In this case, the success of santions will depend largely on the cooperation of China, which has a long border with North Korea.
If we take into consideration the remarks made by the highest leaders of China about the North’s nuclear problem, it is highly likely that China will actively participate in the UN’s sanctions against North Korea.
If the strategically reciprocal relations between China and Japan are consolidated, the scope of Korea’s diplomatic maneuvering will naturally shrink.
The theory that Korea can play the role of a balancer in Northeast Asia, which was based on the presupposition that China and Japan will maintain a relationship of checking each other, awakens us to realize that how naively and optimistically we have predicted the security situation of Northeast Asia that changes so abruptly.
Standing in the middle of the reciprocal relations between China and Japan, Korea will have to get busy to catch up with the strategic interests agreed to between its neighbors, far from playing the role of a balancer. If Korea goes against or fails to follow the strategic interests of China and Japan in the pursuit of a self-reliant diplomacy, it will be isolated. Here, we can confirm our desperate need of the Korea-U.S. alliance.
North Korea’s nuclear gamble has put to Korean diplomacy an even more difficult trial. The strategic decision of China and Japan is that they will not tolerate the North’s nuclear test, and that is in the same line as the international society.
South Korea’s engagement policy toward North Korea has led Seoul to respond to the North Korean nuclear issue too naively. Even on the very day the North tested a nuclear device, the government exposed its lack of information and incompetence. The action taken by the government after the blast was also impotent.
As President Roh Moo-hyun mentioned, the Sunshine Policy toward North Korea has already been exposed as no longer valid in the settlement of peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Now we must change the guidelines of our diplomacy to a proactive one, under which we participate in international sanctions against North Korea as a member of the international community, reconfirm the Korea-U.S. alliance and establish strategic cooperation with neighboring countries.
It is the only survival strategy that will allow us to evade isolation from the international community.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Ho-sup