[OUTLOOK]Roh’s lonely diplomacySouth Korea’s media and the U.S. media had different perspectives when they delivered the results from the summit meeting between the two countries held last weekend in Hanoi, Vietnam. Although it was nothing unusual for the United States to promise to provide economic aid and guarantee security to North Korea if it abandons its nuclear weapons program, South Korea’s media focused on this and reported that the two leaders had agreed on a diplomatic resolution.
Meanwhile, the U.S. media underscored that President George W. Bush failed to earn support from South Korea for the Proliferation Security Initiative. The Associated Press reported that Mr. Bush tried to put on his best face despite differences in opinion between the United States and South Korea. CNN pointed out that Mr. Bush earned words but not action from President Roh Moo-hyun.
If North Korea abandons its nuclear devices and the Korean Peninsula is transformed into a peaceful place, the current truce will be ended and replaced with a declaration of the end to the Korean War. South Korea made a fuss of this, although the White House said it only changed the order of the incidents without any special intention.
South Korean authorities reported that the two leaders had agreed with each other and said the United States called the meeting a very good one. But U.S. media reported the meeting quite differently. The New York Times reported that Mr. Roh was fundamentally at odds with Mr. Bush on North Korean strategies and the meeting of the two was a frosty one, although a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan was very warm. The Associated Press said Mr. Abe is a man of knowledge and reported him saying that Mr. Bush has an easy-going style and he wants to cooperate with him on any issue. The media outlet emphasized that Mr. Abe and Mr. Bush had a nice conversation like old friends. Does this mean that the U.S. media only saw the surface of the summit meeting between Seoul and Washington when the meeting was actually a very good one at its core?
Since North Korea conducted its nuclear test, the United States has called on South Korea to join in implementing at least one of three measures: To stop business cooperation in the Kaesong Industrial Complex or the Mount Kumgang tourism project or to join the Proliferation Security Initiative. As South Korea declined to join the Proliferation Security Initiative, it has now rejected all three, leaving only room to negotiate on each matter. Mr. Roh swore to do his best under political limitations such as pressure from domestic progressive forces and Mr. Bush expressed gratefulness with a straight face. That is not enough to resolve problems.
It is hard to implement the recent United Nations resolution faithfully without joining the Proliferation Security Initiative. An excuse that joining the initiative will provoke a military clash and stir up anti-American sentiment is not persuasive in international society. Even France, which opposes the United States on most issues, is inspecting North Korean ships. In this situation, South Korea will not join in implementing the measure and only provides material aid to drills held outside of South Korean waters. We will see how grateful the United States is for that.
If Mr. Roh won the heart of Mr. Bush, it must have been because of extending the presence of the Zaytun Division in Iraq. Sending South Korean troops to Iraq was more than a good cause, but a duty as an ally. However, the South Korean government often used this as a card in negotiations. As a condition of sending troops to Iraq, it demanded the United States reconcile with North Korea. Some governing party members have complained in secret that the United States was breaking its promises and their complaints have become public. Mr. Bush often says thank you to South Korea for sending the troops to Iraq. In fact, problems in the South Korea-U.S. alliance have been hidden because of sending the troops to Iraq. As Mr. Bush is in a difficult situation after his party was defeated in the mid-term elections, just to confirm that South Korea will extend the stay of its troops in Iraq could have been enough to make the meeting in Hanoi a good one.
However, in terms of responding to North Korea’s nuclear issue, the two leaders seem to have too wide a difference in opinion. The United States thinks that anti-Americanism has become widespread publicly because the South Korean administration supported or empathized with anti-American groups. Some Americans feel strongly that the United States cannot withdraw its troops from South Korea despite strong anti-Americanism and the high price of $3 billion per year because the withdrawal will damage its “real” allies, such as Japan and Taiwan.
Not only the United States and Japan, but also the United States and China and China and Japan are strengthening their bilateral relations, and increasing pressure on North Korea.
But South Korea has been losing leverage on North Korea because its North Korean policy has not changed, even after the North’s nuclear test.
When Mr. Roh met with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, he made a remark out of context that it is Russia that South Korea would approach first if inter-Korean relations improved. By this remark, we can see the loneliness of Mr. Roh’s diplomacy.
If South Korea tries to win favors from the U.S. Congress where Democrats have won a majority because Mr. Bush’s party lost in the mid-term elections, and if it tries to act as if nothing happened even after North Korea’s nuclear test, not only Mr. Bush but also American Democrats will turn their backs on South Korea.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Byun Sang-keun