[Viewpoint]Cooperation is key in global competitionWe can predict the forthcoming situation involving the Korean Peninsula as a sort of “butterfly effect” in two chain-reaction scenarios: The first is that North Korea’s “military-first politics” bring about a militarized Japan, encouraged by the United States. In response, China accelerates its arms expansion and strengthens its strategic partnership with Russia. Then the United States will harness India to join in containing China. The second possibility is that a “Chindia+ Russia bloc,” formed to counterbalance the world’s sole superpower and Japan.
These two scenarios reflect a pessimistic view that a vicious circle of tension continues to escalate, which may in the end give rise to a new Cold War in the Asia-Pacific region. A greater possibility, however, is that the United States and China first forge a grand strategic partnership, and other countries play their respective roles in accordance.
China’s rapid economic growth accelerates the demand for food, raw materials, capital, finance, service, education, medical and pharmaceutical goods, manufacturing equipment, consumer merchandise, advanced technology and so forth. In response to this, the United States, directly or through third countries and international organizations, becomes the largest supplier to China’s demands. China, which has already become “the world’s factory,” is the most important supplier of low-priced goods and labor for advanced economies and neighboring nations, as well as the United States.
In order to successfully promote this joint Sino-American strategy, both powers regard regional stability as the foremost task and prefer the status quo. Sino-Japanese relations have also shown increasingly brighter prospects for closer cooperation since the inauguration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last year.
This optimistic view has its own pitfalls in a presumably peaceful, tension-free Northeast Asia. Sino-American collusion or a Sino-Japanese conspiracy will deprive Korea of room to find its own role, limiting its scope of motion in this squeeze-play. This may raise a more acute concern in Korea than pressure from a more solidified U.S.-Japan alliance.
This Sino-American common strategy includes denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. The United States has been successful in preventing South Korea from going nuclear, while China has so far failed in its efforts to discourage North Korea’s nuclear program ― nor is success foreseeable soon. However, outsourcing the North Korean nuclear issue will continue as long as China strengthens its cooperation with the United States.
If China keeps on failing in its efforts to denuclearize North Korea, it is possible the outsourcing will end and China and the United States will agree on an alternative, which may be disastrous for South Korea.
Historically, Korea has been wary of great powers who become rivals in their efforts to dominate the peninsula. That apprehension is higher when their ambition to divide and rule is evident. However, we must be even more alert to great powers cooperating among themselves rather than competing over us, because it is far more dangerous to fall victim to a concert of great powers.
In order to avoid the worst scenario, Korea has to step up cooperation with foreign countries, both bilaterally and multilaterally. Korea particularly needs closer cooperation with the United States, Japan and China more than cooperation between and among them.
When Korea became a member of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), it left its old rivalries behind. It has no grounds for competition against North Korea, Japan, China, Russia or the United States. As they are not rivals but friends, there are ample areas for cooperation. As the key issue now is how to win in cooperation, not in competition, we need to shift our attention from “unlimited competition” to “unlimited cooperation.”
Korea must not lag behind in the competition to cooperate in this ever interdependent and globalizing world. It must study how to cooperate harder better than to compete internationally. To that end, the government has first to redouble its efforts to lead the citizens to win over their own enemies within ― to support free trade agreements, enhance national (not international) competitiveness, moderate trade unions, boost birth rates and get rid of sectarian and parochial selfishness.
*The writer is distinguished professor in diplomacy at the Graduate School of International Studies, Yonsei University.
by Kim Jae-bum
by Kim Jae-bum