[Outlook]A community of Asian nationsChina’s premier, Wen Jiabao, is visiting Korea today. He is known for his simple appearance. He has worn the same plain jacket for the past 11 years. He looks gentle and kind, but his thoroughness in dealing with his work has earned him credibility with Hu Jintao, China’s leader.
His two-day visit to Korea, which comes in a year that marks the 15th anniversary of a friendship accord between South Korea and China, carries considerable meaning.
The agreement to have cooperative relations, in the form of an “all-around cooperative partnership,” was intended for the short term and was based on the mutual security interests of our two nations. Its goal was securing peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. Now this relationship should be developed to take a longer term view.
Close cooperation is required to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula. Currently, conditions in neighboring countries are changing rapidly due to North Korea’s nuclear issues, and China does not want Washington’s influence to become too strong as the relationship between North Korea and the United States progresses.
For its part, China will try to send a consistent message to the North by maintaining cooperative relations with South Korea. In order to denuclearize the peninsula, Korea and China should support the North in any efforts it makes to reform or open to the outside world, so that it can become a responsible member of the international community.
And rather than competing with Korea, China should put emphasis on cooperation with us in dealing with the North Korean issue. Korea and China will then be able to cooperate over all issues of disarmament in Northeast Asia, including a multilateral security cooperation scheme for the region that can now be accelerated, based on the six-party talks.
Korea also should actively consider making a free trade agreement with China.
Wen has said China wants an FTA with Korea. Since the two economies complement each other, bilateral trade ties will help improve the economic fundamentals of the two nations and enhance competitiveness.
In the process, Korea should study the negative aspects of China’s rapid economic growth and deal with them. We should also pay attention to China’s stock price fluctuations and the impact they might have on the Korean economy.
In addition, with China’s foreign reserves exceeding $1 trillion, China is focused on developing its manufacturing industry, rather than attracting foreign capital.
Therefore, Korea should take a cautious approach toward investing in China. Korea should be well prepared for a situation where Korean companies are discriminated against if China’s rapid economic growth causes some sudden downturns through inflation or a bear market in its securities.
As the premier said, there is no territorial issue between the countries. However, they should embrace each other’s different interpretations of historical issues and attempt to come to a shared understanding of historical facts.
In addition, we should refrain from escalating the differences in the interpretation of history into a political conflict. By sharing a “vision for the future,” we should make every effort to pursue our common interests.
If we study together the history of our many ethnicities, which have existed in Northeast Asia through millennia, and broaden our recognition of each other’s ethnic bases, then historical issues should not be causes for conflict, but a foundation for our efforts to cooperate.
Around 5 million people come and go annually between our two countries. By 2012, bilateral trade is likely to exceed $200 billion.
China is Korea’s number one trading partner. Without being tied down by the past, we should pursue peace and regional cooperation, leaving behind the history of hegemony by single nations that has scarred the history of Northeast Asia.
In this sense, our relations should be focused on our future rather than the past. With the broader vision of realizing a community of nations in Northeast Asia, we should be able to share common values even where there is cultural diversity.
Now is the time for us to widen our vision, to look ahead 50 years into the future.
Like Europe, which was once divided by strife, Northeast Asia should begin to plan for an economic and social compact that mirrors that of the European Union. To move in that direction would be a step of monumental significance.
*The writer is a professor of political science at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Ahn Yin-hay