[Outlook]Roh must change tactics once more

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[Outlook]Roh must change tactics once more

The end of the terms of both U.S. President George W. Bush and President Roh Moo-hyun have many things in common. As their popularity flags, they are daring to make special moves that contradict their previous stances on the management of national affairs. Two cases in point are the Feb. 13 agreement on North Korean nuclear weapons and the Korea-U.S free trade agreement.
For Bush, who labeled North Korea as one of three members of the “axis of evil” five years ago, the Feb. 13 agreement is a strategic defeat. Until late last year, North Korea’s fund at Banco Delta Asia was considered illegal. In order to appease the North, the United States freed the funds and gave tacit approval to weapons exported from the North to Ethiopia. This is a remarkably unconventional self-contradiction.
It is understandable that the American president wants to realize an achievement in the North Korean issue, since it is relatively easy to tackle at a time when the situation in Iraq is worsening and Iran may be developing nuclear weapons. However, what kind of a counterpart is North Korea? Even though the Yongbyon nuclear facility might be dismantled, it has nothing to do with the nuclear materials Pyongyang has already produced. President Bush may be calculating that maintaining negotiations with the North, even though it cannot go as far as to incapacitate its nuclear weapons, could still work as an advantage.
He might have thought that a new fiasco in North Korea, such as another nuclear test, could be forestalled if he could put a lid on U.S. Democrats pushing a diplomatic resolution of the nuclear issue.
For its part, North Korea might have calculated that it would be an advantage to secure economic aid while shunning international sanctions and staying in negotiating mode to keep hawks in South Korea from gaining influence in the presidential race. No matter what, nuclear weapons will remain on the Korean Peninsula. If this is the case, Bush’s misguided determination will go down in history as a blunder, not an achievement.
It is a real irony that President Roh led the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement at great political risk. He has been straining relations between South Korea and the United States. It is still unfathomable that he is willing to embrace global trade while suppressing a self-reliant economy and while advocating a monolithic balance within Korean society. It is hard to give a high grade out regarding the contents of the free trade agreement.
First of all, sensitive areas of the economies of both countries have been excluded from the deal. If we continue to focus on minimizing possible damage from the opening, then the free trade agreement will render another exclusive trade bloc.
The reason President Bush agreed to the free trade agreement is also not clear. The United States has only made marginal advances in expanding free trade since the North American free trade agreement. The Doha round, designed to free global trade, is making only slow progress. On top of that, emerging protectionism in the United States has grown to shake Washington’s stance in support of free trade. Then came the offer from South Korea. Washington’s motivation must have been the desire to show that it has achieved something.
For us, the free trade agreement is something we should deal with. However, we are painting a rosy picture and making a fuss about our achievements rather than focusing on overcoming the difficulties. At a time when South Korea and the United States have strained relations, the fact that the president, who has been taking an anti-American stance, led the free trade agreement signals a rocky road ahead. The recognition of products from the Kaesong Industrial Zone as South Korean-made seems to have been too hastily handled.
The things in common for each party are the calculations by their two presidents, because trust and goodwill are lacking. The lifeblood of multinational and bilateral agreements is mutual trust and goodwill. A strategic approach only for breaking through current circumstances does not guarantee genuine intentions.
What will be our strategy if Pyongyang does not give up on its nuclear ambitions? Is there a roadmap for the openness and self-regulation that is needed to implement the free trade pact?
The president himself emphasized that the agreement is not an issue of ideology, but of livelihood, so it cannot be tackled with national sentiment or political aims. In order for Korea to truly become a hub of Northeast Asia by expanding free trade to China and Japan, we should eradicate ideological, anti-market and egalitarian views.
President Roh, who has nothing to lose now, must take one more extraordinary move.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Byun Sang-keun
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