[Letter to the editor]Roh should rethink ‘balancer’ claim

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[Letter to the editor]Roh should rethink ‘balancer’ claim

The column “Korea’s role in Asia’s new regionalism” (June 13) pointed out some fallacies in Korea’s attempt to be a “balancer” amid efforts for Asian regional integration and made suggestions of alternative roles that Korea can play in the process. President Roh insisted on a “balancer” doctrine from the beginning of his administration, a strategic vision for Korea’s role in Northeast Asia. The ultimate goal of the balancer doctrine is to bring peace and prosperity to the region by mediating conflicts between neighboring countries and by being the initiator to lead regional integration. Roh argues that the balancer doctrine is the most realistic survival strategy for Korea. In my perspective, the balancer doctrine is unrealistic. The doctrine would be difficult to practice in reality for three reasons: It is ambiguous, full of contradictions and it cannot receive consent from other nations.
The doctrine is idealistic, lacks details of the process and is therefore not convincing. Soon after President Roh declared the balancer doctrine in his inaugural speech, the country’s own diplomats denied that it was agreed upon, pointing out that it was merely the president’s personal assertion.
The doctrine runs counter to the terms of the Korea-United States alliance. While critics are concerned that it will weaken the alliance, President Roh argues that the balancer doctrine should be based on the alliance. But being a “balancer” means possibly having to support either side depending the state of affairs in the international community. In the status quo, Japan and the United States are on one side of the scale and China on the other. It may be possible that Korea must jump onto China’s side of the scale when necessary, consequently breaking its alliance. In addition, since the United States is already trying to play the big balancer role in Northeast Asia, Korea’s attempt to also become a balancer will create strains in Korea-U.S. relations. The president’s argument for the parallel application of the Korea-U.S. alliance and the balancer doctrine is incoherent.
It would be difficult to get all countries in Northeast Asia to agree to this doctrine. Realistically speaking, Korea lacks the capability to be a balancer, as it is itself short on national strength. Korea has developed greatly, rapidly, and is one of the most powerful economies in the world, but as far as the countries surrounding it, Korea is still relatively weak.
Even Great Britain, which for a long time was a balancer in the 19th century, was criticized in this role by other nations. To be frank, Korea does not have enough potential to play the balancer role when it is even referred to as “Sandwich Korea” between fast-emerging China and frontrunner Japan.
The balancer doctrine is impractical. Instead of seeking such an unrealistic goal, Korea should use its perfect position in the hub of Northeast Asia to promote forums where all countries in the region can come together and discuss regional integration. For instance, Korea can take advantage of the Korea-U.S. FTA to lead trade liberalization in the region, as suggested in the column. This will be more effective in forming economic and social ties among the countries, to reach the ultimate goal of peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia that the balancer doctrine seeks to pursue. Lee Heon Jin,
a senior at Yeongdongil High School
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