[Viewpoint]Don’t forget North KoreaI had hoped that when the administration changed, the government’s perspective on the world would change, too. I was mistaken.
While Lee Myung-bak’s new administration advocates “creative pragmatic diplomacy,” its field of vision is still limited to the small enclosure of the four powers surrounding the Korean Peninsula.
President-elect Lee’s special envoys are scheduled to leave for the United States, China, Japan and Russia in the near future. These destinations are the so-called four powerful neighbors of Korea. Former Grand National Party Chairwoman Park Geun-hye will visit Beijing as an envoy to China, and lawmaker Chung Mong-joon will fly to Washington, D.C. Lawmaker Lee Sang-deuk, an older brother of the president-elect, has been named a special envoy to Japan while lawmaker Lee Jae-oh, one of the closest aids to the president-elect, will be dispatched to Russia.
Critics have expressed bitter concern that the special envoys are a relic of the old diplomacy, which worshipped the powerful, but I disagree. It is reasonable and pragmatic for the president-elect to send people to crucial nations to explain the direction of the new administration’s foreign policy and to ask for understanding and cooperation before the new government is inaugurated.
While some point out that the president-elect spent more time considering whom to send than where to send them, I don’t think the choice of envoys matters much. As long as the president-elect trusts the person, anyone can be his special envoy. One good example could be that U.S. President George W. Bush named his father, George H.W. Bush, a former U.S. president, to be a special envoy.
The existence of the four powers on Korea is an inevitable geopolitical condition. Whether we like it or not, the four neighbors have exchanged contacts with us and are the most influential to us. In a sense, it is fully understandable that the president-elect limited the special envoys to these four powerful neighbors.
Nevertheless, it is also an undeniable reality that we cannot clear the way for our own path if we are kept within the fences of these four neighbors. This country feeds a large population in a small territory with insufficient natural resources. We must continue to expand our contacts abroad to survive. Of course, diplomacy with the four powers is crucial. However, the recent decision reveals the limitations of passive diplomacy, in which the given conditions remain.
What is missing from the vision of the president-elect is the European Union. If Lee had included the European Union in the destinations of his special envoys, he could have conveyed a symbolic message that Korea is pursuing an active and open foreign policy toward the rest of the world.
The European Union is the second-largest trading partner of Korea after China. So far, the European Union, not the United States or Japan, has made the most direct investments in Korea. Europe is no longer an aging continent. It has been reborn as a young continent full of vitality. Europe makes up an axis of the world different from the United States and newly emerging China. If we want to advance to Africa or the Middle East, we still need to go through Europe.
Another regrettable fact is that Lee is not sending a special envoy to North Korea. Without going by way of North Korea, the South cannot stretch to the Eurasian continent. As long as North Korea is blocking us, Korea is no different from an island. The president-elect should send an envoy to the North, explain his “denuclearization and opening doors 3000” plan and persuade Pyongyang to agree. If Pyongyang does abolish its nuclear program and open its doors, Seoul should vow to do its best to help increase North Korea’s per-capita income to $3,000 within 10 years.
The president-elect should send an envoy to Pyongyang if for no other reason than because a stable situation on the Korean Peninsula is essential to reviving the economy, as he promised.
Extending our diplomatic horizon means the grounds of our lives could be enlarged growing as much.
Janez Jansa, prime minister of Slovenia, is the rotational president of the European Council during the first half of 2008. Javier Solana, the high representative for the common foreign and security policy of the European Union, is in Brussels, Belgium. I urge President-elect Lee Myung-bak to send envoys to Ljubljana and Brussels. He also needs to dispatch a special envoy to Pyongyang soon.
*The author is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok