[Outlook]Friends and neighbors

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[Outlook]Friends and neighbors

Zbigniew Brzezinski put the vast Eurasian continent onto a notebook-sized chessboard in his book “The Grand Chessboard.” The former national security advisor to ex-U.S. President Jimmy Carter analyzed the possibility of China, Russia, Japan or Middle Eastern countries emerging as a serious challenge to American interests and suggested strategies for the U.S. to counter the threat.
When his book was translated into Korean, I was impressed by his imagination and penetrating insight. It was also interesting to know that Brzezinski was born in Warsaw, Poland and later graduated from Harvard University. Born in a country bordered by Germany and the Soviet Union and thus often invaded by stronger neighbors, he later became a renowned figure in international politics and an expert on international strategy. Poland’s geographical situation seemed similar to that of the Korean Peninsula, which is also stuck between strong neighbors.
Huang Zunxian, the author of the book “Joseon Stratagem,” was a counselor to the Qing Dynasty’s envoy to Japan. He was well-known as a diplomat but he was also a writer who revitalized the poetry of his day with his unique and unconventional style. In his book, he wrote that China, Japan and Joseon must collaborate with the United States to defend against the southern expansion of Russia, which grew powerful in the late 19th century. His book on strategy was also unique and unconventional. In 1880, King Gojong received a copy of the book when it was brought back from Japan. The king was stunned to read the phrase “befriend China, unite with Japan and link with America.”
King Gojong struggled to find a way for his kingdom to survive among its strong neighbors, but his diplomacy failed. Was it because the contents of that book on diplomacy were not good enough? Or, was it because Joseon was just not strong enough to stand up to the ambitions of stronger countries?
The Lee Myung-bak administration, of course, has taken office some 100 years after the Joseon Dynasty collapsed. During the past century, the relative status of the four countries surrounding the Korean Peninsula has changed. The United States has become the world’s only superpower and China, once an aging tiger, is re-emerging as a global power. Japan is the world’s second-largest economy and Russia, recovering from the collapse of the Soviet Union, dreams of resurrecting its old empire.
However, the geography of these four strong countries relative to the Korean Peninsula remains the same. Even though Korea has become the world’s 12th-largest economy, it is still destined to seek its survival via its relations with these four powers.
The new administration has said it will change the direction of Korean diplomacy. Then what is the new administration’s diplomatic strategy? Does it have a plan to put Korea’s four strong neighbors on a Go board and predict their actions 10 or 100 moves ahead?
In a short report entitled “Korea-China relations and the new administration’s China policy” by Professor Kim Heung-gyu of the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, a clue to this “New Joseon Stratagem” regarding the United States and China can be found. Kim writes about ways to combine the “pragmatism” constantly emphasized by the new president with the addition of the word “creative.” Kim maintains that we should not be satisfied with zero-sum diplomacy, but should search for a win-win foreign policy.
He also makes a pithy argument that we should not “befriend America and distance China” but instead we should “link with America and communicate with China.” In other words, as we enhance the alliance with the United States we must refrain from excessive pro-Americanism and also have better relations with China. The new administration must learn how to have several good friends at the same time. It should practice diplomacy to rebuild ties with estranged friends, while making sure that new friends do not feel left out.
It is nice to be invited to the White House for an elegant dinner with the American president and that certainly is in our national interest. But we should also remember that other friends are watching the scene. The new Korean ambassador to China must be chosen in this context.

*The writer is the Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chang Se-jeong

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