[Outlook]Torn between two powersMany ironies exist in history. Former U.S. President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the early 1970s tried to boost their country’s global influence with their policy on China. By helping China reappear on the international stage, Nixon and Kissinger hoped to offset Russian influence in Asia.
However, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping turned their policy against U.S. interest when he worked to invigorate the Chinese economy and adopt reforms and open policies. Deng successfully manipulated China’s relationship with the U.S. through the country’s advantageous position in the international environment.
Now, the growth of China is posing a significant obstacle for the U.S.
The U.S.-China relationship is likely to remain one of the hot topics in global politics for a generation to come. History has shown that if a country’s national prestige skyrockets, it can free itself from a conflict with an existing hegemonic power.
This is why the United States has expanded its political influence. By doing so, the U.S. can adapt to the 20th century’s balance-of-power policy in East Asia.
China has strived to command East Asia. China’s growing power has provided the country greater influence over the region. The country’s dramatically smoother diplomatic tone of the mid-1990s is one product of such power.
China has actively collaboratedwith multinational organizations, which the country had previously distrusted in the past, and continued to strengthen bilateral relations with major global powers. The country has tried its utmost to improve its national image and expand its growing presence quietly. By opening rounds of negotiations with neighboring countries over boundary disputes, Chin has been able to create peaceful resolutions.
The U.S. and China are now most certainly competing in what will no doubt be a long contest. Bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and China will continue to prosper in the years to come. Economic growth is clearly China’s highest priority. If China’s economy stops growing and its unemployment rate increases, people will grow dissatisfied with the Communist party’s policies. This is a very sensitive political issue.
However, China’s economic growth is still heavily dependent on the U.S. in capital and technology transfer and export markets. Against this backdrop, China is sparing no effort to bolster its cooperation with the United States.
From the U.S.’s perspective, embracing China is a highly important priority. China’s military forces are not yet a threat to the U.S. Unless the United States cooperates with China’s huge population of 1.3 billion, the North American country will find difficulty in resolving complicated international issues.
Even though the United States hopes to employ containment tactics against China, the U.S. knows that times have changed. Unlike the Cold War era, now East Asia will not actively engage in U.S. operations. Thus, both China and the United States share interests in building national power. Both increasingly favor cooperation, not confrontation.
However, Korea is in a controversial situation. We have recently been confronted with overlapping demands between American unilateralism and China’s “smile diplomacy.” Some of our leaders suggest Korea keep the U.S. at a distance and maintain a friendly relationship with China. This may be a byproduct of resistance against U.S. unilateralism and nationalism.
Sino-U.S. cooperation is considered to be mainstream in global politics. What if only we adopt a selective diplomatic policy based on the bilateral confrontation?
Korea will certainly be disadvantaged from both sides.
This would only end if China and the U.S. contend for supremacy in 10 or 20 years.
In addition, Korea will be further isolated to the periphery of East Asia. This is already happening, as seen in current U.S., Chinese and Japanese control of the region.
Vietnam is a prime illustration of this power balance. This Southeast Asian nation maintains a friendly relationship with China. This is in response to China’s smile diplomacy. Even so, Vietnam is making every effort to improve its bilateral relations with the United States.
Japan also tries to intensify its alliance with the United States while simultaneously seeking more cooperative relations with China. The Japanese are employing advanced diplomatic tactics and drawing on firm rationality in their politics, not resorting to mere ideologies.
If we Koreans remain preoccupied with ideology, we continue to be unable to gain insight into the world’s political situation. We won’t be able to pinpoint our national interests. The United States is our key military ally, whereas China is our cooperative partner.
We must fight the urge to revamp our diplomatic relations. Consistency is the key to creating a sustainable diplomatic environment. We can only achieve our national goals by driving forward our enthusiasm for domestic reforms and resolving the North Korean nuclear issues.
*The writer is a professor of international politics at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yoon Young-kwan
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