Trust-building visitsPresident Lee Myung-bak will start his visits to Japan and the United States tomorrow. Practical diplomacy, Lee’s mantra, will for the first time take shape in detail, drawing our attention. Lee is determined to come back from the visits with real outcomes beyond simply making ceremonial and formal visits. We hope the summit meetings, the first since the inauguration of the new administration, will enable Korea to heal past wounds and act as the turning point to forge close relations as true companions.
Characteristic of our relations with the United States and Japan during the Roh Moo-hyun administration was that it was conscious of domestic politics. Roh couldn’t help but be conscious of his support groups that had anti-U.S and anti-Japan sentiments. At the same time, he couldn’t ignore the United States and Japan.
A prime example is the deployment of troops to Iraq despite opposition from his support groups. At the same time, when it came to policies toward North Korea, he presented objections to the United States. As a consequence, the government was criticized for fully accommodating what the U.S. wanted. South Korea’s conflict with Japan also deepened with use of undiplomatic expressions like, “We may go through severe diplomatic wars.”
It is unlikely that we will have similar conflicts during the Lee Myung-bak administration because the president himself has come forth to proclaim emphasis onstrengthening ties with the United States and improving relations with Japan with a view to the future. Ruptures in other areas, however, may emerge, because at the root of relations between countries, national interest is supreme.
There are presently many issues in which there are acute differences between South Korea and the United States including who will bear the cost of moving the second division of the U.S. military to Pyeongtaek ; redeployment of troops to Afghanistan and the free trade agreement. Each of the issues has the potential of exploding without simple solutions. If mishandled, they could exacerbate conflict more than in the past. There are equally many sensitive issues in our relations with Japan, such as the claim on the Japanese Foreign Ministry Web site that Dokdo belongs to Japan.
We hope President Lee’s visit will provide the basis by which these difficult problems can be resolved. For that, building trust with the leaders of Japan and the United States is imperative.