[Outlook]Growing pains

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[Outlook]Growing pains

As a person who has studied Korea-U.S. relationships, I am deeply impressed by the results of the summit meeting at Camp David, Maryland.
The changes in Korea-U.S. relations are like a person growing from an infant into an adult. The birth of South Korea was helped by the victory of the United States, and the Allies, in World War II.
North Korea came under the control of the Soviet Union while South Korea, fortunately, came under the control of the United States, to whom we owe a great deal our prosperity and democracy, although we shouldn’t forget that former generations shed sweat and blood to achieve freedoms we enjoy today.
Had it not been for the United States, Korea would be a different country today.
Korea, in its infantile state, was like a baby constantly crying for milk.
As the country fell into ruin during war, the biggest concern of the Korean government was how much aid it would get from the United States.
People of my own generation have sad memories about aid products that we were given by the United States.
From the 1950s till the mid- 1960s, U.S. aid accounted for 10 percent of Korea’s gross national product. As for national security, Korea was entirely dependent on the United States in the name of the Mutual Defense Treaty.
The relations between the two countries were like those between a parent and a child.
In his book “The Country, the Revolution and I,” the late President Park Chung Hee wrote that Korea was an independent country, but in reality it only controlled 48 percent of itself; the United States had a 52 percent stake in decision-making. Park concluded that Korea had no choice but to depend on the United States.
After infancy, Korea tried to stand on its own two feet, an era that marked industrialization.
The United States was the biggest consumer of our products, importing 50 percent of our products, such as shoes, color television sets, photo albums and toys.
Until the mid 1980s, 25 percent of our 3.5 million workforce worked in manufacturing industries that exported goods to the United States.
As a result, the United States started to talk about curbing imports from Korea. The Super 301 provision of the U.S. Trade Act worried Korea.
Overcoming these hardships, Korea achieved economic growth. As the country grew, it encountered puberty and, in turn, defiance.
The past decade was such a period. It may be a natural course to becoming an adult.
A president of Korea even said, “What’s wrong with being a little anti-American?” He tried to escape the U.S. grasp and even declared it would play a role balancing powers in the Northeast Asian region.
But this was too soon.
None of the superpowers in the area would allow Korea to take such a role because Korea was not yet fully grown.
It seems Korea is now reaching adulthood and no longer acting in defiance and for no reason, like a troubled teenager.
Korea can now take care of itself and can understand what’s going on around it. The period of maturity is leading to a strategic alliance with the United States.
The reason why the Korea-U.S. relationship hasn’t deteriorated but can be restored and expanded is that the two countries have shared the past 60 years of history.
In the national interest, Korea needed the United States and the United States needed Korea.
Because of this, we went through some bad days, waiting for better days to come. The experience has shaped who we are today.
Some Koreans worry that the outcomes of the recent summit meeting would could put pressure on Korea.
But such thinking is a form of paranoia.
The logic that most problems in Korea stem from the United States’ involvement might serve as an excuse but it doesn’t help strengthen the country.
We can achieve little if we only pass on responsibility to others, instead of assuming them ourselves. After all, the biggest flaw of the periphery theory is to blame someone else for our own problems.
Becoming a grown-up means carrying out your duties and taking responsibility.
If some people in Korea still want to depend on the United States, the country can’t become a partner in the truest sense of the word. It won’t be a partnership of equals.

*The writer is the vice publisher and chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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