[Outlook]Balancing giants

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[Outlook]Balancing giants

The atmosphere surrounding the United States and China have taken a serious turn for the worse. The U.S. played a leading role in world history during the 20th century, and has fancied itself to be the leader of the market economy and free trade as the world’s only superpower.
But nowadays, observers have noticed a growing tendency toward protectionism and chauvinism in the United States.
China has emerged as a new leader in the 21st century and has stressed the need to pursue peaceful coexistence and friendly relationships among all nations.
However, Chinese people have been trumpeting patriotism and nationalism recently, which poses a serious threat to China’s basic principles regarding comprehensive global partnerships. I have a hunch that they are trying to swing all the way back to their old isolationist ways and notions of Chinese supremacy. I am deeply concerned that ominous clouds have begun to gather over the two superpowers.
Korea is extremely susceptible to changes in the U.S. and China. From a historical perspective, there has been a general tendency for our national prosperity or decline to be highly dependent on our relationships with those two powers.
First and foremost, how can one describe the past 60 years of Korean history without mentioning the Korea-U.S. alliance?
In addition, China is the closest neighboring country to Korea in a geographical sense, and has the oldest historical ties with us. It was armed with the power to decide the fate of the Korean War just over half a century ago.
It is surprising that China has become the largest trading partner of South Korea merely a few years, since severed diplomatic ties were restored.
Against this backdrop, it is clear that Korea’s diplomatic policies, a core element of our survival strategy, should focus on how we can maintain a stronger Korea-U.S. alliance and develop amicable relations with China at the same time.
Fortunately, there is a good chance that U.S. protectionism and China’s rising tide of nationalism will only be temporary phenomena rather than long-term trends.
The major culprits behind the growing tendency toward protectionism in the U.S. are its current financial crisis and the presidential elections that unfortunately overlap each other.
In this regard, some experts offered a fairly persuasive argument that whoever becomes the next president of the U.S. will certainly take decisions next year to get the U.S. back on track by implementing freer trade policies. However, a high level of political leadership is a prerequisite for success in switching the protectionist trend in the U.S. Congress.
The increased fervor of patriotism in China may be regarded as a temporary trend that reflects the Chinese people’s growing expectations for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and embarrassment over fierce international criticism on the Tibet crisis. The condemnation is mainly due to the fact that the Chinese government has not yet taken appropriate measures to cope with the Tibet issue in a timely manner, or to deal with the negative global response.
But China and the U.S. have sought to bolster coexistence and cooperation rather than confrontation, not pursuing their own national interests.
Many American strategists including Henry Kissinger have insisted that China has become a global superpower. They also say the U.S. should strive to strike a new balance of power with the view to maintaining international peace and security and guaranteeing the leadership role of the U.S.
China is taking a firm stance that it will be more actively engaged in promoting economic growth and global stability, so that it may become a superpower like the United States. In this sense, it is clear that China does not want to sour relations with the U.S.
Korea also hopes that amicable U.S.-China relations will continue to prosper in the years to come. We also hope that the North Korea nuclear issue and reunification will be resolved in such a peaceful context.
The Lee Myung-bak government is strategically focusing on maintaining and further promoting good relations between the U.S. and China. In this regard, President Lee engaged in summit meetings with the U.S. and Japan, and also plans to hold a summit talks with China at the end of this month. It is imperative to expand the scope of Korea’s influence in order to take control of its fate amid U.S. protectionism and China’s extreme patriotism.
To even go a step further, Korea should play a leading role in efforts to realize the grand vision for a Northeast Asian community consisting of Korea, China, and Japan.

*The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.] Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-koo

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