[Outlook]Demonstration relationsTwo important demonstrations were staged last week. One took place around the Olympic torch relay and the other was against the resumption of U.S. beef imports. The former involved Chinese students in Korea, and the latter Koreans who are concerned about the safety of American beef.
The rallies focused on two different issues and were staged by two different groups, but they have one thing in common: They are connected to Korea’s relations with powerful countries. As seen in these demonstrations, we have no choice but to have close links with heavy hitters on the international scene.
The violence committed by some of the Chinese students gave us a glimpse of a possible future for Koreans.
No Koreans guessed that so many Chinese youths would descend on Seoul, waving Chinese flags and even getting violent in the middle of our capital. It was a reminder to Koreans of just how big China has grown.
On the one hand, the rally could be regarded as a one-off event. According to this view, Chinese students, proud of the fact that their country is hosting the Olympic Games, staged the demonstration spontaneously.
But it was how the Chinese government responded to the incident, rather than the event itself, that revealed China’s true nature. A country should deliver an apology if its people are involved in illegal violence in another country. But a spokesperson from China’s foreign ministry refused to do so, saying that the students’ intentions were good. As the situation heated up, a senior official at the foreign ministry expressed regret, but stopped short of apologizing. Is it alright not to abide by the laws of another country if your intentions are good?
During the Joseon Dynasty, a Korean king had to take refuge in Namhan Mountain Fortress, helpless in the face of the powerful Qing Dynasty. There is no guarantee that this situation won’t reoccur. The past several decades were exceptional in terms of our historical relations with China. It was probably the happiest time for us in 5,000 years. But this recent incident may signal that the good times are coming to an end.
If one fails to notice a blinking warning light, an accident is bound to happen. We used to feel somewhat superior to China, but that period is over. In terms of population, China is 30 times larger than Korea, and accordingly, the neighbor has far more talented people. Countries cooperate with one another but also have to compete for survival. It is our destiny to compete against such a large country to survive.
One ordinary person can’t beat 30 ordinary people. We need to produce outstandingly talented individuals who are each as competent as 30 ordinary people. If we can’t, the competition against China is over. Do we have the resources to do it? If we are preoccupied with competition inside our territory, we can be defeated by external forces. This mistake must not happen again.
When a person is in hot water or lacks resources or power, he or she gets help from friends. Similarly, a country needs good friends in case it gets in trouble. Good friends help each other for mutual prosperity. Abiding by international rules is also important.
China can become a good friend of Korea if it abides by these principles. But if it doesn’t even apologize after doing something wrong, there is nothing that a smaller country can do. In such cases, we can count on another good friendship, the Korea-U.S. alliance. The result of the last presidential election showed a general consensus among Koreans that the ailing Korea-U.S. relationship needed to be restored.
However, debates on this issue haven’t ended yet. Those who protest against importing beef from the United States talk about the health of our people as a main concern. But when it comes to food safety, food from China is a far greater threat. So why are we far more sensitive to U.S. beef, which is confirmed to have a nearly zero percent chance of giving us the human equivalent of mad cow disease? Some encouraged anti-American sentiments, using as a front for their cause the sensitive story of the two Korean two girls, Hyo-sun and Mi-sun, who were run over and killed by a U.S. armored vehicle. Now they are adding concern for the health of the people to rile up the same negative sentiments. Even the government is taking a childish approach to the issue. An anti-American movement lies at the core of the protests, but the government is only addressing hygiene issues. No matter how long they debate the protesters, it is unlikely they will reach an agreement.
The rally around the Olympic torch relay and the U.S. beef import protest are not two separate incidents. They are related to each other. They are asking Koreans, once again, which path we will choose.
The writer is the vicepublisher and chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
BY Moon Chang-keuk