[Viewpoint]Foreign policy blunders‘If I go this way, that side weighs on me. If I go that way, this side weighs on me,” said Yu Myung-hwan, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. A few days ago, the foreign minister pointed out at the 2008 meeting of Korean consuls general that no country in the world besides Korea is caught between four powerful nations, three of which it shares a border with or is located right next to. He mentioned how challenging it is to keep a balanced foreign policy between the United States and China, but such comments were inappropriate for the foreign minister to make in public.
The geopolitical circumstances of being caught between the four powers, namely the United States, China, Japan and Russia, is Korea’s fate and does not suddenly need to be addressed. Foreign policy is especially important to Korea because of its special location, and Yu has been chosen to handle this delicate balance. It is pathetic that the foreign minister publicly complains about the pressures that go with his post.
The restoration of the Korea-U.S. alliance tops the priority list in the Lee Myung-bak administration’s foreign policy. It is only natural that the administration hoped to fix an alliance broken by the reckless influence of anti-American sentiment. However, if we want to get closer to Washington, we should also strategically consider Beijing.
With the Lee administration rapidly leaning toward Washington, it was easy to anticipate how China would respond. It is diplomatic common sense to have plans in place for Beijing before reaching out to Washington, but it is doubtful if the administration was prepared.
To have been caught off guard when the spokesman of China’s Foreign Ministry said in front of the president of Korea that the military alliance between Korea and the United States is a thing of the past proves the Lee administration’s lack of preparation. It is a very serious issue since Beijing invited President Lee as a guest and then insulted him.
The Lee administration is finally demanding a renegotiation on the import of U.S. beef, despite possible damage to Korea’s national dignity. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is not free from responsibility for the imprudent, rough-and-ready negotiation that caused the crisis. Ultimately, the ministry is fundamentally accountable.
The ministry has the primary responsibility to decide negotiation timing and the scope of the agreement, as well as preparing for all possibilities by closely studying the relationship between ratification of the free trade agreement, the negotiation on beef imports and the timing of President Lee’s U.S. visit.
The Lee administration’s mantra has been “cooperation with the United States” in all matters, from the North Korean nuclear issue to international relations.
While no one would object to the idea of making the Korea-U.S. alliance the basis of Korea’s foreign policy, it is no magic solution to all problems. The administration risks criticism for being submissive to a stronger power and might end up being pushed away from the center of Northeast Asian diplomacy. Stuck between four powerful nations, Korea has to find leverage in inter-Korean relations in order to make space for itself. When inter-Korean relations are frozen, like they are today, what Korean diplomacy can achieve is very limited.
The Roh Moo-hyun administration could play a role in the six-party talks because it was bolstered by its policy promoting inter-Korean relations.
The Lee administration has limited itself with its “Denuclearization, Opening and $3,000” pledge, which means it will provide aid to the North to increase its per-capita income to $3,000 if Pyongyang gives up its nuclear program and opens its doors. The government voluntarily gave up the chance to take the initiative before the North moves.
Such a policy is far from the ideal of pragmatic diplomacy the Lee administration advocates. The narrow-minded idea of rejecting everything done by the Roh administration is also pathetic and dogmatic. The administration must understand the Confucian wisdom of reviewing the old and learning the new.
Having been in power for 100 days, the Lee administration has been taken prisoner by ideology while advocating pragmatism. Minister Yu said that he has been working very hard, but the citizens are giving the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade the cold shoulder. So the minister is aware of how people evaluate him.
The Lee administration should be busy freeing itself from the fetters of dogma instead of deploring Korea’s fateful geopolitical situation.
*The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok