End of pragmatism

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End of pragmatism

The pragmatic diplomacy that the Lee Myung-bak administration ambitiously advocated just months ago is already on the verge of collapse.

The diplomatic path to a “future-oriented, mature partnership” with Japan was shattered by Japan’s provocative claim to the Dokdo islets. Extolling his 21st Century Strategic Alliance with the United States has lost meaning because of the beef deal controversy. Relations with China have soured enough for China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman to criticize the military alliance between South Korea and the United States in front of President Lee while he was in Beijing on a state visit.

There is no need for explanation with regard to North Korea.

The administration’s plan for the North was “denuclearization first, cooperation after.” This position itself is not wrong. The government could not continue following the paths of previous administrations, which provided the North with unconditional aid.

In terms of relations with the United States, China, Japan and Russia, the line of “pragmatic foreign diplomacy with national interests first” was emphasized. The “neither pro-U.S. nor pro-China” stance was also criticized, but choosing foreign policy in favor of national interests is logical.

The real problem is carelessness in determining other countries’ intentions. North Korea values pride and is ruled by a system that neglects its starving people. But the Lee administration attached a precondition ? “upon request from Pyongyang” ? for food aid, which the Lee administration finally discarded. On the day Lee announced his revised policy, North Korean soldiers killed a South Korean tourist.

The Korea-U.S. alliance is crucial for national security. However, it is in America’s interests as well to improve relations with the North. And the beef pact has shown that America is unwilling to compromise trade relations with South Korea. However, the Lee administration responded naively, probably thinking, “If we concede to the U.S., we will be compensated as well.” The same holds for relations with Japan as seen in the recent rekindling of Japan’s false claims to ownership of the Dokdo islets.

Diplomacy accompanies painstaking negotiation. Discard the buzzword “pragmatic,” which has come to be so degraded as to mean no more than expedient opportunism.

It is better to set down tangible diplomatic goals and concrete strategies to achieve those goals.

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