[Viewpoint]Dire diplomacy

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[Viewpoint]Dire diplomacy

They say one truly becomes a patriot when one goes overseas. While working as a correspondent, I have more chances to study Korea’s international position than I do in Korea.

It feels good to see Korean companies doing well in foreign countries. However, you feel quite embarrassed when you compare the diplomatic capability of the Korean government with that of other countries. Korea can barely maintain its diplomatic position while being squeezed between the strong powers like China, Japan and Russia.

Japan blatantly exposes its intention to plunder the Dokdo islets and China is trying to erase all historical traces of the Goguryeo Dynasty with its northeastern project. North Korea won’t even acknowledge South Korea as its counterpart and always looks for a chance to stab South Korea in the back.

South Korea was humiliated by North Korea once again at the Asean Regional Forum held in Singapore last month. Following the killing of a South Korean tourist at the Mount Kumgang resort by a North Korean soldier, South Korea tried to appeal to the international community but was ultimately left out of the chairman’s statement because of North Korea’s intervention. It is not a big surprise, but a symbolic event that reconfirms the current status of Korea’s diplomatic ability.

International experts on foreign affairs evaluate the standard of Korea’s diplomatic ability by comparing the diplomatic cards Korea, China and Japan use. While Korea takes with it only one diplomatic card to a negotiating table, they say Japan takes with it three and China ten cards.

This analogy was clearly seen with the recent diplomatic battle over Dokdo. Korea presented its one “guaranteed card” that the Dokdo islets have been Korean territory since the time of King Jijeung of the Silla Dynasty and have been under the effective rule of Korea. Meanwhile, Japan plays with various cards such as academic conferences, textbooks, education and lobbying to change geographic names. Japan’s position may be that of a barefaced robber, but it is systematic and consistent. Through such measures, Japan’s ploy has started to take effect little by little.

Japan approaches the issue as part of its policy on land and territorial waters that has been ongoing for over 100 years. It will not be easy to make the Japanese abandon their inherent ambition for land expansion with an impromptu visit of Korean assemblymen to the Dokdo islets.

China, which always brings with it a stack of cards to diplomatic events, pays attention to the Korean peninsula. If a conflict takes place between Korea and Japan over Dokdo, or if a confrontation breaks out between South and North Korea, it pulls out the card of playing one enemy against the other enemy. Having learned various diplomatic tactics while managing over 50 minority nationalities under its rule, it instinctively knows to whom to lend helping hands to get the biggest benefit. There is not a single diplomat who does not know China’s “Three No Rules.” It is a policy that hopes South and North Korea will not be unified, will not go to war against each other and will not interact with each other.

China does not sympathize with Korea when Korea and Japan are in conflict over distortion of history. It is because China maintains a dual relationship of guarding against Japan on one hand, while cooperating with it on the other. Japan, which is already greatly dependent on the Chinese economy, can only gain peace and economic profits if it embraces China. Therefore, there is not much room for Korea to exploit between the two powers that have already established a win-win relationship.

The country that cannot be left out of the card game is North Korea. If you apply game theory that predicts what card an opponent will use, you can roughly guess the moves of a rival country. However, North Korea is unpredictable. One thing is clear: it skillfully plays bluffing cards to ignore or threaten South Korea. Nevertheless, there are people who express hope that North Korea would cooperate with South Korea over Dokdo. But it is impossible in cold international reality.

Even the United States, which manipulates power politics, has given up on North Korea’s penchant for brinkmanship. Even the concern that North Korea would try to ignore South Korea, while recognizing and talking to the United States, has become a reality.

We know we are in a diplomatically bad situation when we have to demand an explanation from North Korea at an international forum, even though a South Korean citizen was killed by a North Korean soldier at Mount Kumgang.

South Korea cannot make false demands as North Korea, Japan and China did. There is only one option left to us: nurturing diplomatic power and influence. Diplomatic power comes from national power. If our national power is weak, diplomatically stronger countries of Northeast Asia will continue to meddle with Korea. If our national power grows stronger, we will have many more cards that we can use in the diplomatic arena.

*The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Dong-ho
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