[Outlook]Welcoming Clinton

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[Outlook]Welcoming Clinton

I extend a heartfelt welcome to United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she visits Asia on her first trip in her new role.

The world is experiencing unprecedented economic turmoil, and is going through a period of historic transition. The curtain has been drawn on the Cold War era, and America’s supremacy now fails to maintain the global order. The American eagle can no longer fly with one wing - the Atlantic community of the European Union and the National Atlantic Treaty Organization.

With the axis of history moving from west to east, the Asia-Pacific era is unfolding. The United States has a strategic continental position between the Atlantic and the Pacific. The country should extend its geographic strength to all realms of society, from politics and economics to culture.

America is now encountering a great opportunity to take flight on two wings - one consisting of the Atlantic community and the other of Pacific nations - by actively participating, as a Pacific nation, in a global effort to build a new Asian community.

Against this backdrop, I wish to express my sincere respect for Clinton’s insight in choosing East Asia for her first trip abroad as secretary of state.

The enthusiasm expressed by Koreans for the inauguration of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Clinton is not due to their partisan support for any one side in American politics. What is more important to us is that as Korea’s closest ally, the United States will continue to maintain its undisputed power and sense of confidence.

Koreans have concerns about America’s shrinking global prestige since the 9/11 terrorism attacks. They expect the launch of the Obama administration will herald a new start for America.

Meanwhile, Clinton impressed us as a politician of great character in America’s dramatic democratic politics - from the Democratic Party primary to the presidential election and the launch of the new government. Korea is still undergoing turbulent changes despite all the hardship we went through in establishing a democratic government.

And we expect Secretary Clinton’s keen interest in Asia to take American policy in this region to a higher plane.

The 64 years of division on the Korean Peninsula is a serious problem that we can no longer leave unsettled. Unlike South Korea’s open-door policy, North Korea has persistently pursued a hostile policy toward the outside world. The reclusive country faces a serious humanitarian crisis, as it has ignored the human rights of its people. However, it has managed to yield tangible results in its efforts to become a nuclear power, bringing Northeast Asia, as well as the Korean Peninsula, to a crisis of strategic imbalance.

Because of this, Korea and Japan will likely be the only non-nuclear nations among the participants in the six-party talks. The dangerous possibilities that can stem from this situation are undesirable to member states, including China.

As such, the Obama administration should shoulder the responsibility for preventing the situation from staying in such a skewed state by seeking a peaceful resolution. Thus, Secretary of State Clinton should also share the burden of promptly meeting the needs of the times.

To cope with such demands, it is urgent that we foster a heightened awareness of cooperation and mutual assistance, especially between Korea and the United States. The hostile situation on the Korean Peninsula can not be dealt with exclusively through confronting North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. It needs to be resolved in a broader context, focusing on how North Korea can be peacefully assimilated into East Asia and the rest of the world order.

To this end, I believe that Clinton’s visit will stimulate a concerted effort by Korea and the U.S. to share wisdom, trust and patience in the future.

Our great expectations for Secretary Clinton’s visit to Korea are tempered by one or two concerns. The first is whether Korea and America will be able to push forward with the difficult task of renewing our shared awareness, strategies and plans in a swift manner, and whether we will be able to conduct enough talks, reach agreements, and engender sufficient mutual trust.

The second concern is whether the U.S. will be able to assign a priority to Asia, especially the Korean Peninsula, amid myriad global crises that require a coordinated and comprehensive response from the United States.

We recall that Asia was but on the back burner for the past several years, with the urgency of the Middle East crisis taking priority.

We expect America to lift the North Korea problem to the top of its list of priorities, while exploring new ways to foster substantial partnership with China.

We hope that our fears will prove to be unfounded.

*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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