[Viewpoint] Soft side missedU.S. President Barack Obama’s visit cemented the Korea?U.S. alliance, but there were no touching speeches or conversations. In China, however, he made more of an effort to reach out to regular people.
There are hard and soft sides to summit diplomacy. The hard side deals with important political, diplomatic and economic issues. The soft side breaks away from the boundaries of issues and the landlord and guest come together in a human and cultural way.
The hard side is important and realistic in terms of influence. However, many ordinary people are more interested in the soft than the hard side, because the soft is more interesting. The hard side includes summit meetings, press conferences and luncheons, but the soft side exists everywhere, from university lecture halls to the streets, cultural heritage sites and even concerts. The soft side is just as necessary as the hard for summit diplomacy to be successful for both sides.
The three nights and four days U.S. President Barack Obama spent in China were full of softness. Obama met his half-brother Mark Ndesandjo. People of the world confirmed Obama’s African lineage as through Ndesandjo. Obama’s sister-in-law is Chinese. With the White House being in-laws with China, people probably thought, “The human race will become even more mixed in the future.”
Barack Obama went up to the Great Wall of China. The long wall spread out behind his shoulders. Is this not truly the type of photograph that represents the G-2 age? People will have realized the great force of China as they watched the huge wall. In Shanghai, Obama even held a town hall meeting with ambitious university students. It was a talk with the future of China.
The 20 hours Barack Obama spent in Korea were a success in terms of the hard side. The two leaders commended the Korea-U.S. alliance at a talk and press conference. Compared to relations between the U.S. and the administrations of former presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, the trip marked a “brilliant recovery of friendship.” The upcoming visit by U.S. presidential envoy Stephen Bosworth made big news, too.
However, Obama’s visit to Korea lacked a softer side. The visit was short, and his movements were limited. Obama arrived on a night flight and slept the first night. The next day, he had talks and lunch with Korean President Lee Myung-bak. During the 20 hours he was here, the only ordinary people he met were employees from the U.S. Embassy and U.S. armed forces in Korea. After meeting U.S. soldiers, he hurried back to the United States. He said his daughter had a school play the next day. That was his visit.
Of course, Korea and China are different. China is a G-2 country, and Korea has now just made it into the G-20. There is no Ndesandjo in Korea, no Great Wall. However, Korea is still a special place. Korea has been an alliance country for 60 years, and this was Obama’s first visit to the country.
Furthermore, Barack Obama is more of a star in Korea than in many other countries. More than 50 books have been published on Obama so far, including books written by him, critical biographies, books on his speeches and comic books. Each of the two books written by Obama sold 50,000 copies here, too. Korean parents hope for their children to move forward toward their dreams like Obama, and young people read books about Obama to look for direction and answers.
Considering the affection Korean people have in their hearts for Obama, should he not have stood in front of the people? A university lecture hall would have been adequate, or perhaps an orphanage. “Was it O.K. for you even when your mother got divorced twice?” “How did you overcome the difficulties of being black?” “You could have made a lot of money after graduating from a prestigious university. Why did you go to the slums of Chicago?” What an emotional communique it would have been if Barack Obama had answered such questions offered by Korean youths in his own language.
The same goes for the North Korean problem. It is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. What an impact he would have made if he had entered the demilitarized zone and announced, “We will help you if you discard nuclear weapons and break down the wall.”
In 1993, U.S. President Bill Clinton went to the “bridge of no return” in Panmunjom. In 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush made a speech at Dorasan Station, which is near the DMZ, during a live broadcast.
Why was there a lack of softness by Barack Obama? Is it a limit of Korean diplomatic power, or lack of consideration by the United States? Is the United States possibly dissatisfied with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan or the “passive re-dispatch of troops?” Did President Obama only see Korean people as “just wanting to admire?”
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin