[Viewpoint] An alliance reconfirmedThe sinking of the Navy warship Cheonan was handed over to the United Nations on June 5. Two and a half months after the ship went down, the incident stands at the center of international politics.
South Korea and other nations have moved frantically to address the crisis since the disaster began. And in the aftermath, it has been obvious that the regime of North Korea’s Kim Jong-il had predicted and sufficiently prepared for the responses of the individual countries and the international community when it made up its mind to go ahead with the attack on the Cheonan.
It must have been confident about its judgment before it committed the attack. What in the last 10 weeks might have surprised Kim Jong-il?
China’s reaction did not let him down. Last Thursday, the spokesman of China’s Foreign Ministry said that the United Nations Security Council needed to be prudent when intervening in the Cheonan incident. That suggested that China would not add its voice to the international community denouncing North Korea.
Even if the part of the torpedo discovered in the sea near the sunken vessel bore “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” rather than “No. 1” in Korean, unless Pyongyang admitted responsibility China would have argued “insufficient evidence.”
Kim Jong-il’s predictions about Japan and Russia’s responses couldn’t have been too far off, either. Japan’s attention has been taken up with complicated internal issues, and Russia has backed off a bit on Korean Peninsula affairs, so Tokyo and Beijing did not act as major variables.
Recently, Richard C. Bush III published an article about what goes on inside Kim Jong-il’s mind, written in the first-person voice. Bush, an expert on Korean Peninsula affairs, is the director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institute, a public policy think tank based in Washington, D.C.
He wrote: “The [South’s] military wanted a quick retaliation. The opposition created doubts by charging that we weren’t responsible.?‘President’ Lee Myung-bak has been on the defensive from the beginning. I must say that Lee did a good job of fabricating a lot of evidence against us, but we will deny it all. Lee is no match for me ...
“I am puzzled by the Americans’ response. I had expected Obama to back down from his firm stance of last year and beg us to re-engage .?.?. I had hoped that Cheonan would cause a split between the Americans and the South, but that didn’t happen either. Obama has more backbone than I thought.”
What Washington has shown us in the aftermath of the Cheonan incident was sufficient to remind all of us what the South Korea-U.S. alliance means.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strongly pressured China while visiting Beijing.
And the fact that the White House statement came out late at night, immediately after President Lee’s address, was especially impressive.
I believe that President Obama has made a great contribution in deterring North Korea’s ambition of further provocations by directing his military commanders “to coordinate closely with their Republic of Korea counterparts to ensure readiness and to deter future aggression.”
The Congress, one of the three branches that make up the U.S. government, unanimously supported South Korea’s position regardless of Democratic and Republican party affiliations.
The Cheonan incident acted as an expensive litmus paper that revealed the innermost thoughts of each country.
And that highlighted the valuable alliance between South Korea and the United States. This month, a series of events marking the 60th anniversary of the Korean War is scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C.
The American veterans who attended the premiere of a documentary on the Korean War compared the South and North Koreas of today. They were deeply moved that their sacrifices were not futile.
It is fortunate, and at the same time sad, that South Korea and the United States are still standing side by side to defend the freedom they won 60 years ago.
*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jung-wook