[Viewpoint] A Cheonan ‘exit policy’

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[Viewpoint] A Cheonan ‘exit policy’

Views differ on the United Nations Security Council’s statement condemning the deadly attack on the South Korean naval corvette Cheonan. The condemnation was delivered through a so-called presidential statement, which is less grave than a resolution.

The statement expressed “deep concern” but failed to specifically blame North Korea for the attack. The UN’s diplomatically safe choice to accommodate the wishes of both South and North Korea naturally came as a disappointment to our side.

But we have to give credit to the government for its efforts to persuade recalcitrant Russia and China amid high expectations from the local public.

At any rate, the government managed to get a statement unanimously approved by 15 council members in spite of China, which questioned from the beginning the conclusions of the South Korean government-led multinational investigative team on the Cheonan case.

Now we should move beyond the rights and wrongs of how the government dealt with the Cheonan case and instead focus on what the official international evaluation means and how it will affect us.

The international circumstances surrounding the Korean Peninsula will likely rapidly change as a result of the Security Council statement.

North Korea, while claiming the watered-down statement as its own diplomatic victory, stressed the need to resume six-party talks on denuclearization. China echoed that idea.

The United States and Japan, however, emphasized that the Security Council was sending a strong message to North Korea on further hostilities against South Korea and called for fundamental change from the reclusive communist state.

The concerned countries will likely maintain their different positions for some time, but Washington and Tokyo will inevitably make a realistic choice, moving toward the more imminent problem of addressing the North Korean nuclear issue through the six-party platform.

Time will work unfavorably for South Korea if it hopes to clarify accountability for the Cheonan disaster before sitting across from North Korea in the six-party talks.

Therefore, we have to seriously mull in a more multidimensional way the post-Cheonan options in facing the challenges and problems posed by North Korea.

The countries with stakes in Korean affairs agree on the necessity of ensuring peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, but they differ on the terms and methods of accomplishing such a goal.

If Korea fails to draw a consensus on the policy priorities and methods of addressing the North Korean issue, it could lose its say.

To have a commanding role, we have to discard wishful thinking or self-indulgent justifications and fully understand the different interests and motives of all concerned parties.

Then we must establish our strategy on bilateral and multilateral levels to mold a consensus in our favor and develop leverages as well as policy options in the political, economic and military fields.

To do that, we must strive to build and strengthen our regional and international networks. Our leaders and diplomats should take a keen interest in all the changes occurring in the geopolitical climate - including a potentially tense war of nerves at times - over Korean security issues among the countries involved.

The Cheonan crisis has cemented Korean ties with the United States and Japan, while alienating China and Russia.

Conflict has already surfaced with China’s outright opposition to the planned South Korea-U.S. joint naval exercise on our western coast. Our policy options will narrow if powerful countries with interests in Korean affairs all look in different directions.

We must make every diplomatic effort to converge interests among our neighboring countries to form a united front and not rival with one another. We should also follow up closely with changes in the regional political climate to cope with various challenges regarding North Korea.

We cannot afford to squander time disputing the success or failure of the Security Council’s statement and who should be held accountable for it. We have a greater, more challenging task ahead of us: mustering up unity to prepare for the future.

*The writer is a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

By Choi Kang
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