New momentum for ‘2+2’

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New momentum for ‘2+2’

South Korea and the United States reaffirmed their alliance yesterday at a meeting of top officials in defense and foreign affairs in Seoul. The “2+2” meeting was the first of its kind in the 60-year-old alliance between the two countries. The officials’ visit to a military base near the DMZ was also unprecedented.

The joint statement that emerged from the historic meeting outlines the allies’ agreement on strategies for North Korea and other international issues. The core of the statement is a commitment by both governments to deliver a message of warning to North Korea.

Urging the North to take responsibility for the sinking of a South Korean naval warship, the statement stressed that the North will face serious consequences if it continues its provocations of the South. Both sides demonstrated that they are not bluffing, with a joint military exercise set to start on Sunday that will involve a state-of-the-art aircraft carrier and scores of aircraft.

Regarding the North’s nuclear ambition, the statement demanded that the North back up its intent to denuclearize with concrete actions by giving up all of its nuclear programs. The statement was careful not to mention the six-party talks, to send the message that the meeting is not related to the Cheonan incident and the North’s indication following that incident that it would return to the stalled nuclear disarmament talks. The allies also agreed to work toward ratifying their free trade agreement and to strengthen cooperation on the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Since the Cheonan incident, tensions in northeast Asia have been on the rise, with China making clear that it cannot accept U.S. hegemony in the region. China is trying hard to find fault with the joint exercise in the Yellow Sea, though it had no objections to a similar drill last October. More worrisome is China’s sudden embrace of North Korea, an acknowledgement of the threat that instability in the North poses to its own national interest. Under these circumstances, further consolidation of the South Korea-U.S. alliance is welcome.

An enhanced alliance could also present South Korea with new challenges. The 2+2 meeting originated from the “Joint Vision for the Alliance of South Korea and the U.S.,” which was agreed upon at the summit between both countries’ leaders in Washington in June last year. The agreement is based on the principle of quid pro quo: The U.S. will support South Korea so it can counter attacks by North Korea, and in return South Korea will cooperate with the U.S.’s efforts to expand the bilateral alliance.

As a consequence, however, the U.S. may ask for more active participation from South Korea on matters such as Afghanistan. Nevertheless, we believe the alliance is beneficial to both parties. Our government should do its best to ensure its continued development.
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