[Letters] Events in Korea define 2010

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[Letters] Events in Korea define 2010

The year 2010 may be described as the best of times and the worst of times for Korea. Early in the year, the South Korean navy corvette Cheonan was sunk by a torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine, killing 46 sailors.

As 2010 draws to a close, Seoul will host the G-20 Summit of advanced economies. These meetings are held regularly, and have increased in overall tempo and significance in the wake of the international financial collapse, a very severe recession and very slow recovery in the United States and elsewhere.

The Cheonan sinking was shocking and unacceptable. This tragedy, in which so much human life was lost, must be kept in mind in any formal dealings with the North, especially the cautious direct contacts between Seoul and Pyongyang.

Simultaneously, the G-20 will be exceptionally positive, with the promise of continuing global reverberations. This must be the focus of officials and citizens concerned with the future of the Korean peninsula as a whole.

The lost ship is a very human tragedy, in what media commentators stressed as the greatest loss of life in an armed incident in Korea since the Korean War, but the attack should not be surprising.

The sinking occurred in the same area where ships had a shooting confrontation last November, in which North Korean sailors may have been killed. Simple motivations of military revenge - independent of any top-level decision in Pyongyang - may have spurred the torpedo attack.

Over time, however, the tremendous and growing economic strength of South Korea, compared with the austerity and misery of life in North Korea, is the best source of leverage for positive change in the Communist country.

Seoul’s economic accomplishments are crucial. China’s trade with South Korea now approaches approximately $200 billion per year, compared to about $3 billion with North Korea. South Korea’s government should use this leverage to maximum advantage.

The Obama administration should strongly support Seoul’s leadership. The massive joint antisubmarine drill after the Cheonan sinking was wise. The G-20 Summit provides a special opportunity. International organizations usually are not the source of media drama, but there are exceptions.

In the fall of 2009, President Obama shrewdly selected Pittsburgh as the site of their G-20 Summit. Over the past three decades, that city has transformed from grimy and declining steel metropolis to a global high-tech center, with relatively low unemployment.

Presidents Lee Myung-bak and Barack Obama should use the opportunity of the Seoul summit to underscore the drama of wider Asian and global economic development, thanks to free markets. The fact that another Korean, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, leads the UN is another factor to emphasize.

A successful G-20 Seoul Summit can provide vital momentum for South Korea, the wider Asian region and the global economy as the year draws to a close.


Arthur I. Cyr,

Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Wisconsin and author of “After the Cold War”

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