Diplomacy now at center stage

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Diplomacy now at center stage

Seoul has been the venue for private discussions among world leaders for the last two days. President Lee Myung-bak, on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit, ran marathon tete?a-tetes with British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

On the eve of the summit, Lee talked with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. He was also scheduled to meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an.

World leaders journeyed to Seoul for the G-20 Summit, but their high-profile presence here has meaningful implications for Korea’s shift from having a small supporting role to being center stage in the diplomatic world.

President Lee had separate talks with his counterparts from the United States and China. In the extended lunch meeting that lasted nearly two hours, Presidents Lee and Obama reconfirmed their cooperative stance on North Korean affairs and strong allied ties.

In contrast, bilateral talks between Korea and China lasted just 20 minutes - an amount of time that can carry no more meaning than a photo op ceremony.

The contrasting meetings come as Korea is forced to walk a tightrope with the U.S., with its diminishing global influence, and China, with its rapid rise to power.

We must rely on the U.S. for security, but China for economic revenue. China, after all, is our country’s biggest trade partner. We have no choice but to tread carefully between the two superpowers. If we tilt too much to one side, we may lose balance and fall over. A widening distance between the U.S. and China can make our dance on the tightrope tricky.

An amicable Sino-U.S. relationship would best serve our country. Our special alliance with the U.S. is irrevocable. But we don’t necessarily have to exhibit friendliness too obviously. We should maintain neutrality and balance in the relationship with the two countries and mediate to improve Sino-U.S. relations.

The hoopla over our role as G-20 host will die down after the summit ends.

But we must keep alive the lessons we have learned from the event to develop our resources and capacity in diplomacy. Korea must use the momentum to dramatically broaden our nation’s diplomatic reach.
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