[Viewpoint] How we see the U.S.-China summitKoreans are feeling anxious as the summit between the leaders of the United States and China draws near. We have painful memories of foreign leaders making decisions about Korea’s fate without our say. And nightmares from the age of imperialism, such as the Taft-Katsura Agreement and the Yalta Conference, still haunt us at every turn. However, the world has changed, and the status of Korea has changed greatly as well.
The geopolitical theory that the geographical location of a country determines its security and the limits to its growth has long been considered established. But while the spatial concept of geographical location may not change, human society has evolved over time.
The epochal development of scientific technology and industry illustrate that cultural and economic variables - which can change - are more important for advancement in history than a geopolitical constant.
As a result, in the era of globalization, one’s “neighbors” are not necessarily the countries in a limited geographic area. The continuous expansion and growth of the European Union in the last half of the 20th century proved the possibility of a new type of neighbor beyond conventional geographical notions.
The international community widely embraces the idea that the 21st century is the century of Asia. China is at the center of Asia’s emergence, and along with the United States, it is considered to be the other half of G-2.
Koreans may accept the age of G-2 in the Asia-Pacific region as a natural consequence of history. Koreans do not need any instruction to the power China and the United States exert. Korea has shared a border with China for thousands of years and the United States is the superpower that offered critical help when Korea was trapped in a crisis of global history.
What Korea hopes from the world order under the G-2 is that the new power dynamic will become the foundation of peace and prosperity in Asia and the world through a “fusion of civilizations,” instead of drawing the world into another Cold War or clash of civilizations.
A few days ago, Polish-American professor Zbigniew Brzezinski pointed out that uncertainty over China’s long-term goals and strategy lead to distrust and skepticism between Washington and Beijing, but as their mutual dependence becomes more and more obvious, the two countries must confirm at the summit how they plan to develop their partnership more specifically in order to faithfully carry out the call of the history.
If the partnership between the United States and Europe led the 20th century, the partnership between the United States and Asia, especially cooperation between the United States and China, will be the core of the 21st century.
The leaders and citizens of the United States need to understand that the American eagle can continue to fly high only when it has the two wings of the Pacific and the Atlantic. Furthermore, China needs to change its passive attitude toward developing a special three-way partnership with Korea and Japan, its closest neighbors in Northeast Asia.
In fact, the cultural traditions and economic assets that Korea, China and Japan share are the foundation to developing a regional community in Asia. Sharing the Confucian tradition built on Chinese characteristics and the creativity of the digital age, Northeast Asia has an advantage to lead a new kind of culture for the world.
In the course of responding to Western imperialism in the 19th century, Korea, China and Japan chose different paths and sought a breakthrough for national growth to protect their sovereignty and to creatively utilize Western civilization and its systems.
Only when we understand the historical background and bonds the three countries share will the construction of a Northeast Asia alliance be possible.
It’s desirable to understand and accept the background of the unique relationship the United States has built with Korea and Japan as a part of Northeast Asia’s history.
When the economic and cultural fusion among Korea, China and Japan is in progress, the partnership between the United States and China will be on the right track.
We cannot afford to make optimistic and positive predictions for the U.S.-China summit because of the unique effect the situation in North Korea has on the region. In short, the North Korean issue is an exception that deviates from the flow of global history and is a risk that can lead to a catastrophe.
As the undisputed superpowers, the United States and China must work to prevent disaster. The first step for peace and prosperity in the world must be for the leaders of the two countries to declare at the summit that they will exercise strong leadership to prevent the Korean Peninsula from becoming an exception to the international efforts for cooperation and integration.
While we Koreans certainly can’t help feeling insecure, we have high hopes for the U.S.-China summit.
*The writer is a former prime minister and advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Lee Hong-koo