[Viewpoint] China + U.S. = Korean dialogueThe United States and China called for inter-Korean talks and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula at the summit meeting between Presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao. It was as if Pyongyang had been waiting for such a push. North Korea proposed high-level dialogue on military issues, and Seoul accepted the offer.
We need Pyongyang’s sincerity on specific issues . the sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island . before a real thaw comes to frozen inter-Korean communication. Historically, the American and Chinese leaders’ mutual perception of the Korean Peninsula has had a correlation to inter-Korean dialogue.
In February 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon visited China and met with Mao Zedong as a move toward detente . and as China increasingly saw the Soviet Union as a threat . deciding that its enemy’s enemy could be an ally.
In July that year, talks between North and South Korea were held and the two produced the July 4 Joint Statement.
U.S. President Ronald Reagan engaged in an arms race against the Soviet Union centered around the Strategic Defense Initiative, and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev hung out a white flag. In 1991, the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the emergence of China, Seoul and Pyongyang signed the Basic Agreement, and a joint declaration of denuclearization was signed the following year.
In 2000, U.S. President Bill Clinton maintained a mutually beneficial relationship with Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
At the time, Korean President Kim Dae-jung advocated appeasement towards North Korea in his signature Sunshine Policy. In the first ever inter- Korean summit with Kim Jong-il, the two Koreas made the June 15 Joint Declaration. In addition, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited North Korea, and North Korean special envoy Jo Myong-rok visited the United States.
President George W. Bush emphasized the alliance with Japan and defined China as a strategic competitor. He called North Korea part of an “axis of evil” and distinguished enemies and friends based on their participation in anti-terrorism campaigns after the Sept. 11 attacks. As U.S.- North Korea relations deteriorated, the inter-Korean relationship could not break its deadlock, even as President Roh Moo-hyun continued the Sunshine Policy.
When the Republican Party was defeated in the 2006 midterm elections, President Bush accepted China as a “stakeholder” and lowered his guard against Pyongyang. Roh and Kim Jong-il had a summit meeting in 2007 and signed the October 4 Declaration. President Obama, an advocate of smart power, stressed the importance of communication between China and North Korea.
Since his midterm election defeat last year, Obama is working to resolve tension through dialogue, negotiating with the Republican Party and other countries. This month’s U.S.-China summit meeting will be remembered as a turning point in the global power mechanism.
In the aftermath of the Cheonan incident and the Yeonpyeong Island attack, there are concerns that a new Cold War structure of China and North Korea versus the U.S. and South Korea may be forming.
China siding with North Korea should be understood as an act in its own interests. We need to look through China’s strategic planning to maintain influence over the Korean Peninsula and its relationship with the U.S. We also need to consider if reinforcing the Korea-U.S. alliance is the best possible option for Korea’s interests. Chinese President Hu Jintao was welcomed by first lady Michelle Obama, resplendent in a red evening gown.
President Hu is reckless and confident because China has become one half of the so-called G-2 and he received an unprecedented reception in the U.S. Obama and Hu discussed cooperation and mutual respect between the two countries.
The two leaders also expressed concern over North Korea’s uranium enrichment program and called for a constructive inter-Korean meeting. We must remember that when the U.S. and China are on friendly terms, inter-Korean dialogue blossoms. And a critical opportunity is coming once again.
“Seeking common ground while leaving behind differences” may be a wise investment in Korea’s future to pursue unification.
*The writer is a professor at Korea University and the next president of the Korean Association of International Studies.
By Ahn Yin-hay