[Viewpoint] Has MB’s foreign policy failed?As the discord between Korea and Japan worsens, there are concerned voices over the foreign policy of the Lee Myung-bak administration. While some have serious and sincere apprehension for the diplomatic future of the country, other criticism remains factionalist and emotional. In order to evaluate whether the Lee administration’s foreign policy is indeed an “overall failure,” we need to review the five years of the Lee Myung-bak diplomacy from a strategic perspective and connect it to the tasks for the next administration.
First of all, escalated tension over the Dokdo islets does not mean a breakdown of the Korea-Japan relationship. President Lee Myung-bak knows the importance of the Korea-Japan relations better than anyone, and he went to Dokdo not to bury the Korea-Japan relations in the East Sea as he recognized the Dokdo issue as historically linked to the imperialistic legacy of Japan.
Just as the controversy over the Korea-Japan military information protection pact has illustrated, the future of the Korea-Japan relationship is limited without a sincere apology from Tokyo. By personally visiting Dokdo, President Lee wished to propose the right direction to Japan for a resolution of the historical discord. He deemed “necessary friction” as better than “passive silence.” The Lee administration maintains a composed attitude and wants to continue cooperation with Japan on North Korea and other international issues.
Second, the inter-Korean relationship is not unrecoverable. Pyongyang experienced the warmth of sunshine during the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, but had to taste the bitterness of the principles of the Lee Myung-bak administration. Unlike his predecessors, Lee made it clear that large-scale assistance will not be provided unless Pyongyang commits to denuclearization and apologizes for military provocations.
Interestingly, as the international sanctions nearly disabled the distribution system in the North, North Korean residents are creating markets in order to survive. The Kim Jong-un regime is trying to prevent the markets from spreading. It needs to seek ways to provide food to the people. The next administration needs to expand the accomplishments of the Lee administration into strategies for denuclearization and unification.
Third, we cannot say the China policy is a failure just because the Korea-China relationship is not on the same level as the Korea-U.S. alliance. The Lee Myung-bak administration has taken the Korea-U.S. relationship beyond the Korean Peninsula and developed it into a “strategic alliance” with enhanced cooperation on regional and global issues. But just as some people claim, Korea and the United States did not agree on democratizing the so-called “undemocratic countries” using the “alliance of shared values.”
“Alliance of shared values” means the “state” of enhanced alliance based on mutually pursued values of liberal democracy and market economy, not the “policy” to aggressively spread these values to other countries. The Lee Myung-bak administration made efforts not to give Beijing an impression that Korea, the United States and Japan are trying to exclude China.
Instead, the government paid special attention to the strategic talks with China and the three-way summit meeting with China and Japan in order to harmonize the Korea-U.S. relationship with the Korea-China relationship.
Lastly, the core of Lee Myung-bak’s foreign policy is in “global Korea” through expanding the boundary of Korean diplomacy. As the Republic of Korea is growing through trade with nearly every country in the world, Korea’s foreign policy cannot remain within the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia.
Under the vision of “global Korea,” the Lee administration has been actively initiating the establishment of new international orders in economics, development cooperation and nuclear security by hosting landmark international events, including the Group of 20 summit meeting, the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness and the Nuclear Security Summit.
No matter what style the next administration has, the accomplishments and failures of foreign policy should be evaluated based on how the national interests and national status of the Republic of Korea have been elevated not just in Northeast Asia but the world.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
[Editor’s note: This column is in response to Prof. Moon Chung-in’s Op-Ed titled “Diplomacy in disarray” in the Aug. 28 edition of the Korea JoongAng Daily.]
* The author is the deputy minister of foreign affairs and trade.
by Kim Sung-han