Toward a summit breakthroughPresident Park Geun-hye embarks on a trip to America tomorrow for her first summit with Barack Obama. Her visit to Washington comes at a sensitive time as this year marks the 60th anniversary of South Korea-United States security alliance and the end of the Korean War. Beyond a mere get-to-know ritual between the two leaders, the summit carries historic significance because it is a golden opportunity for the two allies to examine the trajectory of their past relationship and set the direction for future partnership.
The meeting comes at a tumultuous time in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia. To desperately sustain the struggling regime, North Korea threatens the region with nuclear weapons and missiles. But inter-Korean relations are at the worst postwar level with the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the last symbol of economic cooperation, on the brink of shutdown.
Japan has turned far-right, denying its militarist past and preparing to revise the pacifist constitution to strengthen its military. If Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his conservative government accelerate nationalist moves, the country may pose a huge threat to regional peace and security. With its increasing economic power, China is beefing up its military to challenge America in the region. The United States has been championing the “Pivot to Asia” policy by reinforcing ties with traditional allies in the region to rein in Beijing’s growing influence.
Under the circumstances, President Park has a mission to minimize risks and dangers and set grounds for unification of the divided land. A Seoul-Washington alliance is key to the effort, and Park must put North Korean threats at the top of the agenda. Washington has grown weary of the North Korea issue after it exhausted a carrot-and-stick strategy to crack the nuclear problem over the past 20 years.
Washington expects Seoul to play a more active role in settling North Korea issues, which presents both a challenge and an opportunity. Park must persuade Obama to pay utmost attention to the North Korea nuclear issue by making him see it from our life-or-death perspective rather than in a global nonproliferation context. She also must argue hard that only concerted involvement from Washington and Beijing can solve the problem.
Park plans to explain her vision on building trust with the North and eventually establishing a cooperative peace network in Northeast Asia. She must give a clear explanation of her vision so there is no misunderstanding about her trustpolitik. Without improvement in inter-Korean relations, the North Korean nuclear puzzle cannot be solved. We sincerely hope the summit will provide a real breakthrough.