Park’s challenges after summitAfter her first summit with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, President Park Geun-hye returns home today. Her first trip to the United States has been in the spotlight amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. During the trip, Park appears to have planted her strong yet graceful image in the hearts of Americans as the first woman president of South Korea. But she fell short of finding a breakthrough in the current deadlock on the peninsula. She could not meet people’s growing expectations despite her successful debut in summit diplomacy.
Nevertheless, her speech at the joint session of U.S. Congress was impressive. Though employing a mild tone, she clearly delivered her messages to the congressmen. Her demand for revision of the decades-old Korea-U.S. Atomic Energy Agreement by linking it to Obama’s vision of a “world without nuclear weapons” was particularly persuasive. Her argument for expansion of visas for Korean professionals to maximize the effect of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement was also appropriate, given the nature of the audience: U.S. Representatives and Senators holding the keys to passage of related bills.
Park also explained her trust-building process with North Korea well. No one refutes her declaration that Seoul seeks to lay the foundation for peace and unification by building mutual trust through exchange and cooperation. She also helped raise our country’s international status by extending the alliance’s vision to the peace and prosperity of the global village way beyond the periphery of the Korean Peninsula - with the pride and conviction that the most impoverished nation on earth has become a major donor in just six decades.
The president received applause 41 times, including six standing ovations. But she should not forget that it was applause not for her alone but for all Koreans who voted her in. She should not mistake it for Washington’s wholehearted support.
These days, South Koreans live all over the world. But there remains no single South Korean in the North after the provisional shutdown of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Park must present a detailed answer to how to begin her trustpolitik amidst deadlock in South-North relations. She must also prepare for her first summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in an upcoming visit to Beijing, not to mention come up with a concrete action plan to play a leading role in achieving peace and stability on the peninsula toward the ultimate goal of unification. Those challenges await Park on her way back home.