Summit follow-up actions crucialPresident Park Geun-hye has returned home after a four-day state visit to China. She confidently completed her first diplomatic test, striking the right note during trips to the United States and China. In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama and Park announced a joint communique celebrating 60 years of alliance with pledges and a vision of deeper bilateral ties. Following a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, she declared a new strategic partnership for a mutually beneficial future. The two leaders agreed to frequent and regular dialogue through visits and communication to emphasize a meaningful and practical relationship. But follow-up actions are more important.
We note that there remain subtle differences in Washington and Beijing over addressing the North Korean nuclear issue. In Washington, Xi agreed with Obama that North Korea’s nuclear armament cannot be tolerated, but in a joint statement with Seoul he toned down the phrase with support for “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Beijing may be subtly trying to avoid annoying its traditional ally and at the same time leave room for diplomatic leverage against Washington.
Beijing calls for immediate reactivation of the six-party platform for denuclearization, while Seoul and Washington demand that Pyongyang first demonstrate a sincere commitment to disarmament. Seoul and Washington want Beijing to exercise more leadership and influence to persuade the recalcitrant regime to prove its sincere commitment to nonproliferation. Xi professed support for Park’s vision of trust-building to mend and upgrade ties with the North. But there is still some difference between Seoul and Beijing on the means. Seoul wants Pyongyang to first change its behavior and attitude. But Beijing believes the two Koreas should talk first and build trust gradually. In short, Seoul will gain diplomatic leverage against both Washington and Beijing when it improves ties with Pyongyang. Improved inter-Korean ties have to come first.
Then there is Japan. Xi also supported Park’s vision on Northeast Asia peace and cooperation. But Tokyo must first change its perspective on history, and Seoul also must exercise diplomatic initiative.
Both America and China cannot ignore South Korea because of its strategic value, as underscored by the grand welcome for the new South Korean president. Seoul must make the most of that strategic leverage to solve the nuclear conundrum and establish grounds for peaceful unification. The time calls for a creative and bold mind-set and dexterity in diplomacy.