Raising Korea’s profile

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Raising Korea’s profile

With President Park Geun-hye successfully wrapping up the summits with both U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the new administration’s foreign policy activities have taken off smoothly. When the Park administration was launched in the spring, North Korea attempted to elevate tensions, and dark war clouds gathered over the Korean Peninsula. However, the sunny smiles and impressive composure displayed in Washington and Beijing during Park’s visits proved that diplomatic efforts, rather than military threats, are the real bedrock of international dynamics.

While the foreign policy endeavors of the new administration got off to a smooth start, the journey ahead will undoubtedly be long and challenging. When the election for the upper house of the Japanese Diet ends next week, the politics and foreign policy of Japan will probably become more stable and less confrontational. President Park and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe can then seek a direction for Korea-Japan relations based on reason rather than emotion. They are expected to display wise political leadership to bring together the citizens of both countries who are faced with the historic task of closing the gap between the historical perspectives of the two nations, which cannot be resolved easily.

Meanwhile, Park is to have a summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin around the Group of 20 meeting to be held in Russia this fall. Russia, which shares a border with the Korean Peninsula and has had a big impact on the modern history of Korea since the late 19th century, has tremendous potential influence on the future of the Korean Peninsula in the 21st century. The grand task of linking that vast influence with the continued development of bilateral relations and the resolution of the division of the Korean Peninsula awaits the two leaders.

The foreign policy of the Republic of Korea, which began in the early period of the cold war led by the United States and the Soviet Union after World War II, has been inevitably focused on bilateral relations with the United States. We have since expanded the scope of diplomacy to trilateral relations that included Japan and finally made a strategic partnership with China. And yet, Korean diplomacy has not really expanded beyond the frames of bilateral or trilateral relations. But the world is rapidly shifting to a myriad of power centers, and consequently, multilateral diplomacy and a change of national consciousness are urgently needed. Our foreign policy will have to evolve as well.

The six-party talks on the denuclearization of North Korea, which have repeatedly failed over time, are likely to resume. In the new era of multilateral diplomacy, it’s not just six countries but the entire world that is watching to see if some kind of fundamental solution can be found. South and North Korea may be at the center of the issue, but it also directly involves the United States, China, Japan and Russia. Japanese Prime Minister Abe sent a special envoy to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a diplomatic initiative to seek resolution of both territorial issues and the abduction of Japanese citizens. Kim Kye-gwan, first vice foreign minister of North Korea, recently visited Beijing and Moscow consecutively. These moves show the complicated aspects of the six-way diplomacy that the six-party talks have generated.

We don’t need to explain how hard it is to successfully pull off a double or triple play in baseball. In personal relationships, a love triangle is one of the trickiest relationships to solve. It is easy to understand the challenge of successfully solving a diplomatic puzzle with six players, most of them very powerful sovereign states. The picture becomes even more complicated if we add the diplomatic networks that the six countries have with international organizations such as the EU and The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and with some 200 nations around the globe.

However, if we want to make progress toward the dream of reunification while maintaining our survival and development in this difficult time in global history and international politics, high efficiency organization and strategic planning suitable to an era of multilateral diplomacy is necessary.

Korea is often compared to Canada, Australia or Holland, but we have greater challenges than any of those lands. I am concerned that the habitual reluctance to back the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic activities is becoming a fixed tendency in Korea, even though the citizens, media and government organizations agree on the importance of diplomacy.

Former presidents of Korea recognized the importance of foreign policy and worked to reinforce our diplomacy with the outside world, but they had inevitable limits in elevating Korea into a world-class diplomatic power and making a groundbreaking leap. They left much to be desired in terms of expanding the talent pool of our diplomats or improving their organization, especially in recruiting competent figures to be in charge of strategic planning in foreign policy and establishing a high-level policy-making team. I hope President Park, who spends so much time talking about the future as a priority of national development, will make an epoch-making decision to force Korea to become one of the leaders in this age of multilateral diplomacy.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

* The author is former prime minister and advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hong-koo

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