Korea wary of U.S.-Japan waltz

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Korea wary of U.S.-Japan waltz

A few hours before the first U.S. government shutdown in 17 years, American media were busy delivering news from Congress. The same day, Japanese media were also busy, but for different reasons. The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations unanimously approved Caroline Kennedy as the American ambassador to Japan. Japanese media raved over the nomination because the newly appointed ambassador is the daughter of former President John F. Kennedy and the first woman to serve in that position.

I often feel that Japan has a far greater presence than Korea in Washington. There are so many pro-Japanese figures in Congress and think tanks. When I become critical of Japan while talking to American friends, they ask, “Why do Koreans hate Japan so much?” The answer seems so obvious for Koreans, but Americans seem to perceive Japan differently.

An online survey asked Americans which country they liked better, Korea or Japan, and 65.6 percent chose Japan, while 34.4 percent preferred Korea. Their reasoning is interesting: Those who chose Korea said they liked Korean food, while those who preferred Japan said they liked Japanese people.

Washington and Tokyo seem to be enjoying an interesting honeymoon. Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel attended the 2+2 Security Consultative Committee meeting in Tokyo. It is the first time that both U.S. secretaries attended the same meeting together held in Japan.

They brought a package of great news for Japan as well. Washington acknowledged Japan’s right of collective self-defense, promised to revise the defense cooperation guidelines after 17 years and to deploy drones in Japan. Standing between Kerry and Hagel, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe showed a wide smile.

The United States considers the emergence of China as the biggest challenge in foreign policy in the 21st century. And it is in America’s best interests to embrace Japan, which stands up against China. Moreover, the United States is struggling with a federal government deficit and needs to reduce its $950 billion defense budget in the next 10 years, and Japan volunteered to take a portion of the burden. There’s no reason to not like Japan, which pleases the United States so skillfully. Korea is another ally of the United States, but it may not welcome Korea’s opposition to Japan’s military expansion.

It is not very joyful to watch the sweet waltz of Japan and America. There are voices of discontent in the United States that Korea is passive about improving relations with Japan. While Korea focuses on what Japan has done in the past, America is interested in Japan’s future role. The United States wants to keep an eye on China through trilateral cooperation with Korea and Japan. But our government seems to be trying to get closer to China.

There is no eternal friend or eternal enemy in international relations. It is a good thing that Korean foreign policy has options. The problem is that there will be a moment when we will face the question of choosing between China and America.

The ongoing confrontation between the left and the right in Korea is child’s play compared to the fierce battle on the international stage. The politicians who claim to work for the people need to turn their attention to the real and serious challenge that Korean diplomacy is faced with now.

*The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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