Bringing focus back to the Koreas

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Bringing focus back to the Koreas

President Park Geun-hye has had a busy and impressive schedule on the foreign front in her first year. Her summit calendar began with bilateral talks with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the spring, multilateral and sidelines diplomacy at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and Group of 20 conferences, followed by visits to Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei and then a European tour to France, the United Kingdom and Belgium. Russian President Vladimir Putin made a visit to Seoul last week in a finale to Park’s first act on the foreign affairs stage.

The president somehow arranged and accomplished a balanced year of summit diplomacy to raise awareness and interest in Korea’s existence at the center of world politics during tumultuous and arguably transitional times. Now that her administration has successfully launched itself internationally and is experiencing smooth sailing, Park’s diplomatic team must decide which route to ply in the future.

We have pointed out that the success of Korea’s foreign policy hinges on how it cleverly solves the “sextic equation” - involving South and North Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan - in the multilateral diplomacy age. In other words, Korea’s diplomacy must inevitably focus on complex multi-layered relationships with global powers that the Korean Peninsula is chained to in the geopolitical and historical context in order to combat its realities of division and its de facto status of still being at war.

The division of the Korean Peninsula remains as the last fallout of World War II. Into its 68th year, tensions have only escalated to the extent of the possibility of a nuclear war. The Korean Peninsula, cited as an example of a major diplomatic failure by global powers, is now at risk of being pushed aside as an exceptional curiosity of history. The incumbent government must bring global focus back to the region and come up with a breakthrough toward peace and unification of the peninsula.

The primary responsibility for the protracted unrest on the peninsula should be borne by ourselves. Historically, however, global powers played heavy hands in turning our land into an odd anomaly through their greedy pursuit of self-interests and insensitive attitudes toward neighbors from the days of imperialism and the cold war to today. But instead of resentment, we must concentrate our diplomatic power on drawing more responsible and proactive efforts from the major powers to resolve the crisis on the peninsula.

We had expected the summit between U.S. and Chinese presidents in May to become a turning point toward a joint endeavor to solve Korean Peninsula issues. We were disappointed by Washington’s “strategic passiveness” and Beijing’s obsession with security. This pointed to their shared desire to maintain the status quo of the two Koreas. We must focus our diplomacy so that improved U.S.-China ties could accelerate a successful resolution of the issues plaguing the peninsula.

Since we cannot wait forever for concerted action from Washington and Beijing, we should exploit the six-party diplomatic format. To a certain extent, we have disregarded or downplayed the role and influence of Russia in solving the Korean Peninsula conundrum. However, last week’s summit talks between President Park and Putin in Seoul could provide crucial momentum to the potential role of Moscow in the process of unraveling inter-Korean issues in the future. In addition to Putin’s call for resolution of the stalled six-party talks on denuclearizing North Korea, his agreement to invite South Korea to linking the Trans-Siberian railways and Trans-Korean railways to ensure quick and low-cost transportation of goods between Asia and Europe showed that an application of the sextic equation can contribute to bolstering Park’s own “Eurasia Initiative.” It underscores the cooperative role of six nations in improving not only inter-Korea relations but also bringing about peace and progress in Northeast Asia and across the continent.

Moscow’s diplomatic leadership in preventing a civil war in Syria from developing into an international war as well as America’s cooperation in resolving the crisis suggest a few ideas for resolving peninsular issues. Russia has recently been more aggressive in engaging in regional problems. Last month, it held a bilateral meeting with foreign and defense ministers of Japan.

In order to employ the six-party formula for the goal of lasting regional peace, Seoul inevitably must improve ties with Tokyo. Despite the current impasse, we believe that not only the past government-level efforts but also civilian endeavors will pay off in renewing a constructive, neighborly relationship between the two countries. We hope the elite community of Japan will contribute to help reshape the historical perception in the country. How a country perceives its history is its own right and choice, and cannot easily be changed by criticism or even friendly advice from other countries.

The people of the two countries must closely cooperate to show understanding and faith in one another to build one of the most exemplary - and “creative” - neighborhoods in Northeast Asia and bring peace to the region. The real work for the Park administration on the foreign front has only begun.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hong-koo
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