Mature diplomacy neededChina’s proclamation of an expanded air defense identification zone has raised tensions in Northeast Asia. The United States and Japan are engaged in a show of force in the troubled region as if they are ready to enter into an armed conflict. As Beijing’s extended air space overlaps with ours, a delicate war of nerves also has begun between Korea and China over the airspace over Ieodo, an underwater reef south of Jeju Island. However, our leverage is quite limited due to our heavy economic reliance on China - despite our closer security ties with America and Japan - and the North Korea factor.
Since the sudden flare-up of tensions in the region, our government seems to be dilly-dallying over how to effectively deal with the knotty problem. The issue of expanding our air defense identification zone has resurfaced after China’s move. But our government gave up on the issue in the past after Japan’s strong opposition. If Seoul could have expanded its airspace after talks with Tokyo, it could have more firmly responded to Beijing’s unexpected declaration.
Similar diplomatic conundrums can arise at any time for a nation sandwiched between superpowers. Tokyo’s desire to exercise so-called collective self-defense is one of them. After the United States sided with Japan on that sensitive issue, Korea was pushed into a highly awkward position. If the government had established a firm code of conduct for such alarming developments, we could have at least avoided embarrassment from a much closer Washington-Tokyo alliance.
Also, our government must draw up detailed action plans for diverse scenarios in the region in order to ensure our national interests to the maximum level and declare that neighbors’ measures should not lead to exacerbation of tensions in such a volatile region.
At the same time, the government must make diplomatic efforts to avert any potential conflicts as seen from Beijing’s unilateral declaration of an expanded airspace. It is essential for Seoul to pursue diplomatic initiatives like the Multilateral Security Cooperation in Northeast Asia - President Park Geun-hye’s signature pledge in last December’s presidential campaign - along with efforts toward active intervention in regional disputes. Given the risk of being ostracized by Washington, Tokyo and Beijing, however, the government should hone its diplomatic skills.
Surrounded by powerful neighbors and divided between south and north, Korea can hardly escape from diplomatic and security dilemmas. But the government must overcome such a fate through sufficient preparation and pre-emptive diplomacy.