A strategic moment
Does China have a Henry Kissinger who will plan a new relationship between the United States and China that President Xi Jinping has promoted? That was a question raised at an international conference in Seoul last week.
Professor Jia Qingguo of Peking University said he is not sure if China has such a comprehensive strategist right now, but the China-U.S. relationship encompasses various possibilities in which positive and negative aspects are complicatedly intertwined. He also said the relationship is at a critical turning point.
Jane Perlez, the New York Time’s correspondent in Beijing, presented the opinion that the United States is actually more in need of a strategist like Kissinger than China. In a historic turning point, when the global order is facing turmoil, everyone, including superpowers, needs strategic planning to see the big picture of the future.
Do we have capable leaders of this description?
While the Cold War was an extended period of confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union with Europe at its center, the Asia-Pacific region will be the arena for the 21st century. And the China-U.S. relationship will likely decide the direction of the international order. But today, the China-U.S. relationship is completely different from the U.S.-USSR relationship during the Cold War era, and we must keep that in mind.
In other words, the United States and China are the world’s largest and second largest economies, competing during a period of globalization. The traditional capitalism of the United States and the so-called socialist market economy of China are competing in the same market, and there is as of yet no decisive analysis or forecast on how this competition will extend into the realms of politics and the military. And yet, the Alibaba Group, China’s e-commerce giant, created a storm of enthusiasm on the New York Stock Exchange when it went public. How should we interpret this situation?
Both the United States and China are large continental forces that emphasize the importance of a national dream. The United States was a country of immigrants that became the strongest and wealthiest country in the world. China is a country with a long history and is developing its own dreams and ambitions based on its ancient civilization. Both countries share a common characteristic in their people and cultures because they both highly value pragmatism.
Since last spring, Chinese leaders have started dropping positive hints about the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership. China’s proposal of an Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank will also likely be realized through consultations with the United States and international organizations. China is unlikely to challenge Washington’s naval power, which is capable of ensuring the safety of maritime routes in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
China and the United States must watch carefully for moves by other countries that are unfavorable to the future of their cooperative relations, Professor Jia warned, and we need to pay attention to his advice. Acute discomfort can be felt from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who appears to be alarmed by China’s cooperation with the United States, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who responded sensitively to the U.S. consultation with China on preserving peace in Asia.
As opposed to Russia and Japan, which used to enjoy positions as empires in the past, Korea must actively support China-U.S. relations so that it can develop into a cooperative partnership that will lead to enduring mutual peace and prosperity. That really must be the core of Korea’s national foreign affairs strategy.
This is not solely a self-protective instinct, since the Korean Peninsula will suffer the greatest damage if China and the United States collide. Without overcoming the division of the peninsula - the final challenge left over from World War Two - peace in East Asia is impossible to achieve and cooperation between China and the U.S. is the key to resolving this challenge.
In fact, the 70 million people of the two Koreas are losing patience over the inter-Korean deadlock. They all strongly hope that Beijing and Washington will assign higher priorities to the Korean Peninsula issue when they forge and pursue their foreign policies.
We cannot hastily judge what North Korea’s position will be toward the China-U.S. cooperation in the distant future. Pyongyang won’t likely expect China and the United States to accept its nuclear ambition - and the situation in which East Asia will have two nuclear-armed countries. Having nuclear arms will give the North a certain power, but it is also a burden. Therefore, a wide decision by the North is a critical factor in resolving the Korean Peninsula issue.
There is no need to stress that the South’s appropriate strategic choice will be to create an inter-Korean relationship that will allow the North to make wise decisions. We must remember that we are now facing a moment for a very difficult strategic choice.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 13, Page 31
The author is a former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hong-koo