Chance for peace diplomacy
The legacy of the age of imperialism and the Cold War, when powerful nations straddled the world and made their own rules, can still be felt all over the world. At the same time, the characteristics of our ever more global village of 7 billion people are constantly changing. That fundamental friction makes the debate over the relationship between the United States and China, which we now crown the G-2, increasingly intense.
The term hegemon has a very negative implication of the power of the victor, or dominance by the most powerfully armed nation. While it is a sensitive issue to use that term to describe contemporary China or the United States, the two countries clearly have hegemonic status, and their positions are surely bolstered by economic vitality and military strength.
Roger Cohen wrote in his New York Times column on Oct. 20, “China Versus America,” that both America and China are exceptional lands. In fact, the two countries were born to be hegemons and to affect the world order. Cohen declares that the United States is “an idea as well as a nation.” Founded in the late 18th century, the United States is a self-proclaimed flag-bearer of freedom in the modern world. While China, occupying the middle of the Eurasian continent for millennia, takes pride in its Sinocentric tradition of maintaining the order and harmony of its part of the world.
What’s worrisome is that all exceptional powers tend to stubbornly hold positions even when they have become outdated. The world in the 21st century is far from the age of imperialism and contestation among powers. Globalization of the markets, the ubiquity of information technology, values spreading across borders and fluidity of populations fundamentally change international relations that were once based on boundaries and other geopolitical limitations. As a result, many Asian countries have broken out of their passive role as observers and are making proactive efforts after recognizing the limits of their powers. The general trend is Asian countries watching with concern the process of the United States, which was the sole superpower after the Cold War, adapting to the multi-polar era, while postponing their judgement on the “pivot to Asia” policy of the Obama administration. Also, they are dubious about China’s “laid-back” attitude and double standards. Beijing is completely tolerant of the nuclear presence across the border in the Korean Peninsula while it pressures Asean over marine routes and territorial issues.
At this juncture, the relationship between the United States and China risks falling into the quagmire of misunderstanding and distrust, and I pointed out in my Oct. 14 column that they need to seek appropriate measures to prevent such a fate. Korea hopes the two powers maintain positive relations as we highly regards two distinct features of their foreign policies. First, the cultures of the United States and China and their foreign policies emphasize pragmatism and have displayed self-control rather than being swept up by extremism. Second, America and China have kept a distance from the kind of expansionist rivalry that existed during the age of imperialism. The international community expects the two superpowers to exert positive influences today.
Now is the time for the United States and China to work together and take inspiration from the diplomatic drama that changed the flow of world history starting in the early 1970s. The economic interests of the two countries are already deeply entwined, so Washington and Beijing can display tolerance and sensitivity to draft a new frame of international peace. The Ukraine crisis has revealed the limits of Europe’s peace system, and the states of Syria and Iraq are in uncontrollable crisis. Compared to other regions, the international dynamics in East Asia have great potential for a stable peace system that guarantees the mutual interests of all involved parties, depending on the progress of the U.S.-China relationship.
The year 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the state of division on the Korean Peninsula, and Seoul and Pyongyang’s efforts to talk and diplomatic efforts between Washington and Beijing would supplement and encourage all parties to bring about a breakthrough in the building of an Asian peace regime. Not only South and North Korea, but all related nations including the United States and China are required to display diplomatic imagination and determination.
As an ally of the United States and a strategic partner of China, Korea has realized its role as the most trustworthy bridge of communication between the two superpowers and is concentrating all its creativity to complete a scenario of resolution of unresolved Korean peninsular issues that all interested parties can agree upon. We hope the APEC summit in Beijing this weekend can be a chance to accelerate diplomatic efforts for peace.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 3, Page 31
The author is a former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hong-koo