Diplomacy expert says East Asian nations must cooperate

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Diplomacy expert says East Asian nations must cooperate

At the end of last year, Ha Young-sun, chairman of the board of trustees at the East Asia Institute (EAI), was in Beijing with seven undergraduate and graduate students. The students were part of an EAI study group that Ha has led for the past six months.

Ha, who is also a member of the Presidential National Security Advisory Group and the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation, taught history of East Asia’s new order to the students last year. The purpose of the China trip was to take them to places where history was made.

In China, the 68-year-old professor emeritus of Seoul National University saw that the political scene on the Korean Peninsula and other parts of Northeast Asia is undergoing major changes.

“The year 2015 is the year that each country started to play baduk [Go] over the process of building a new order in East Asia,” he said. “Korea should not be fluctuating from joy to grief after each diplomatic event, but should be undertaking a national strategy on a comprehensive and long-term basis.”

Ha, who is also a graduate of Seoul National University, is a well-known expert in diplomacy. His resume includes time spent as the co-chairman of the Joint Research Project on a New Era of Korea-Japan Relations, director of Seoul National University’s Center for International Studies and the American Studies Institute, president of the Korea Peace Studies Association, and a research fellow at the Center for International Studies at Princeton University. He also worked at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden.

Q. It is widely said that Korea is now forced to select between the United States and China. What do you think?

A. There is speculation that by the first half of 2020, China’s gross domestic product [GDP] will surpass the United States. But the reason why the United States isn’t shocked like Japan is that it doesn’t think China is the main architect of the world order in the 21st century, even if its GDP goes up. China would probably not expect that either. Has the century of the United States ended and the century of China arrived? We can’t look at it in that kind of a dichotomous way. From the viewpoint of the traditional balance of power, network thinking should be pursued.

What do you mean by having network thinking?

In between a new balance of power, Korea should work together with the United States and China as an architect of new order in East Asia. As the power connection of Korea-U.S.-Japan has been maintained for the past 70 years, the task now will be how to add a new Korea-China network into it, while deepening that existing network. For example, the United States’ situation with Thaad [Terminal High Altitude Area Defense], which was started because of North Korea, is not for China and it is also not an issue in which South Korea should get involved in or raise questions.

In addition, I think the topic of whether South Korea should participate in the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank [AIIB] should not be controversial. What really matters is whether there is a demand for infrastructure investment in Asia that requires another financial institution. From this point on, the question of “either the United States or China” should be recognized as a Cold War mind-set. We have to think about whether there is a way to change from “either or” to “both and.”

What do you think about China’s influence over North Korea?

When people talk about influence, most think of absolute influence. But the ideology of the North is self-reliance [Juche], which is a structure that China can’t have absolute influence over. From this point, China has a limited influence. By just looking at the capability of its nuclear program, the North would have already conducted its fourth nuclear test. However, since that decision is being delayed for some time, we can see that China’s warning has had some influence. But, of course, in order to change North Korea, the relationship of North Korea-China alone is insufficient, and it is necessary to have a “grand orchestration” that involves all nearby countries.

What do you think about the reconciliatory plans from Seoul, such as developing a park at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and ending the punitive sanctions on North Korea, which are better known as the May 24th sanctions?

The government is putting in various efforts, but the key is whether North Korea thinks that accepting those proposals could be beneficial or not. Because the space to unwind the inter-Korea relationship is fixed, both sides should put more active efforts into it. For the case of establishing a peace park in the DMZ, the design of the park, location and clearing of land mines should be decided first, but if the political problem isn’t solved we can’t expect progress. We also should use our imagination to see whether the park can be developed along with the Masikryong Ski Resort, which North Korea cares about, or linked with the Winter Olympics [in Pyeongchang]. If it happens, it will be difficult for North Korea to deny it. International organizations like the United Nations are also saying that if both the North and South work together, giving international support isn’t such a problem. If that’s the case, our intellectual power should be concentrated on the plans that the North and South and international organizations can all participate to build the DMZ peace park.

What do you think about the Korea-Japan relationship, which is still bitter even though this year marks the 50th anniversary of forming diplomatic ties?

What’s certain is that we can’t cut out the belief or mind-set of either North Korea or Japan. As you know, Koreans hate it, but the Abe administration gained national popularity there and has been victorious in the general election. For the sake of a peaceful new order in East Asia, we can’t change their hearts, but we have to develop by adjusting our actions. There should be a mechanism for compromise to work in diplomacy even though the mind-set is reluctant to do so. But Japan should find a very small space in the real world to play with flexibility, while also apologizing and taking responsibility again. In addition, both countries should not exploit this move for domestic political means, but as a way to boost cooperation.

What should Korean diplomacy focus on in 2015?

We should focus on the bigger picture. Whether it is about the inter-Korea relationship, the relationship with the United States or China, temporary military or political actions, or a reinforcement of the exchange program, we should not go through joy and grief in each event, but pursue game-leading diplomacy that can cover the next 10 or 20 years. The Blue House should make a mechanism to manage an overall plan that can lead the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Unification and Defense as well as the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation. There is a desperate need for new diplomacy to construct the new order in 21st-century East Asia for 100 years from now. We need a maestro that can form a trinity of international, inter-Korea, domestic capabilities, while managing diplomacy, national security, unification and domestic politics together.

BY PARK SUNG-WOO [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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