Diplomacy minus results
The International New York Times opinion section featured an interesting cartoon last week. On a gambling table with a map of Korea, leaders of the United States and China make their bets. China puts up a stash of cash, while the United States offers missiles. The scene represents the power contest over Korea between the United States, with its military strength, and China, with its economic power.
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Korea in July and a cartoon on a Chinese online media site was explicit and borderline obscene. President Park Geun-hye is on a bed with U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and Xi, on another bed, shows money to Park. Park smiles at Xi, as Abe and Obama hold her arms anxiously.
Power struggles over the Korean Peninsula has been a favorite subject in Western media cartoons since the late Joseon period. In 1894 during the Sino-Japanese War, a French newspaper featured a cartoon of Japan and China fishing for a catch called. In 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War, Joseon Korea was tied with rope with Russia and Japan pulling on either side. The position of Korea caught between powerful neighbors has become a topic of satirical cartoons again.
Today’s Korea is very different from 100 years ago. Korea is no longer a feeble kingdom, but the 15th-largest economy in the world. However, geopolitical conditions of being surrounded by other powers haven’t changed. Then as now, we have to think about the direction of the nation in terms of other countries. That’s why diplomacy and security have special significance. An economic error can be made up, but a blunder in foreign policy and security could cause the nation to fail.
In a meeting with foreign mission chiefs in Seoul, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se served as a self-proclaimed guard of the Park administration’s foreign policy. He didn’t forget to counter the criticism. “We don’t care about the linear or quadratic perspective of the foreign policy equation. We should go our way without being hindered by irresponsible criticism without agony.” He simply treated concerned voices as ignorant noises.
“Korea is still described as sandwiched between powers in a 19th century mind-set,” he said, calling the perspective defeatist, self-deprecating and sycophant. Instead, Yun said Korea could be in the blessed position of being courted by both China and the United States. He praised Korea’s decision to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank at the last minute as “most appropriate and clever timing.” He conveniently skipped the fact that European nations like the United Kingdom, Germany and France helped make the decision.
The issue of joining the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system of the United States requires high-level strategic decisions between the United States and China. If being caught between the two giants is indeed a blessing as he described, I wonder why we cannot use the same leverage to make progress to resolve North Korean nuclear tensions. The Thaad controversy is ultimately caused by the stalled nuclear issue. It is complete nonsense to think foreign policy is not faulty when no progress has been made on the North’s nuclear program, inter-Korean relations and Korea-Japan relations. Yun Byung-se’s diplomacy suffers from the incurable illness of focusing on trees and failing to see the forest.
Discussing Thaad now is like talking about the score before taking the test. The effectiveness of the Thaad system gets mixed reviews in the United States. Some think its utility is low compared with the astronomical cost. Along with efforts to make progress on the nuclear issue, scientific and technical review on the effectiveness of Thaad is necessary.
There is no teamwork to be found in the diplomacy and security team of the Park Geun-hye administration. On the North Korean nuclear issue or the transfer of wartime operational control, ministers have never had a proper discussion or meeting. The Blue House national security adviser is the one who should be at the center. He is the one who needs to handle the important duty with the eyes of a hawk and an insect to see the international situation and the Korean Peninsula of the present and the future. Someone with such insight should be given the position. The ministries of defense, foreign policy and unification, and the National Intelligence Service should work together and not prioritize their own interests. The president should delegate authority and not interfere with details. The Park Geun-hye administration needs to show diplomatic results of substance, not packaging. Self-praise can wait.
JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 31, Page 31
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok