Summit hopesAt summit meetings during the age of imperialism, the direction of the world was designed with the interests and opinions of small and weak countries completely ignored. When leaders of the Allied Nations met in Cairo, Yalta and Potsdam seven decades ago, they drew up a semi-permanent division of the Korean Peninsula while promising independence for Korea. The moment remains a regretful and frustrating chapter in the history of Korea. So it is an instinctive reaction of Koreans to be skeptical of summit meetings or conferences with powerful nations.
This fall is the season of summits, with so many meetings scheduled. In early September, a Korea-China summit meeting is to be held in Beijing, followed by a U.S.-China summit in Washington, and then a Korea-U.S. summit in October. Leaders will attend the United Nations General Assembly in September to discuss sustainable development. In December, the Paris Climate Change Conference will be held. In addition, a postponed trilateral summit among Korea, China and Japan and a Korea-Japan summit will be held in Seoul this fall. Significant meetings of the leaders to determine peace and the future of the world will continue one after another.
Korea, which has been a victim of power diplomacy since the late 19th century, has reason to be more active and aggressive in the upcoming summit diplomacy. First, Korea has secured international status and gained confidence after overcoming the devastation of the 1950-53 Korean War and the Cold War and successfully joining the ranks of the developed nations through remarkable industrialization and democratization. Second, an aggressive pursuit of peace diplomacy has become a priority for us as uncomfortable relations between China and the United States on top of elevated inter-Korean tensions only aggravate the risk of a war, especially the threat of a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula. Third, President Park Geun-hye’s special status and position as a key player in such diplomatic efforts could provide a great driving force to Korea’s peace and reunification strategy.
A summit is more than an official meeting between the chief executives of two countries. Outcomes of summit meetings often depend on the personal relations of the leaders. A mutual sense of closeness, friendship, respect for morality and honesty, and personal trust to resolve challenges together can be the driving force for successful meetings. It is known domestically and internationally that U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping personally like - and trust - President Park Geun-hye. Not many national leaders maintain such close relationships with both Obama and Xi. Now, we have arrived at a stage to exploit President Park’s special status - a major asset in Korean diplomacy - to realize a peace and reunification strategy.
The biggest threat to peace in the Korean Peninsula and Asia originates from North Korea’s extreme isolation from the international community. It is time to encourage the North to prepare for peace rather than a war. Seoul and Pyongyang must work together and play a central role in creating peace in the peninsula and throughout Asia. Also, Washington and Beijing’s irresponsible stances as bystanders with passive, status quo policies need to be modified as soon as possible. North Korea’s nuclear program could bring catastrophe by amplifying threats not only on Korea and Japan but also on America and China. In her own summit meetings, President Park must urge Obama and Xi to work out a historic compromise to attain peaceful reunification of the peninsula and a peace maintenance system in the Asia-Pacific region.
If the United States and China can reach a grand compromise, they can also jointly respond to the instability of the global economy in addition to alleviating security tensions. The 2013 summit between Obama and Xi in California was disappointing in many ways. For instance, the laid-back attitudes of the two superpowers, which turned a blind eye to the North’s mounting nuclear tensions, have forced us to pay a big price: elevated tension and severed dialogue. We can hardly let the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the division of the Korean Peninsula pass without making any meaningful progress. The peaceful unification of the peninsula and the peace of the Asia-Pacific region and the world are both an interconnected dream and challenge.
President Park needs to explain the responsibilities and measures that Korea can handle for peace. It may be burdensome for now, but she needs to precisely convey Korea’s basic stance that will serve as a basis for long-term mutual trust. But such measures can be only valid when the United States and China can take joint steps in an inclusive manner. Let’s hope for summit meetings that will become historic turning points for the age of peace. Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 24, Page 31
*The author is a former prime minister and an advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hong-koo