Getting the most out of BeijingPresident Park Geun-hye decided to visit Beijing next week for China’s celebration of the 70th anniversary of victory in the war against Japanese aggression and the end of World War II and also watch a controversial military parade.
The presidential office pondered long and hard on whether the president should attend the military event, which would be first for any South Korean leader. Critics opposed it, saying it would be the equivalent of cheering on the Chinese soldiers who fought on the side of North Korea during the Korean War. At the same time, Seoul had to consider the feelings of Washington, which obviously would not be happy about its long-time ally getting closer with Beijing. Although Seoul has been irked by Tokyo’s stance on comfort women and other historical issues, Tokyo remains an important ally on the economic and diplomatic fronts. Park decided to attend the Sept. 3 Victory Day events that include a military parade through Tiananmen Square, in which most other Western countries are represented by diplomatic envoys rather than their leaders. It is therefore crucial that she reaps as much as possible to silence the criticisms and concerns.
What Seoul needs most from Beijing is its support to pave the way to lasting peace and unification of the Korean Peninsula. Beijing has the biggest influence over Pyongyang. Beijing is said to have contributed to easing tensions when the two Koreas were on the brink of a military conflict following the detonations of land mines planted along the South Korean border. At the same time, the president must tighten and strengthen bilateral ties with China not only economically but also politically and diplomatically. The two countries are closer than ever. The momentum must not be wasted. Summit talks are scheduled first between Korea and the United States on Sept. 2. Park must keep in mind the other summit schedules when she sits across from President Xi Jinping.
Washington and Tokyo did not formally oppose the South Korean president’s visit to Beijing for the war memorial. But they obviously must be uncomfortable. Korea needs to maintain traditional security ties with the U.S. and Japan. It must assure the two countries that any new closeness with Beijing won’t interfere with the tripartite relationship. North Korea will be sending Choe Ryong-hae, a senior Workers’ Party secretary, to Beijing. A summit meeting between the two Korean leaders may not happen, but Park should have one of her aides have a meeting with Choe for another round of inter-Korean talks in Beijing.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 29, Page 30