Eyeing independent diplomacyThe magnificent military parade to celebrate China’s Victory Day was held Thursday at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Sitting in the first row together with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Park Geun-hye observed the massive march by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The event marked the first time a Korean president had attended a parade by Chinese forces. Park stood in the very place where North Korean leader Kim Il Sung stood by Mao Zedong 61 years ago. North Korean representative Choe Ryong-hae, a secretary of the Workers’ Party - who happened to sit at the end of the first row - was hardly visible, as if to testify to the current status of the Seoul-Beijing and Pyongyang-Beijing relations.
The domineering 70-minute procession led by 12,000 troops was carefully orchestrated to show off China’s growing military might as a G-2 nation on the global stage. Most Western countries, including the United States and Japan, rejected China’s invitations, as they knew what Beijing intended to demonstrate through the event. As a result, the presence of South Korea’s president, a core U.S. ally, stood out. America and Japan were, for the most part, unsupportive of her trip.
Regardless, President Park chose to attend the ceremony because she believes China is the most effective leverage to change North Korea. Inarguably, it is the most important country that can contribute to the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula, not to mention help avert additional provocations from the North or address its unceasing nuclear threats.
Amid tense power dynamics in Northeast Asia, it was fortunate that Xi announced in his speech a plan to reduce the PLA by 300,000. The pledge is seen as part of efforts to ease neighbors’ concerns about China’s military expansion. Beijing must take a path toward peace and prosperity as Xi proclaimed - instead of seeking a tumultuous path of hegemony. President Park’s participation in the parade is understood as a profession of her determination to expand our diplomatic space in the region on our own without being squeezed between America and China. That’s a bold choice.
But she must not forget the significance of Korea’s alliance with the United States - the lynchpin of our security and diplomacy. Our diplomacy with Beijing and Washington should not be a zero-sum game. Washington and Tokyo worry about the possibility of a Korean diplomacy bent on Beijing, so the government must work to build mutual trust. That will be the primary challenge for Park during her trip to Washington next month.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 4, Page 30