Fumbles strictly not allowedPresident Park Geun-hye’s trip to China’s for Victory Day celebrations was a remarkable diplomatic achievement. In a summit meeting before a military parade in Tiananmen Square, Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed not to accept any additional provocations by North Korea and agreed to a trilateral summit among Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo this year to promote stability in Northeast Asia. Park’s establishment of amicable relations with China despite a certain level of opposition from the United States and Japan will likely play a positive role in the peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula.
Koreans gave high scores to the president’s approach. In a survey last Friday when Park wrapped up her visit to China, her approval rating soared to 54 percent, the highest since the Sewol ferry tragedy last year. The dramatic turnaround helps pave the way for her to put the “Korean Peninsula Trust Process” initiative into action.
Even though the president succeeded in building amicable relations with China, she must wisely deal with growing suspicions among traditional allies like Uncle Sam and Tokyo over South Korea increasingly leaning toward China. To dispel any doubts, she must demonstrate more balanced diplomacy than ever. The Korea-U.S. summit on Oct. 16 and the Korea-China-Japan summit scheduled for the end of October or early November will be litmus tests of her diplomatic skills.
But inter-Korean relations are more important than diplomacy with neighboring countries. No matter how friendly the atmosphere, it leads nowhere as long as South-North ties are frozen. The first step toward stability on the peninsula and unification is trust-building and that demands a shared conviction firmly based on mutual trust. In a nutshell, the driving force for unification is not foreign countries but South and North Korea.
Regardless of the slightly warmer relations between Seoul and Pyongyang, both sides are still walking on thin ice. If the North test-fires another long-range missile or conducts a fourth nuclear test, the bilateral relations will immediately freeze over again. An unexpected stumbling block could come from our side.
South and North Korea have working-level contact today to resume the long-awaited reunions of families separated by the 1950-1953 Korean War. That marks a meaningful step toward facilitating inter-Korean exchanges. Things have progressed since the Aug. 25 agreement. The government must be extra careful not to take any missteps.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 7, Page 34