After the Korea-U.S. summitThe Korea-U.S. summit on Oct. 17 reminded me of past remarks by high-ranking U.S. officials. In September 2013, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said that issues of history should not be mixed with security regarding Korea’s relations with Japan. In December 2013, Vice President Joe Biden said, “It has never been a good bet to bet against America,” probably with Korea’s relationship with China in mind. In April 2014, President Obama said he welcomed Korea’s economic cooperation with China but the basis of Korea’s security was the United States.
Compared to the aforementioned comments, the Korea-U.S. summit is considered to have cleared up concerns about the bilateral relationship and reaffirmed a strong alliance between the two countries. Chuck Hagel’s successor Ashton Carter welcomed President Park Geun-hye at Pentagon with a full-honor parade including a 21-gun salute.
President Park also visited Vice President Joe Biden’s residence - becoming the first Asian leader to receive an invite - and was welcomed by Biden himself at the entrance. As if he was revoking his comment two years ago, he said that he supports progress in Korea’s relationship with China. President Obama also backed Korea’s initiative in the unification process as well as Seoul’s unification vision.
Washington made a dramatic change of attitude not just because it understands and trusts Korea’s strategic roadmap for reunification but also because it has confirmed that Korea’s preparation for reunification does not clash with America’s strategic interests in Asia.
Regarding Korea’s strategic roadmap, the United States expressed supports for key ideas. First of all, Korea and the United States share situational awareness on North Korea and show cooperation on North Korea policy. Through the Korea-U.S. Joint Statement on North Korea, the two countries warned that nuclear and missile developments are ongoing violations of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and North Korea will face consequences, including further sanctions, if it carries out a ballistic missile launch or a nuclear test. The two leaders expressed concerns for the continued advancement of the nuclear and missile capabilities of North Korea and will address the nuclear problem with utmost urgency and determination.
Secondly, regarding reunification, the United States backs Korea’s efforts for talks as well as the Dresden plan, agreeing to high-level strategic consultations to create a favorable environment for unification.
Thirdly, on Korea’s leaning towards China, the United States agreed to Korea’s position of valuing China’s role in the process of reunification. Washington recognized Korea’s efforts in urging China’s more active role for peaceful cooperation in the region and denuclearization of North Korea by expressing support for Korea’s Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative. However, the United States did not yield to Korea’s position completely. Washington confirmed Korea’s support and participation in its “rebalance to Asia” policy and maintained the frame of military cooperation with Korea and Japan. President Park responded to Washington’s demand to improve relations with Japan by announcing a plan to host a Korea-Japan summit as well as the Korea-China-Japan summit early next month.
Moreover, it is a triumph for Washington to expand the Korea-U.S. alliance beyond the Korean Peninsula to a global partnership. The two leaders agreed to expand the cooperation to “new frontiers,” including cyber security, space, energy and the environment.
It can be said that the Korea-U.S. summit led to satisfying outcomes for both sides. Despite many concerns, Korea consistently adhered to principle and pursued unification strategies. For example, despite the nuclear problems, Korea did not give up the possibility of talks, and the United States accepted Korea’s principle to cooperate in North Korea policies.
The biggest outcome for Korea is that the United States supports Korea’s unification policy and recognized Korea’s leading role. Moreover, Washington promised to join Korea’s efforts for reunification. While North Korea may contest the warning on its nuclear program and missile tests and the demand for accountability on the issue of human rights, Washington’s deviation from strategic patience and participation in efforts to resolve the nuclear issue is not entirely negative to the inter-Korean relationship.
In fact, Korea and the United States have shown carrots along with sticks. They proclaimed that they don’t have hostile policies toward North Korea and promised a better future if North Korea decides to abandon nuclear and missile programs.
The time has come to fully begin the Korean Peninsula trust process.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 21, Page 33
*The author is the director of Korea Institute for National Unification.