Park’s diplomatic strategy appears solid

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Park’s diplomatic strategy appears solid

In wrapping up a trilateral summit with the leaders of China and Japan, President Park Geun-hye completed the first chapter of a series of major diplomatic events this year that began in early September.

Looking back on two months of diplomatic affairs, her administration appears to have achieved some of its goals. Those include maintaining its close relationship with Beijing while keeping North Korea in check and reaffirming its longstanding alliance with the United States, which many observers suspected was wary of Seoul’s slant toward China.

Still, Seoul managed to reaffirm that a nuclear North Korea would be unacceptable to both Beijing and Washington.

Following a meeting with Park in September, Chinese President Xi Jinping stated that he “opposed any action that would trigger tensions” on the Korean Peninsula, which cemented Seoul’s objective to pressure North Korea to heed international warnings.

Xi’s remarks were also intended to serve as a warning to Pyongyang and deter the North from engaging in any acts of aggression.

As Pyongyang’s biggest ally, his message was seen to have been effective and at the very least pressured the regime to refrain from launching a long-range rocket ahead of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party.

Seoul’s efforts to draw in Washington also appeared to bear fruit when the two allies issued a joint statement exclusively devoted to the issues related to North Korea following bilateral talks last month.

Concerns from Washington that South Korea was leaning too much toward China were eased somewhat after Park emphasized the importance of the nation’s security alliance with the United States.

South Korea was also credited with extending its diplomatic capacity and emerged as an important regional player following a trilateral summit over the weekend with China and Japan, a meeting that was the first of its kind following a three-year hiatus.

“By hosting the trilateral summit, Korea won recognition from the international community in that it contributed to ease regional tensions in Northeast Asia,” said Kim Sung-han, a professor in the Graduate School of International Studies at Korea University.

Kim, the former foreign affairs vice minister, also noted that Korea and Japan were on a path toward improving relations and that the security alliance among Seoul, Tokyo and Washington should be further strengthened.

But while Park did not achieve a breakthrough from her first one-on-one meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the two leaders did agree to work toward resolving long-standing historical issues, signaling a possible thaw in relations.

Park and Abe agreed to continue talks aimed at resolving Japan’s sexual enslavement of thousands of Korean women during World War II, a decision that was lauded by Washington.

The United States has long hoped for an improvement in Korea-Japan relations so that the allies can work together as a trilateral alliance to address regional issues and deal with a resurgent China.

“We welcome reports that President Park and Prime Minister Abe agreed to accelerate their efforts to resolve this sensitive issue,” U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said on Monday.

South Korea and Japan have a combined military presence of about 80,000 U.S. soldiers.

That alone is a key factor in Washington’s interest and strategy in the Asia Pacific.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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