A long way to go
Sometimes, you realize that the words and actions of the past were implying today’s situation. That moment came at the UN General Assembly in late September.
Celebrating its 70th anniversary, the United Nations was in a festive mood. Major state heads, including U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping were in attendance. Pope Francis also visited New York. It seemed that the solution for the refugee crisis may be found. The highlight was the keynote speeches by the U.S., Russian and Chinese leaders on Sept. 28. But their words had stings.
President Obama’s speech was hawkish and dovish at the same time. “I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known. And I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies - unilaterally and by force - when necessary.” But he added, “the United States cannot solve the world’s problems alone,” and said that the United States was ready to cooperate with Russia and Iran to resolve the Syrian crisis. He also urged Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to step down for massacring tens of millions of Syrians.
Putin did not take Obama’s hand. He said that President al-Assad’s army was fighting against the militant Islamic State, supporting al-Assad’s rule in Syria. Then, he brought up the Arab Spring. “It is now obvious that the power vacuum created in some countries of the Middle East and North Africa led to emergence of anarchy areas. Those immediately started to be filled with extremists and terrorists.” He asked who caused the situation. He was holding the West accountable for aiding democratization in the Arab world.
The ominous premonition came true. Two days later, Russia began strikes on Syria. While Russia claims to have attacked terrorist bases, the United States argues that the areas dominated by the rebels were targeted. The strikes left Syria devastated.
The discord in the South China Sea between the United States and China was also foreseen. President Obama declared that the United States would defend the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce, mentioning the South China Sea in particular. But President Xi said, “Major countries should follow the principles of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation in handling their relations,” and, “No matter how the international landscape may evolve and how strong China may become, China will never pursue hegemony, expansion or sphere of influence.” They had different points and different arguments.
That day, each of the three leaders spoke and left, without listening to the speeches of others. Many were concerned.
The United Nations has accomplished considerable achievements so far, and it is still a blessing to the people of small, weak countries. One hundred million people living in poverty have been provided with food, and 60 million refugees are being protected. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “Founded in a fractured world, the United Nations brought hope that collective action could avoid another global catastrophe.” Despite its contributions, we still have a long way to go.
The author is New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 3, Page 34
by LEE SANG-RYEOL