Stop ‘all or nothing’ diplomacy

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Stop ‘all or nothing’ diplomacy

Henry Kissinger, 92, is a living witness of U.S. foreign policy. The former secretary of state made a rare appearance at the 2015 Global Security Forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Nov. 16, three days after the tragic terror attacks in Paris. The audience paid special attention to his words. And his advice was unexpected: “So I see a possibility - in fact, a likelihood - that we could come to an understanding with Russia.”

Diplomacy is two-sided, snarling on the surface but shaking hands behind. Yesterday’s enemy can be a friend today. The enemy of the enemy can be an ally. Just as Kissinger said, the United States and Russia have complicated relations. After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the United States and Russia seemed to have become confrontational. But the two powers now share the cause of fighting against ISIS after the terror attacks on a Russian passenger jet and in Paris.

Tensions are high between the United States and China in the South China Sea, but there is added discord. The United States sent the destroyer U.S.S. Lassen within 12 nautical miles of the artificial islands built by China on Oct. 27. It seemed like a manifestation that the United States would not recognize the artificial islands. But based on what U.S. Navy Cmdr. Robert Francis Jr., commanding officer of the Lassen, told Reuters, the situation was not very tense after all.

“A few weeks ago we were talking to one of the ships that was accompanying us, a Chinese vessel ... [We] picked up the phone and just talked to him like, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing this Saturday? Oh, we got pizza and wings. What are you guys eating? Oh, we’re doing this. Hey, we’re planning for Halloween as well’ … They were very cordial the entire time ... even before and after the Spratly islands transit,” Francis said. “When they left us they said, ‘Hey, we’re not going to be with you anymore. Wish you a pleasant voyage. Hope to see you again’.”

The United States and China did not have any intention to clash from the beginning. While they both advocate the principles, they use the highly skilled diplomatic maneuver of leaving an “exit” through strategic ambiguity.

How about Korea? Seoul goes all-in on the comfort woman issue and approaches diplomacy with Japan as if it is a soccer match.

But Kissinger was always wary of “all or nothing” diplomacy in the name of principles. “The chess player aims for total victory. The weiqi [baduk in Korean] player seeks relative advantage … Where the skillful chess player aims to eliminate his opponent’s pieces in a series of head-on clashes, a talented weiqi player moves into empty spaces on the board, gradually mitigating the strategic potential of his opponent’s pieces. Chess produces single-mindedness; weiqi generates strategic flexibility” (“On China” by Henry Kissinger).

Why do we play weiqi with the United States and China but stick to chess with North Korea and Japan?

The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 21, Page 30

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