Diplomacy with no payoff
President Park Geun-hye has had six summit meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping - more than with any other foreign heads of state - since taking office in February 2013. She even stood next to the Chinese leader to commemorate China’s Victory Day last September in the face of disapproval by the international community amid mounting tensions between the United States and China. Park sent a special envoy to China earlier than to the United States after her inauguration. She is hesitating over the deployment of Thaad, a U.S. antiballistic missile system, because she knows that China doesn’t approve.
China has given the impression of prioritizing its relations with Seoul to draw South Korea closer to it in the face of the trilateral security alliance among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo. America and Japan even called Park’s actions a diplomacy “leaning” toward China. Despite concerns expressed about the direction of Park’s diplomacy, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se waved them away. He said she was getting a “love call from both Washington and Beijing” and called it a “blessing for Korea.”
The Park Geun-hye administration’s so-called balanced diplomacy has its own rationale. Our economic relationship with China couldn’t be more important, and we expected its help on the thorny North Korean nuclear issue. At every summit with Xi, Park put the conundrum on the table, calling for Beijing’s help in addressing the issue. Granted China does not hold a magic wand to solve the North Korea problem, even though it supplies 90 percent of the North’s crude oil needs and a large share of its food needs. Even so, Beijing’s reaction falls way short of our expectations.
No telephone call has been made between the two presidents after last week’s nuclear test. This only confirms what the Chinese foreign minister told his South Korean counterpart in an earlier meeting: the issue should be addressed through dialogue.
Our militaries’ ineptitude in intelligence gathering disappoints us, too. Before the fourth nuclear test last week, 38 North, a U.S. website specializing in North Korean affairs, posted an analysis of a new tunnel under construction for a nuclear test. But the military and National Intelligence Service simply dismissed it.
A nation’s diplomacy does not rely on leaders’ personal relationships. Yet many Koreans wonder why no telephone call has been made between Park and Xi. Park must explain what really happened on the diplomatic front when she makes an address to the nation later this week.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 12, Page 30