Refusing to be ignoredAfter North Korea fired its most advanced ICBM on July 28, an argument for a direct deal between the United States and China over the fate of the Korean Peninsula started ringing alarm bells. The argument, which has surfaced in the U.S., calls for a no-nonsense bargain between Washington and Beijing to address an ever-worsening nuclear crisis involving North Korea.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger reportedly advised the Donald Trump administration to promise China that the United States would pull out most of its military forces from South Korea in case North Korea collapses. Dr. Kissinger believes the reassurance would help China accept a termination of the Kim Jong-un regime without the fear that U.S. troops would march up to its border after the Korean Peninsula is unified.
Jay Lefkowitz, special envoy on human rights in North Korea for the George W. Bush administration, went so far as to assert that Uncle Sam should abandon its traditional “One Korea” policy, which is based on the assumption that unification will be led by South Korea. Lefkowitz pinned his argument on the conviction that it is the only way for the United States to dispel China’s concerns that the entire Korean Peninsula will be controlled by a pro-U.S. government after unification.
If such a deal is really struck between Washington and Beijing, we could face a worst-case scenario in which the two big powers look for ways to solve the North Korean nuclear conundrum while ignoring South Korea. If the United States should withdraw its troops after unification, it leaves a big hole in South Korea’s security after decades of heavy reliance on the alliance.
For a South Korea surrounded by military powers like China and Russia, the North Korean nuclear threat is not the only threat.
If the U.S. government chooses to give up its “One Korea” policy, that triggers a tougher challenge as it can mean that Washington would approve of another regime in Pyongyang after Kim’s fall. In that case, we cannot avoid the prolonged division of the peninsula.
After the North’s latest missile provocation, Trump said he will deal with the North Korean problem. But we do not know what kind of hawkish actions he could take.
The Moon Jae-in administration must closely communicate with the Trump administration to ensure that South Korea’s national interests are not ignored in the big power’s negotiations over the peninsula’s future.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 2, Page 30