Blaming China is not a solution

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Blaming China is not a solution

Kim Su-jeong
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo. 
 The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics has ended. While celebrating the spectacular contest of sweat and toil of athletes, the games have not been entirely comfortable to watch. From the onset, controversies arose from media control, referee bias,and nationalistic fervor on the audience stand to a doping scandal involving a 15-year-old figure skater who tested positive for a banned substance but was nevertheless allowed compete. Such features underscored shadows of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes to upset fair competition and ethics codes for sports competitions. The 1936 Berlin Olympics, 1980 Moscow Olympics, 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, 1988 Seoul Olympics and 2008 Beijing Olympics were historically important in displaying to the world the features of the host country and the trends of global power during the period. Thanks to the real time connection through IT, millions of people watch the games and make judgments on their own.

To Koreans, simmering anti-Chinese sentiment from China’s retaliatory actions for Seoul’s installation of the U.S. Thaad missile defense system, Beijing’s assertiveness over Korean culture, the Moon Jae-in government’s groveling diplomacy towards China have all boiled over from unfair refereeing during the games to the Chinese embassy in Seoul’s offending comment over a Chinese performer wearing hanbok. Young Koreans with strong attachments to issues of individualism, freedom and fairness do not hide their apathy towards China.

When I said Koreans sympathize with Australia waging a standoff with China despite economic retaliation during a meeting with Australian diplomats in Korea, they responded that Australia was not anti-China, but was engaged with an approach prioritizing national interests.

When I met government officials and scholars in Australia in May 2017, their attention was entirely on China. Australia joining the U.S.-led security alliance since 2000 has endeavored to build its identity in the Asia-Pacific. It was the first among a developed economies to sign a free trade agreement with China. China takes the largest share (38 percent) of Australia’s export and Australia records its biggest trade surplus with China. About 30 percent of foreign students in Australia are Chinese. They were more attentive to Beijing than Seoul. An Australian official talked with bewilderment about how a Chinese delegation ruined an international conference in Australia. They had stopped an opening speech by foreign minister Julie Bishop by demanding to kick out a Taiwanese delegation from a diamond trade conference in Australia. Australian parliament members also had to resign over allegations of receiving donations from China in 2016. A sense of urgency has grown to wean Australia off of China.

In 2017, Australia was engaged in rewriting its Foreign Policy White Paper. After the Australian government, six state governments, overseas missions, industries, think tanks and university professors all worked on the task for a year, the results were announced by the prime minister, foreign and commerce ministers in November. The core of the White Paper laying out the direction of foreign relations over the next decade was how to respond to ‘China’s growing power” which changes the region “in ways without precedent in Australia’s modern history.” The paper visualized stronger ties with countries in the region sharing the same democratic values clashing with China to uphold Australia’s identity of a free democracy and values of political, economic and religious freedom, human rights and law and order. The country is now bound by the Aukus, with Britain and United States, and the Quad, with India, Japan and the U.S., designed to protect the region from Chinese dominance.

Australia believes the economic retaliation from China as a cost to safeguard its sovereignty and traditional alliance. There is no dispute among Australians on the matter, according to former Korean Ambassador to Australia Lee Baek-soon. Such a consensus was possible because the government underwent multiple discussions with society over its foreign policy direction. The White Paper is a foreign policy guideline for five to 10 years.

In Korea, the Foreign Policy White Paper is published annually as a list of achievements. Korea has never hosted a national debate on the vision of foreign policy to protect national identify and interests. Foreign policy changes every five years when a new president is elected. Candidates for next presidency promise sensational policies of “sinking Chinese and North Korean fishing boats that invade into South Korean seas” and eliminating or adding Thaad missiles.

Due to its geopolitical extraordinariness, defining security and foreign policy cannot be easy for South Korea. Seoul must tread carefully vis-à-vis nuclear-armed North Korea, and policies towards Washington and Beijing differ depending on political ideology. But a roadmap can be drawn out to sustain South Korea’s freedom, democracy, human and judiciary rights as well as cultural appeal.
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