Obama, Hu in distinct contrast here
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Of many global leaders who attended the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao together drew unrivaled attention from Koreans probably because of a U.S.-China rivalry in Northeast Asia.
Their deep interest in every move of the two leaders led to the question of why they are different in outreach activities with South Korea.
Obama and Hu displayed a common stance on North Korea’s planned rocket launch, the need for an international response to the danger of nuclear terrorism and other global issues, having no clashes of interest.
The two nations are facing a similar fate in terms of leadership change as well. Obama is seeking reelection in November, whereas Hu will be replaced by Xi Jinping later this year.
In Seoul, the two leaders sent a similar message to North Korea that showed no signs of rethinking its plan to launch a rocket in April to mark the 100th anniversary of the late leader Kim Il-sung.
Obama and Hu said the North’s regime needs to focus on feeding its hungry people who are fighting for food every day, rather than spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the rocket.
Despite the similarities, the two leaders stood in stark contrast in terms of their outreach activities here.
Obama squeezed a variety of activities with South Koreans as well as American soldiers based in the country and a flurry of summits with foreign leaders into his packed schedule.
But this was not the case for the Chinese leader.
Some experts pointed to cultural differences as the source of the two leaders’ different approaches.
Chinese society is based on Confucian culture where a leader is expected to be thoughtful when speaking and acting, and their seriousness is regarded as a virtue, they said.
A Chinese expert told The Korea Times on condition of anonymity that he also thinks Hu has relatively less commitments compared with Obama. “This is maybe because of a culture in Chinese diplomacy. I think Hu’s outreach schedule has nothing to do with North Korea (and therefore this shouldn’t be interpreted in the political context),” he said.
In contrast, some analysts said, the United States is a democracy where a leader is elected by its people and therefore he or she is expected to be responsive to the public.
On the first day of his arrival in Seoul on Sunday, Obama went to the heavily fortified demilitarized zone dividing the peninsular. “In the same way that North Korea needs to do something new if it actually wants to do right by its people, my suggestion to China is how they communicate their concerns to North Korea should probably reflect the fact that the approach they’ve taken over the last few decades hasn’t led to a fundamental shift in North Korea’s behavior,” he previewed his remarks during the summit with China a day later.
Obama met with President Lee Myung-bak later in the day, urging North Korea to stop moving forward with the planned launch of a satellite via a long-range rocket.
Obama had four other summit talks with the leaders of China, Russia, Turkey and Kazakhstan.
In a speech at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul Monday, Obama reiterated North Korea’s bad behavior will not be rewarded.
Obama said the days of Pyongyang leveraging its provocative behavior for concessions are over.
The U.S. President was also extremely active in the nuclear summit, which he initiated following his nuclear-free world speech in Prague in 2009.
Hu was relatively quiet in Seoul, holding summit talks with President Lee and South African leader Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma.
In a speech to the plenary session of the nuclear summit Tuesday, Hu said nations have made progress in terms of nuclear security since the first summit in Washington, D.C., in 2010.
But the Chinese leader said the summit has a long way to go when it comes to nuclear security, stressing that China takes it very seriously and has taken appropriate measures.