Regional role of Korea
Nation should at least be mediator, if not balancer
Recently, the United States and China have sometimes competed, and sometimes cooperated with each other on the international stage. In the eyes of most, if not all observers, the G2 nations competed more than they cooperated around the ASEAN Regional Forum in Phnom Penh last week.
If anything, China was busy fending off a U.S. diplomatic offensive, which touched on Beijing’s two most sensitive issues: human rights and democracy. China pushed back hard, saying no one has allowed America to rate democracy of other countries in Asia or elsewhere.
In North Asia, too, the U.S. continued to step up what Beijing sees as America’s encircling operations around China, activating a working-level office for its trilateral alliance with Korea and Japan, in Washington, D.C.
Both the U.S. and Japan have not said much publicly about the recent failure between Seoul and Tokyo to conclude a bilateral military intelligence-sharing pact. But Washington and Tokyo attribute the botched accord to opposition political parties in Seoul capitalizing on the deep-rooted animosity Koreans hold against their former colonizer. They seem to think it is possible after the presidential election is over in Korea, and will likely resume efforts to do so.
This explains why U.S. officials are reportedly paying keen attention to the proceedings and eventual outcome of the presidential vote in Seoul. Washington’s best hope would be probably that President Lee Myung-bak remains in office for another term, which, unfortunately, is not possible under Korean law. Another conservative, Park Geun-hye, may be a second-best option, although few in Seoul or Washington know the diplomatic plans of the taciturn female leader.
Without a doubt, Washington wants a pro-U.S. leader in Seoul _ one who sides with America on any issue and under any circumstances, like the incumbent President. Yet, the U.S. is urged to no longer regard Korea as just a variable between the two constants of China and Japan, but treat Seoul _ and preferably Pyongyang, too _ as a constant in itself. And this is what Korean leaders, conservatives and liberals, and those in Seoul and Pyongyang, should strive for in unison to enable long-term prosperity in the nation.
For more than 100 years, Koreans haven’t had the opportunities to conduct truly independent diplomacy because of colonization and national division. In the late 19th century, China and Japan waged war on this peninsula to dominate Korea, and America quietly supported Japan. History could be repeated more than a century later, although the balance of power will have shifted somewhat in favor of China. All this is based on the presumption that Korean leaders will remain divided between south and north, and east and west.
A united Korea would be a power few regional players would ignore or handle roughly. It could _ and should _ play the role of a mediator or stabilizer, if not balancer, instead of troublemaker or blind follower. This is no time for presidential hopefuls to become mired in a pro-U.S. or pro-N.K. brawl.
The economy is of course important but voters would like to see leaders of much higher caliber, with a grander vision and farsighted future dreams.