China and Korea
New governments ought t seek better partnership
America finished picking its leader for the next four years yesterday. China will begin a similar, but a very different, process tomorrow: the new Chinese leader has long been decided and will be in charge for a decade.
Korea has been paying greater attention to political developments in the G2 than most other countries in the world, especially regarding how the new leadership in its giant neighbor to the west will handle global and regional diplomacy. Modern history tells there are more than a hundred reasons for the unusual level of interest.
Everybody knows the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party is mostly a perfunctory event as far as the election of new leaders is concerned. Still what’s decided at the weeklong meeting, and how Xi Jinping, who will formally take over the presidency next March, charts the course for the world’s largest socialist country in the next 10 years will be enough to grab global concern.
China is now undergoing what can at best be described as growing pains, as the world’s second-largest economy shifts from quantitative to qualitative growth, and seeks ways of solving polarizing incomes among 13.5 billion people.
The economy is hardly the only problem facing China, whose quadrupled gross domestic product in the past decade has produced a middle class whose number tops the entire population of Korea, and led to, inevitably, mounting calls for more democracy and social justice. The world will be watching with great concern as to whether and how Xi and other Chinese leaders keep the disruption of domestic problems from spilling abroad, by making it either unduly isolationist or expansionist.
On the shoulders of this 59-year-old leader is the nearly impossible task of keeping China’s growth and political relationships in harmony, both at home and abroad.
The least desirable scenario is for Beijing and Washington to engage in a new Cold War for global hegemony, either by giving into the instincts that characterize superpowers or by concealing their domestic problems. Such ominous signs have long been seen around the Korean Peninsula, including issues in the Yellow Sea. Add to this Japan’s thinly-veiled ambition to get over its domestic slump through becoming more aggressive abroad in historical and territorial disputes, and Koreans will find their divided peninsula on the verge of a clash, once again, because of the unfettered desires of the three largest economies wrestling for influence.
The new Chinese leader will likely be more self-assertive in foreign relations, both global and regional. Evidence of this is Beijing’s increasingly frequent mention of China’s ''core interests” and continuous expansion of its scope. There may be clear limitations as to what Seoul can do to induce the major powers to move for its interests.
But the new Korean government should try its best to ensure at least two things: One is to get China’s cooperation to induce North Korea to give up nuclear ambitions and be part of peaceful international order. The other is to persuade Beijing why its core interests should not conflict with Korea’s for historical reasons.
The next Korean president should be the one who can fulfill this and other difficult diplomatic missions. He or she should learn from the bad example of the incumbent, who has mistakenly been mired in the old Cold War mentality while failing to see new problems looming ahead.