Northeast Asia in turbulence
Incoming 3 leaders share responsibility for peace
Leadership changes in the three major countries in Northeast Asia wrapped up last week with the election of Park Geun-hye as South Korea’s first woman president.
China’s Xi Jinping took over the fifth-generation leadership and will become the president of the world’s most populous country in March. Japan’s Shinzo Abe will become prime minister today and Park will be inaugurated in late February.
The three leaders face the common task of ensuring peace and stability in Northeast Asia but the prospects for co-existence and co-prosperity in the region are not that bright, given the deepening conflicts arising from Japan’s past colonial rule and territorial disputes. Rather, the outlook is murky to such an extent that it is difficult to predict things in the immediate future.
Park met with Abe in August 2004 in Seoul in her capacity as head of the then opposition Grand National Party, currently the ruling Saenuri Party. Back then, Abe was the chief cabinet secretary of the Liberal Democratic Party and the two discussed North Korea and other bilateral issues in a harmonious atmosphere.
Analysts cautiously expect Park and Abe to make efforts to mend ties between the neighboring countries that have been strained since President Lee Myung-bak made a surprise visit to the easternmost islets of Dokdo in August.
In fact, Abe already made a conciliatory gesture toward Seoul by putting off his plan to upgrade the status of Takeshima Day to a central government event right after Park’s election. He also offered to send a special envoy to Seoul to deliver a personal letter to Park although the dispatch has not been realized yet because of her busy schedule.
President-elect Park is reportedly fluent in Chinese and this can be a plausible reason for forecasting strengthened relations between Seoul and Beijing. At stake between them are China’s habitual complaints with what is South Korea’s excessive leaning toward the United States.
The three Northeast Asian countries account for nearly 20 percent of the global economy in terms of gross domestic product with a combined population of about 1.6 billion. With China’s clout getting bigger in recent years, more attention is being paid to this region.
To ensure peace around the world, it’s imperative for them to resolve conflicts and enhance their trilateral cooperation. Their immediate threat and headache is North Korea, which has been aggressive in developing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.
Unfortunately, however, tensions between Beijing and Tokyo have already reached a dangerous level after they faced off over the sovereignty of uninhibited islands in the East China Sea. At this point, we urge the new Japanese premier to exercise restraint in his push for far-right policies and this will pave the way for a harmonious and bright future in Northeast Asia.
To be sure, the incoming three leaders share the responsibility to ensure peace and co-prosperity in Northeast Asia. Especially for Park, the next five years needs to be a period during which she can lay the cornerstone of national reunification through her masterful diplomatic moves.