Seoul’s new leader moves to re­pair U.S. ties

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - YEARN HONG CHOI

Pres­i­dent Bush and South Korean Pres­i­dent Lee Myung-bak fixed the strained re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two na­tions when they met at the Camp David sum­mit in April. This re­la­tion­ship had grown quite strained un­der the pre­vi­ous Korean gov­ern­ment be­cause of its un­con­di­tional will­ing­ness to ap­pease North Korea’s dic­ta­to­rial regime.

Over the past 10 years, the Repub­lic of Korea’s left­ist gov­ern­ments were fu­eled by a com­bi­na­tion of xeno­pho­bic na­tion­al­ism and anti-Amer­i­can­ism unique to South Korea. Then, in De­cem­ber, vot­ers elected a pro-Amer­i­can con­ser­va­tive busi­ness­man­turned politi­cian to the pres­i­dency. They ex­pressed a de­sire to re­store the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two na­tions — and then they ex­pressed the same de­sire again in the April 2008 Na­tional As­sem­bly elec­tion.

In the wake of the sum­mit and its fa­vor­able im­pli­ca­tions for U.S.-Korean co­op­er­a­tion, it seems to this re­tired pro­fes­sor that as long as the United States, South Korea and Ja­pan con­demn in uni­son North Korea’s nu­clear arms pro­lif­er­a­tion and its shame­ful hu­man-rights record, North Korea’s diplo­macy of brinkman­ship can­not last long. China and Rus­sia, the for­mer and present al­lies of North Korea, should be ashamed of their sup­port of Py­ongyang. They should com­pel North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to adopt regime changes. It may be im­pos­si­ble to achieve regime change in North Korea. But a se­ri­ous at­tempt must be made none­the­less. There is no other way.

Among the div­i­dends of the Camp David meet­ing: The North Korean threat was as­sessed ad­e­quately, and the date of trans­fer of the Com­bined Forces Com­mand from the United States to South Korea — which the pre­vi­ous regime had orig­i­nally sched­uled to take place on April 17, 2012 — was resched­uled. Pres­i­dent Bush promised to main­tain the cur­rent U.S. forces in Korea. That de­ci­sion pleased many Kore­ans.

Ul­ti­mately, the South Korean army alone must be able to de­ter threats from North Korea, and win the war, if it were to break out. In the mean­time, how­ever, the pres­ence of U.S. forces in Korea — they cur­rently num­ber ap­prox­i­mately 28,500 — should con­tinue as a de­ter­rent. More im­por­tantly, the United States should be able to demon­strate the strength of the U.S.-South Korea se­cu­rity al­liance as a keeper of the peace in East Asia.

The two pres­i­dents, as agreed at Camp David, can fa­cil­i­tate the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of free trade agree­ments be­tween the two na­tions. Their re­spec­tive con­gresses can now be ex­pected to make them law. To be sure, in the United States, such agree­ments are neg­a­tively viewed and re­ceived by the Demo­cratic Congress and la­bor unions. But the United States, the most pow­er­ful na­tion on earth, should set an ex­am­ple of the ben­e­fits of free trade for the world econ­omy. It should show that free trade is the nat­u­ral eco­nomic or­der. Po­lit­i­cal rhetoric based on na­tion­al­ist sen­ti­ment should be min­i­mized in the rat­i­fi­ca­tion de­bate. In any event, South Korea has a weak agri­cul­tural and ser­vice sec­tor, which should help con­vince th­ese groups that free trade will strengthen both na­tions and make them com­pet­i­tive in the long run. Al­ready Pres­i­dent Lee has opened U.S. beef to the Korean mar­ket as a good ges­ture to the United States.

It seems Mr. Lee can and will main­tain his pop­u­lar­ity as long as the United States main­tains its sta­tus on the world’s po­lit­i­cal stage. Mr. Bush’s war against ter­ror and the subprime mort­gage cri­sis have re­sulted in an eco­nomic re­ces­sion and tar­nished the U.S. im­age abroad. The peace­ful and grad­ual end of the war, and cor­rec­tions to Amer­i­can busi­ness prac­tices, should re­store the im­age long cher­ished by other na­tions. Mr. Bush should not force Mr. Lee to send more troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. South Korea does not want to be in­volved in the war zone, and the United States should re­spect those Korean wishes.

South Korea is a show­case of U.S. as­sis­tance and good will: War-torn in the 1950s, this once very poor na­tion be­came an ad­vanced in­dus­trial power, ranked 11th among the world‘s trad­ing na­tions to­day, thanks in part to U.S. mil­i­tary and eco­nomic aid. A free, demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal sys­tem emerged in the 1970s and 1980s.

Pres­i­dent Lee re­mem­bers the poverty of his war-torn coun­try back in the 1950s. As a young boy, he sur­vived by work­ing hard. He went to col­lege and started a suc­cess­ful ca­reer at the Hyundai Con­struc­tion Co. He wit­nessed the mirac­u­lous eco­nomic growth of the na­tion as a young ex­ec­u­tive. He then be­came mayor of Seoul and a strong de­fender of the en­vi­ron­ment. He will never for­get Amer­i­can gen­eros­ity. He is among the last to ex­pe­ri­ence the 1950-1953 Korean War, and is a firm be­liever in Korea’s con­tin­ued pros­per­ity. I hope his pro-Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial lead­er­ship brings more suc­cess to both Korea and the United States. I am op­ti­mistic.

Yearn Hong Choi, Ph.D. in po­lit­i­cal science from In­di­ana Univer­sity, and a Vir­ginia res­i­dent, is a re­tired pro­fes­sor who had a long teach­ing ca­reer in the U.S. and Korea.

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