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Not normal times

Amid an intensifying nuclear crisis and the possibility of war, our presidency is vacant.
Apr 11,2017
It was Henry Kissinger once again. The summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping was arranged by the 93-year-old strategist.

Kissinger made a secret trip to China on July 9, 1971 and created a breakthrough for the establishment of U.S.-China diplomatic relations. In 2017, he once again worked as a trouble shooter to mend a strained relationship. Richard Nixon ordered Kissinger to start preparations for the U.S.-China reconciliation 46 years ago. Nixon dealt with our presidents Syngman Rhee and Park Chung Hee, and he humiliated Park.

Nixon, then vice president of the Dwight Eisenhower administration, welcomed Rhee and his wife at the airport of Washington D.C. on July 6, 1954. A 21-gun salute sounded loudly across the Potomac River. In a speech, Rhee said that although the path to the unification of the Korean Peninsula was blocked by the fear of the United States, God would allow Korea’s plan to be realized.

When Rhee and his entourage arrived at the White House, President Eisenhower received him in person and a state dinner was given. Just a year earlier, on June 18, 1953, Rhee made a surprise release of 26,000 anti-Communist prisoners of war without consulting the United States. It was an attempt to pressure the U.S. to sign a mutual defense treaty. Enraged, Eisenhower once made a plan to remove Rhee, but he could not ignore the Korean leader’s insight and patriotism, so he received him politely. In his memoirs, Nixon wrote that he had not seen anyone better at dealing with the Communists than Rhee.

But Nixon’s treatment of Park Chung Hee was different. They had a summit on Aug. 21, 1969. No one welcomed Park at the airport. The meeting took place at a hotel in San Francisco. Nixon even allowed his hometown friends to join the dinner. Park was treated poorly.

A month earlier, on July 25, 1969, Nixon announced the “Nixon Doctrine” that each ally in Asia must be in charge of its own security. The summit took place shortly after the announcement of the new doctrine, but Nixon did not bother to inform Park Chung Hee that a troop cut would also apply to the U.S. Forces in South Korea. Although Nixon was elected with a pledge to end the Vietnam War and declared the doctrine, South Korea, bewilderingly, believed that it was an exception.

Rhee had the diplomatic insight of having predicted Japan’s Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, but Park did not have such an ability. When Nixon visited South Korea in 1966, Park treated him as a retired, powerless politician and did not even invite him to dinner. They just had tea.

Based on his trips to Asia, Nixon published an article entitled “Asia after Vietnam” in the October 1967 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. He proposed that in the longer term, China must return to the international community as a great, developing country, not the source of a world revolution. No one in the Park administration was aware that it was the prelude to the Nixon Doctrine, which led to the end of the Vietnam War and the withdrawal of the U.S. 7th Army Division from South Korea, and the establishment of U.S.-China diplomatic relations.

While U.S.-China relations are being realigned amid the intensifying nuclear crisis and a looming possibility of war on the Peninsula, Korea’s presidency is vacant. Although trade conflicts between Washington and Beijing were partly resolved through the Trump-Xi summit, there is no way for us to know if the two leaders really narrowed their differences on how to address the nuclear crisis and the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system in Korea. “Korea passing” continues to take an ominous turn now.

After the bargains of superpowers, Korea always foots the bill. In July 1971, Nixon announced Kissinger’s secret visit to Beijing and issued a special statement to announce his plan to visit China. Two months later, a preparatory Red Cross meeting took place between the two Koreas to discuss a reunion of divided families. It was the first official inter-Korean talks since division. It was a great change.

But in February 1945, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin held the Yalta Conference to create the blueprint for the division of the Korean Peninsula.

The launch of a new administration will take place in less than a month here, but the candidates have no interest in foreign and security issues. They flip-flop their positions on the Thaad deployment without any clear logic or strategy.

Do they think an election victory will prevent a war? On April 14, 1948, 108 local intellectuals issued a statement to express their desire for an inter-Korean negotiation and issued an accurate warning of a war after national division. But today, the voices of conscientious intellectuals are buried by the loud announcements of politicized professors.

If this situation continues, South Korea may repeat the failure of Park Chung Hee, who made the extreme choice of the “Yusin” dictatorship after discord with the U.S. The situation on the Peninsula is perhaps the most volatile since the Korean War. The possibility of a U.S. preemptive strike on the North and a possible crisis in April are made at the same time.

The new president must deal with the North and superpowers at the same time immediately after inauguration. Forming a foreign and security command that can read the international currents with sensitivity and deal with the situations with a big picture perspective is necessary.

The next president must not hesitate to hire capable people no matter what faction they belong to. A bold decision must be made now to prevent a repeat of the humiliation of Park and stop a war.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 10, Page 31

*The author is the chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Lee Ha-kyung