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Taking the insults

Does South Korea not realize it’s being insulted by China, or is it feigning ignorance?
Dec 21,2017
Last week, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, a longtime friend of President Donald Trump, attended a forum in Washington, D.C. In a speech, one thing annoyed me. He said that as some of the audience already knew, he helped Korea during the financial crisis and was awarded a medal from Kim Dae-jung. But his pronunciation of the former South Korean president’s name was not correct. Nor did he did use the title president when he mentioned Kim. Instantly I felt that Korea was not treated with respect.

And talking about disrespect, President Moon Jae-in paid a state visit to China last week and there were signs of disrespect all over the place: no joint statement after a summit with President Xi Jinping, a reception at the airport by a mere assistant foreign secretary, Foreign Minister Wang Yi tapping on Moon’s shoulder, having eight meals on his own, Premier Li Keqiang’s refusal to have a luncheon with Moon, an absence of business heavyweights at a Korea-China business meeting and Korean journalists assaulted by Chinese guards. It may have been one of the biggest diplomatic debacles of the past ten years.

What’s more worrying is that Koreans feel hurt. The Blue House enthusiastically promised on social media that Moon’s China visit would result in a 0.2 percent increase in economic growth, but I find their claim questionable. Can a 0.2 percent increase make up for the 200 percent increase in people’s frustrations? The administration’s entire foreign policy and public relations staff should be replaced.

Diplomacy is a war without gunfire. The outcome says it all. Confident diplomacy may be the best, but if not possible, all strategies and tactics should be used. When Donald Trump was elected president late last year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rushed to Trump Tower in New York and presented him with a golden golf club. He was criticized for flattery. But what Abe said in private made me think. “There are two ways to deal with yakuza. One is to fight a yakuza with a knife with a gun. The other is licking his shoes.” Abe opted for the latter. It was his choice.

Korea University Professor Emeritus Suh Jin-young, who is considered a pioneer in China studies, said that the Moon administration may have faced the meeting like Choi Myung-gil, who endured humiliation at the time of the Qing invasion of Joseon in 1636. That may be similar to Abe’s choice. But there is a critical difference.

Abe won Trump’s heart and became a “BFF” (best friend forever). He made Trump discuss most Korean policies of the United States in telephone conversations with him.

How about South Korea? Despite the humiliation in China, we haven’t earned its love. China made South Korea declare that no war on the Korean Peninsula will be allowed, but it ordered on Dec. 1 an expansion of its refugee camps along the border to prepare for a war.

Despite many concessions by South Korea, China has not reacted to North Korea’s threats. South Korea was too naïve. By proclaiming the so-called three nos — no additional Thaad deployments, no joining of a broader U.S. missile defense system, and no Korea-U.S.-Japan military alliance — South Korea has ended up upsetting its ally, the United States. A former CIA official said that the United States would not give prior information to Korea if it makes a military action against North Korea. His words are frightening.

Greek historian Herodotus said that arrogance is punished by the gods. Does South Korea not realize it’s being insulted by China, or is it feigning ignorance? Today’s humiliation may be the beginning of our long decline.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 19, Page 33

*The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Kim Hyun-ki