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The ‘two-track’ chimera

Now Korea is telling the United States that security and trade are separate issues.
Feb 22,2018
Politics may be above sports, said a North Korean International Olympic Committee (IOC) member. The Korean government also agreed with this when the joint ice hockey team formed. But in the end, sports was more beautiful than politics.

After winning a gold medal in women’s 500-meter speed skating, Japan’s Nao Kodaira waited for silver medalist Lee Sang-hwa to go around the ice rink in tears. They embraced each other and circled the rink together. They have been rivals since middle school and say they are proud of — and respect — each other. They could say “respect” based on trust, having shared the passion for long. They are far more beautiful and greater than politicians in Korea and Japan who always seek ways to beat on each other.

Canadian skater Kim Boutin was harshly criticized on social media after physical contact with Choi Min-jeong resulted in Choi’s disqualification from the 500-meter short-track race. But five days later, Boutin won bronze in the 1,500-meter event and showed a big smile and gestured graciously to Choi, the gold medal winner, at the award ceremony. On the harassment on social media, Boutin said she did not think all Koreans were so harsh. While she was hurt, she was not upset. She embraced the criticism and showed that she trusted Choi Min-jeong and sports.

Trust is not just between individuals, but between countries.

After U.S. Vice President Mike Pence refused to join a hand-shaking event arranged by Seoul at the PyeongChang Olympics, U.S. President Donald Trump had a phone conversation with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. They talked for 76 minutes, the longest of their 19 calls. According to a source, they had a lengthy discussion on Korean affairs after the PyeongChang Olympic truce. After the call, I heard that Japan’s National Security Council was in emergency mode. The current situation is abnormal as Washington and Tokyo made prior consultations before notifying, or not even notifying, Korea. There are reasons for calls between Korean and U.S. leaders being postponed.

Meanwhile, Trump economic ally carpet-bombed his ally with tariffs and a threat of a reciprocal tax. Japan is not included in these protectionist trade moves. The series of actions against the Korean economy can hardly be explained with the economic logic of the United States actually aiming at China or Trump’s ballyhooed “America First” policy. The inter-Korean celebration of amity through the PyeongChang Olympics could result in an astronomical bill.

On Feb. 19, the Blue House said that South Korea will deal with security and trade on two tracks, including the idea of lodging a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over the U.S. protectionist measures. Is such a two-track approach possible? Trump is linking security and trade. In his book “Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America,” Trump wrote, “We defend Japan. We defend South Korea. These are powerful and wealthy countries. We get nothing from them. It’s time to change all that.”

In the past year, Japan has removed the “misunderstanding,” but Korea somehow could not — even though no country is more threatened by North Korea. And now, Korea is telling the United States that security and trade are separate issues. But Trump is not listening. The upcoming talks on defense expenses and the contractor selection for the 17 trillion won ($15.8 billion) U.S. Air Force jet trainer program are bound to be related to trade.

In fact, a two-track strategy is a last resort after the usual diplomatic track stops working. A month ago, Korea announced that relations with Japan would go two-track as the sex slave issue could not be resolved. Now, the Moon Jae-in administration says it will go two-track with its relations with the United States. Does Korea have one-track relations with any country? Do we really have a friend to respect like the Olympic athletes do? Who caused such deep feelings of uneasiness and anxiety?

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 21, Page 30

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

Kim Hyun-ki