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Kim should ally with the U.S.

May 09,2018
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Chun Young-gi
*The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Words like “the United States” and “South Korea-U.S.” are neglected these days. In the government, the Blue House and the ruling Democratic Party, the activist sentiment is so widespread that it is hard to argue that it is not an anti-U.S. regime. Being anti-American itself is not bad. The United States contributed to the birth and growth of a free Korea, and Koreans are thankful for the help. But Korea has developed and does not deserve derision anymore. If the United States arrogantly tries to sway South Korea as it wishes, anti-American sentiment is natural.

But anti-Americanism needs to be balanced. It is unwise to annoy Washington with excessive anti-American and pro-Chinese sentiment. We should value the Seoul-Washington alliance and understand the need for the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK). Over-the-top, anti-American sentiment can bring the whole nation off the cliff.

I wonder what they really want by shaking up the military balance on the Korean Peninsula and strategic stability between the United States, China and Japan in East Asia. I assume that the hard-core anti-Americans want to join the new East Asian hegemony, with China as the big brother and North Korea as the little brother under the protection of Xi Jinping.

I spent a week in Washington as I participated in a program by the Korean-American Club. I asked policymakers and experts at the White House, the Department of State, the Congress and think tanks on the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Korea. On nuclear weapons, they said that U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would come to a satisfying agreement and use it as a political accomplishment, but no one knows whether the dismantlement would be faithfully carried out. On the USFK, they said that the fate of the Korean Peninsula is for Koreans to decide. It is not news that Trump is mentioning the withdrawal of the USFK. But the U.S. government responded sensitively about President Moon Jae-in’s Special Adviser Moon Chung-in’s Foreign Affairs column, in which he claimed that the justification for the USFK would disappear if a peace agreement is signed between the United States and North Korea. They reportedly asked whether it was an official position of the South Korean government. President Moon openly warned his adviser about expressing such views.

In the program, I got an insight from Kim Joo-eun, a Korean-American predoctoral fellow at Georgetown University who is writing a thesis on nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. She proposed a paradigm of building a new triangular alliance of South Korea, the United States and North Korea through a series of summits among Moon, Trump and Kim. She argued that the triangular alliance would give North Korea more than a guarantee of its system and, with it, Pyongyang would commit to permanent dismantlement of nuclear weapons. The United States will eagerly bring in North Korea as it is an opportunity to decisively press China in the geopolitical contest in East Asia. South Korea can expand and strengthen the alliance, please the conservatives by clearing concerns about a potential withdrawal of the USFK and, at the same time, appeal to the liberals by pursuing national unity beyond economic cooperation. This would be the most appropriate setting to resolve ideological discord.

A triangular alliance that benefits Seoul, Washington and Pyongyang would make Beijing and Tokyo feel left out. They can be handled by the existing North-China alliance and U.S.-Japan alliance. President Moon has been walking an uncharted path. If he creates a new triangular alliance in East Asia and presents it at the Korea-U.S. summit on May 22, it will open another option. Kim Joo-eun’s pro-American, pro-North Korean initiative sounds more creative than the pro-Chinese path of the derailed anti-American group.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 7, Page 26