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The American factor

Oct 17,2018
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Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha speaks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Seoul on Oct. 7 after his visit to Pyongyang to negotiate a denuclearization process with North Korea. [YONHAP]
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Nam Jeong-ho
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

We often come across fake people in our lives. Some are pretty obvious and bad at deception. I remember one British diplomat making fun of some of the provocative tabloids in London. They would call up the Foreign Ministry and ask how much it spends on Christmas trees for its overseas missions. Since such data is impossible to tabulate, the ministry responded that it could not provide the answer right away. A few days later, came the tabloid’s report: “Overseas missions spend huge on Christmas trees: Foreign Ministry refuses to comment.”

The Moon Jae-in administration has been almost as risible in its fabrications. Before President Moon took off for a summit in North Korea last month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called up South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and complained about a military deal Seoul would sign in Pyongyang. He was reportedly furious that South Korea had not fully consulted with its ally about the deal.

The Foreign Ministry maintained that it has been closely consulting with Washington over North Korean issues. But that is hardly convincing to the other party if it felt the consultation was not enough — and particularly if Seoul notified Washington of the deal shortly before it was signed.

This was not the first time such a disconnect has occurred. An official at the Korean desk at the U.S. State Department was infuriated that Seoul notified Washington of its plan just a day before it proposed to Pyongyang a summit in July last year.

The United States is not a party that would settle for being informed of things at the last minute. It expects to be included in Seoul’s decisions on North Korean affairs. It has a major role in the Korean peace process. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un knows he must get along with the world’s most powerful nation. North Korea’s ultimate goal is to normalize ties with the United States. That is something beyond Seoul’s jurisdiction.

Also, the United States is the only country that can deal with China, which has a huge stake in the denuclearization and unification process on the Korean Peninsula. Beijing won’t stand any unifying moves primarily led by South Korea. It cannot be happy about dominant American influence on a unified Korean Peninsula. And it won’t tolerate U.S. forces on its doorstep. America is the only state that can persuade and assure China. The United States may have to decide to pull out its troops from the peninsula to get Beijing to condone a unified Korea.

The United States also played a pivotal role in German unification. The George H.W. Bush administration in the late 1980s was sympathetic towards West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who pursued unification with East Germany. Bush persuaded the UK and France, which opposed a unified Germany, and pledged assistance to the Soviet Union to earn its backing.

That was possible thanks to a deep friendship and trust between Bush and Kohl. Their relationship began when Bush was attending an event in West Germany as vice president in 1983. The two had to seek shelter in a parking lot when a group of anti-American protesters raided the event. Bush took the fiasco lightly and comforted his apprehensive host by telling him that these things happened often in the U.S. After such an impressive experience, Kohl built a strong friendship with Bush after he was elected to the presidency four years later.
Confidence cannot be easily earned. Seoul must do its best to communicate with Washington and win support for normalization of ties with North Korea and ultimately unification.

The slogan that unification is a matter for the Korean people to decide is a piece of propaganda by Pyongyang. Any security or unification policy that ignores the global powers is bound to fail.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 16, Page 30