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Diplomacy without principles

June 18,2019
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Lee Ha-kyung
The author is the chief editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.

Finally, Korea is being forced to choose between the United States and China. The United States has threatened to cut its military and security intelligence sharing if Korea uses communication systems from China’s Huawei. The Korea-U.S. alliance is being shaken at its roots. China is also pressuring Samsung and SK Hynix to reject U.S. demands. The limbs of Korea’s economy and national security are being torn apart.

This is the tragedy that we are facing after trying to please these superpowers without any principles or strategy. There is only one way to survive. We must clearly present our judgment and logic, no matter how serious their threats are. Without a bold and stern decision, we will eventually be killed.

The key is whether sensitive information will end up in China through backdoor hacking if we use Huawei’s communication systems. The government should not let private companies look into the possibility. Instead, it must take matters into its own hands, collect information and make a judgment.

If there is clear evidence that the U.S. argument is correct, the government must announce that sanctions are unavoidable. If China retaliates, we can take matters to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

If there is no evidence of hacking — and if the U.S. threats are just part of its strategy — Korea must say that it will continue business with Huawei.

“In order to survive from the pressures of the two superpowers, Korea must make a decision based on international norms and universal values to show that it is a country with principles,” said Park Tae-ho, former minister of trade.

Korea actually missed an opportunity to make its voice clearly heard. When China opposed the deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system, Korea should have declared, “We have no reason to stop our ally protecting the U.S. Forces Korea from North Korean nuclear threats.”

When the Chinese government issued travel bans on its tourists to Korea, we should have taken the case to the WTO. China could have learned a lesson if it had faced a trial that attracted global attention. But Korea acted lukewarmly and did not take the necessary measures to practice its sovereign rights. As a result, the United States — an ally — lost trust im Korea while China looked down on us.

We should have acted more sternly toward the United States. Last year, Korea accepted the U.S. quota on steel exports in return for waiving a 25-percent tariff. That violates Article 11 of the WTO’s safeguard measures. Korea should have told the United States that it rejects a demand that goes against international rules.

If we had confronted China’s retaliation against the Thaad’s deployment and the demands of the United States on the steel export quota, we would have been recognized as a country with consistency and principles. No one would have tried to mess with us this time.
Who can we blame? It is not too late for us to change and protect both alliances and cooperative ties with Washington. We must get a grip to overcome this crisis.

Germany, a core member of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), is a close ally of the United States. Since the crisis in Ukraine, it joined the U.S.-led sanctions on Russia. The foreign minister of Germany publicly criticized Russia’s seizure of the Crimea. Yet Germany maintains strong economic relations with Russia. Despite sanctions, over 5,000 German companies are in Russia. Russia is Germany’s second-largest trade partner after China. When you keep your principles and say what you need to say, you can still see practical gains.

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was the key to the Russia-Germany cooperation. Former Korean Ambassador to Russia Woo Yoon-keun is a close friend of Schröder’s and of his wife Kim So-yeon. Woo attended their wedding in Berlin last year.

Kim, a native of Goheung, South Jeolla, calls Woo a “brother from my hometown.” Schröder shared the secret of bilateral cooperation between Moscow and Berlin with Woo.

“Germany fiercely fought against the Soviet Union during World War II,” Schröder told Woo. “We studied the country extensively. But we only concentrated on military strategy, and realized that we did not know the country very well. So we continuously talked with Russia and received great help for German reunification. That is why we are actively engaging in trade despite sanctions.” The key behind the cooperation was thorough research about the partner and endless dialogue.

Schröder and Russian President Vladimir Putin maintain their 19-year friendship. Putin worked as an agent in Dresden for five years, where the KGB had an East German branch. Proficient in German, Putin can even recite the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke. The two once drank together in Putin’s vacation home in Russia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel often sends German beer produced near Dresden. It is a very different practice from Korea, where its basic policies and human networks are all erased when the president is changed.

Former Ambassador Woo recommended Lee Sok-bae — the consul general in Vladivostok in Russia — as his successor. Lee’s father was Lee Woong-hee, who served as the culture minister and the spokesman of the Chun Doo Hwan regime.

Some protested that there is no reason to appoint the son of Chun’s confidante — and a diplomat named to a high post by conservative former President Park Geun-hye — as an ambassador to Russia.

Yet Woo — a former floor leader of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, the predecessor of the ruling Democratic Party — said he will guarantee Lee’s abilities. “As the successor of a politician-turned-ambassador, a career diplomat is the best choice,” Woo told the Blue House. President Moon Jae-in sided with Woo.

The Huawei dilemma is a crisis of Korea’s economy and national security. To overcome this crisis, the government must demonstrate consistent principles. It must hire more talented diplomats and officials, whether they are politicians or the children of Chun Doo Hwan’s confidantes or not. We can only survive when we unite beyond factionalism and make our voice clearly heard.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 17, Page 31