President Park Geun-hye will make a state visit to the United States from June 14 to 19. It is expected that the agenda items for the summit talks this time will include strategic cooperation between Washington and Seoul in the current situation in which the differing national security strategies of the U.S. and China are compelling South Korea to make difficult choices, as well as a joint response to the North Korean nuclear threat and the confirmation of the firmness of the ROK-U.S. Alliance.
Her visit next month is drawing particular attention in that things are changing fast in Northeast Asia these days. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent visit to Washington D.C. brought U.S.-Japan relations even closer, and Beijing and Tokyo appear to be burying the hatchet nowadays. Kim Jong-un’s reign of terror, in the meantime, is making it even more difficult to predict where the North is headed. The tension between the U.S. and China surrounding the deployment of THAAD in South Korea is ongoing, and the Washington-led trilateral MOU for sharing military data among South Korea, the U.S., and Japan is making China uncomfortable, too.
South Korea is in a dilemma. China becomes irritated when the Korea-U.S. alliance or trilateral cooperation gets strengthened, and the U.S. expresses its discomfort when the South and China stick close to each other. Japan has never stopped provocations against South Korea regarding Dokdo Island, history textbooks, and comfort women issues.
It is beyond doubt that what South Korea should do amid Washington’s and Beijing’s struggle for hegemony is to make aggressive efforts for a new order in Northeast Asia by leading the two superpowers towards close cooperation against the North Korean nuclear threat and for the stability in the region, as well as richer welfare in the global arena. The first step towards this goal should be for the Park Geun-hye government to establish strategies for such a balanced diplomatic focus. Former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said that both the U.S. and China can be brought to the table when South Korea, close to both, takes the initiative. It is hoped that President Park Geun-hye’s visit to the U.S. will lay the cornerstone for it.
At the same time, she needs to deal with the pro-Japanese views of some U.S. government personnel so that the bilateral relationship between Seoul and Washington can remain sound. Washington has to be convinced that Japan’s revisionism cannot be tolerated by any means, and a change of stance is essential for the stability of U.S.-Korea-Japan relations.