The balance of power in Northeast Asia and the diplomatic interests of the surrounding powers are drawing increasing attention in the wake of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent state visit to South Korea.
Around 70 years after Japan was defeated in the regional war, China came to be the world’s second-largest economy and Korea’s number one trade partner. Japan also transformed itself from a conquered nation to an economic powerhouse and a close ally of the United States. In addition, Washington is condoning its conversion into a military power these days, so as to contain China and maintain its influence in Asia.
The competition for hegemony in this region surrounding the Korean Peninsula is not much different from a century earlier.
The only big difference is the division of the Korean Peninsula, making the interests of the surrounding powers more complex than a century ago. In particular, North Korea’s reliance on nuclear weapons is breaking the traditional balance of power, and its moves have raised concerns over a domino of nuclear developments in Northeast Asia. In that sense, the U.S. and China share the same interest of nuclear deterrence in the region, making it possible for President Xi to visit to Seoul along with mutual interests in economic issues.
The current regional situations, including Tokyo’s lifting of sanctions on Pyongyang and Washington’s recognition of Japan’s right to collective selfdefense, along with the uncomfortable yet interdependent Sino-American relations, are posing challenges and opportunities at the same time on the political, military, and economic environments of the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea aside, South Korea is, however, just as severely divided from within as it was 100 years ago. The nation has failed to handle the internal splits between conservative and progressive factions along with the conflicts between regions, social classes, and ideologies about North Korea. Under the circumstances, the refurbished national consensus or integration based on the democratic value and procedure is more basically and urgently needed to tide over the external challenges than the enhancement of diplomatic capabilities, which cannot but have their own limitations.
Regarding the discussions about national reform that have been heated since the Sewol ferry disaster, government reorganization and legal overhauls are not enough to give a whole new shape to Korea. The nation has risen to be the world’s 10th largest economy from the ashes of the Korean War within a very short span of 50 years. Unfortunately though, compressed economic growth has resulted in entailing conflicts between social strata and corruption.
In order to deal with the challenges from home and aboard, the national consciousness has to be totally reformed and advanced first before it can come up with the nation’s growth economy and improve its international status. That is how Korea will be able to transform itself anew genuinely -through cleaning up accumulated internal evils and pulling through the external challenges ahead.