A time for grand diplomacy
The Obama-Kerry team should reproduce the grand game of diplomacy played by Nixon and Kissinger in Asia.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the cease-fire of the 1950-53 Korean War. The Korean War was a large-scale international conflict that resulted in the second-highest casualties since World War II, after the Vietnam War. About 3 million lives, including civilians, were lost. On July 27, 1953, Lieutenant General William Harrison, representing the United Nations Command, and General Nam Il, representing the North Korean and Chinese Forces, met in Panmunjom and signed an armistice agreement, halting fighting that lasted over three years.
But after six decades the war has not ended. Dense layers of forces are face-to-face with the demilitarized zone between them. The peace is narrowly maintained like thin ice that could break at any time.
After World War II, there have been many small and big wars, including limited and full-scale wars, but it is hard to find another example of an unconcluded war like that of Korea. The Paris Peace Accords of 1973 put an end to the Vietnam War, and the Dayton Agreement concluded the war in Bosnia. The Gulf War and the Iraq War ended in American victories.
The Korean War is the only case in which a peace agreement was not been established and a state of war is technically maintained 60 years after a truce. There are ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, between India and Pakistan and in Northern Ireland, but they are deep-rooted conflicts originating from religious or ethnic discords. Ultimate resolutions for them are virtually impossible. However, it is an irony of modern history that South and North Korea, which share historical, cultural and ethnic homogeneity, is still in a state of cold war confrontation after 60 years.
There have been a number of attempts to resolve the thorny Korean Peninsula issue, but they have all failed, fundamentally because of the interests of neighboring powers that wish to maintain the divided state, in addition to North Korea’s communist dynasty. China needs North Korea as a buffer against the United States. It is also concerned that the influence of a unified Korea would expand to its three Northeastern provinces. The United States needs Korea as a strategic base to check China. Japan does not want the emergence of a powerful nation with a combined population of 73 million in the region.
As the resolution of the Korean Peninsula issue continues to elude the world, North Korea is making the situation even more complicated by developing nuclear weapons and missiles. In response to the U.N. Security Council’s resolution on the long-range rocket launch, Pyongyang declared that it will give up the goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. However, as the conflict on the Korean Peninsula is unrelated to religious or ethnic issues, it can be addressed and even solved if interested nations truly want it. The key is the determination of Washington and Beijing.
In February 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon visited China to bring about a historic breakthrough between the two countries. The reconciliation between the two countries was a glorious diplomatic accomplishment orchestrated by Nixon and his White House Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, Chinese President Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai. The interests of the two countries coincided before the mutual threat of the Soviet Union, but it was still the triumph of a grand vision for the future.
The two powers are given a new opportunity as the second term of U.S. President Barack Obama and the administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping begin. The time has come to upgrade the reconciliation made four decades ago into a partnership through yet another diplomatic breakthrough.
If America’s “pivot to Asia” leads to pressure on China through military reinforcements, it would be a drawback not just for the United States and China but also for Asia and the entire world. Cooperation and collaboration between the two powers would benefit every player. Washington and Beijing should find a key in the Korean Peninsula. By working together to resolve the Korean Peninsula issue, America and China can completely change the chessboard of East Asia.
In the inaugural ceremony for his second term, President Obama emphasized peace through dialogue instead of wars. As the Afghan War is about to be concluded following the Iraq War, the United States can shift the center of its overseas strategy from military to foreign policy. Obama’s dovish choices of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel for the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense can be interpreted as a revival of American diplomacy. The Obama-Kerry team should reproduce the grand game of diplomacy played by Nixon and Kissinger in Asia.
This year is also the 60th anniversary of the Korea-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty. Korea should play the role of an idea bank, proposing a bigger picture of peace in the Korean Peninsula to the United States based on a solid alliance. The success of President-elect Park Geun-hye’s foreign policy depends on it.
Even if Pyongyang tests a third nuclear device, it will be a gesture to attract Washington’s attention and increase its bargaining power. Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize in his first year in office. Making a diplomatic accomplishment by accomplishing peace on the Korean Peninsula would be a sure way to live up to the awarding of the prize. It is about time to end the sixty-year-old truce on the Korean Peninsula and replace it with a peace treaty.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok