November 20, 2009 10:30
The U.S. is facing a powerful challenge from China to its status as South Korea's preferred partner, the Financial Times said Thursday. "When George Bush senior visited Seoul as U.S. president 20 years ago, things were simple -- the U.S. was the undisputed main ally and trade partner. Astonishingly, there was only one weekly flight from South Korea to China, the communist foe."
But it added, U.S. President Barack Obama "on Wednesday visits a South Korea where the U.S. is no longer the only show in town. China is now the main trade partner, with 642 flights each week."
The U.S. remains the chief political and military ally of South Korea, but "vital issues such as a trade agreement and North Korea's atom bombs have been sidelined in the U.S., while China plays a greater role in both Koreas," the daily said.
It quoted Andrew Gilholm, a senior analyst at British international security consultancy Control Risks, as saying, "The long-term idea is that Seoul will ultimately drift more towards Beijing's orbit, although less so under President Lee Myung-bak."
With regard to North Korea, the U.S. is clearly behind China. Obama will send the special representative for North Korea policy Stephen Bosworth to Pyongyang on Dec. 8 for talks to find a solution to the North Korean nuclear issue. Bosworth is also a professor at Tufts University. The daily called him a "part-time diplomat," saying, "Diplomats in Seoul... are unconvinced that Mr. Obama's choice, Stephen Bosworth, is the right man for the job."
"By contrast, China has intervened at a far deeper level, sending its premier, Wen Jiabao, in October," to persuade North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to resume nuclear talks, it added.
With a nuclear threat from the North lingering, "even traditionally pro-American conservative lawmakers in Seoul are now criticizing the U.S. for limiting South Korean ballistic missiles [under the Seoul-Washington missile agreement]. They are demanding Seoul be allowed its own long-range missiles" to deter the North, the daily wrote.
But the U.S. still has a chance to make up for its poor showing. As it is a "vigorous democracy with historical suspicions of the regional superpower," South Korea's political ties with communist-ruled China are not as smooth as its economic relations, the FT speculated.
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