September 02, 2015 13:28
Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se met with U.S. State Secretary John Kerry on the sidelines of the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic in Alaska on Monday. It was the first time that a Korean foreign minister attended the conference, which is mainly led by Northern European nations and the U.S. Korea is the only Asian country being represented at the conference.
Yun then visited Hawaii and met with the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet before heading to Beijing to accompany President Park Geun-hye on her trip there.
Yun's participation in the conference was apparently due to the growth potential of the region, where the U.S. is desperate to drill for oil in the face of global protests. But a greater aim appears to have been to allay Washington's concerns over Park's attendance at a massive military parade in Beijing.
The issue of her visit was apparently the focus of the half-hour meeting with Kerry. Yun and Kerry said they agreed on the importance of China in guaranteeing peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. Kerry reportedly said he "fully understands" Park's reasons for attending the parade and earlier lauded Seoul as a "superb partner."
But under the surface things are more turbulent. Concerns are mounting in U.S. political circles over the perception that Seoul is growing closer to Beijing than Washington, its traditional ally.
Korea is the only major U.S. ally whose leader is attending the parade, while Washington is rather pointedly sending only the ambassador to Beijing.
Seoul and Washington's official line is that an understanding was reached over Park's visit to China, and the best excuse is that Seoul needs to uphold close ties with Beijing in order to deal effectively with North Korea. But once U.S. election season swings into high gear, anti-Chinese sentiment will crop up on the hustings.
Already one Republican presidential hopeful, the reality-TV personality Donald Trump, has accused Seoul of hitching a "free ride" by paying nothing to keep U.S. troops stationed here. It is entirely possible that Park's attendance at the Chinese military parade could create more fodder for the more gung-ho candidates. Prevention is better than cure.
Park visits Washington a month after her trip to China. She needs to make it clear that Korea is a main player in efforts to open a new era of peace on the Korean Peninsula, rather than a weathervane that swings depending on the temperament of China and the U.S. Seoul also needs to step up diplomatic efforts to sway negative U.S. public opinion.
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