Park Needs to Balance Closer Ties with China

      September 07, 2015 12:41

      China staged a massive military parade in Tiananmen Square on Thursday featuring 12,000 troops, around 500 weapons and 200 fighter jets. All the weapons on display were made in China and 84 percent were shown for the first time.

      The parade was held to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. China held 14 military parades from 1949 to 2009, but all of them on National Day on Oct. 1. This is the first time China held one on the anniversary of the end of World War II.

      In fact it was mostly the Kuomintang forces led by generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, who were defeated in a civil war with the Communists and fled to Taiwan, who fought against colonial Japanese forces.

      China probably held the military parade on the anniversary to flex its military muscle before the world. Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a speech, "China will always uphold the path of peaceful development." Xi also announced a reduction of 300,000 troops out of China's 2.3-million-strong military.

      As China modernizes its military, there is little reason to maintain such huge numbers. The parade was China's way of telling the world that it has now become an undisputed superpower.

      President Park Geun-hye stood second to the right of Xi after Russian President Vladimir Putin and watched the parade. Secretary of the North's Workers Party Choe Ryong-hae, who headed the North Korean delegation, stood at the very end of the line of dignitaries to Xi's right.

      North Korea founder Kim Il-sung stood on the same podium twice -- in 1954 next to Chinese leader Mao Zedong for the fifth National Day and in 1959 for the 10th anniversary. Beijing and Pyongyang formed diplomatic ties more than 60 years ago, while Seoul-Beijing relations date back just 23 years. But Park was prominently featured among the guests, while Choe was almost invisible.

      The parade was not exactly welcomed by the entire international community. Neither Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe nor U.S. President Barack Obama or the leaders of Canada and Germany attended the ceremony and sent their ambassadors instead. The U.K., France and Italy sent ministerial representatives.

      Only around 11 world leaders were there, including Putin, the heads of Central Asian nations and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Park was practically the only head of state to attend with close ties to the West.

      China's intervention in the 1950-53 Korean War was the main reason why Korea was separated into two countries. This is why many people opposed Park's attendance. And although her visit seems to have raised Seoul-Beijing ties to a new level, it should not be forgotten that the trip also made Washington and other allies feel uneasy.

      It is Seoul's diplomatic objective to form closer ties with China in order to resolve the North Korean nuclear impasse and boost economic exchanges. But its credibility could be damaged if it is seen by the international community as dancing to Baijing's tune. Park's task is also to improve ties with Japan and bolster relations with other regional neighbors.

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