President Lee Myung-bak went too far in the opposite direction. From his inauguration onward, Lee emphasized a so-called "pragmatic" foreign policy, which focused on strengthening relations with key powers. Lee also pursued conditional, rather than unconditional, engagement with the North. His primary foreign policy goal was a stronger alliance with the U.S., on which he then relied to pursue his "Initiative for Denuclearization and Opening up North Korea to Achieve US$3000 in Per Capita Income." Lee made some progress towards restoring the American alliance and reducing anti-American sentiment domestically, but the new policy alienated North Korea. Inter-Korea reconciliation went nowhere.
During Lee's years in the Blue House, tension on the Korean Peninsula increased instead of decreasing; several incidents, including the Cheonan Incident and Yeonpyeong Island Shelling, threatened to escalate into armed conflict. Though President Lee's policy surely did not anticipate such incidents, it is fair to say that it contributed to growing animosity on the peninsula.
The relationship between China and South Korea was in bad shape as well. When President Lee visited China five years ago, the two countries upgraded their relationship to a "strategic cooperative partnership." Despite the well-intentioned agreement, the Chinese-South Korean relationship did not flourish. Public opinion polls showed that, in both countries, "favorable" attitudes towards the other country were dropping, and President Lee failed to adequately balance South Korea's strategic alliance with the U.S. and its strategic partnership with China. In 2010, South Korea's reaction to the Cheonan Incident and Yeonpyeong Island Shelling also raised many concerns in China.
Current President Park Geun-hye is somewhat unique in her vision of South Korea's respective relations with the North, the U.S. and China. Park's vision presents a sort of fusion of the policies pursued by presidents Kim, Roh and Lee. Park's policy toward North Korea is clear and firm. The Korean Peninsula Confidence Building Process she proposed during her presidential campaign is two-pronged: promoting dialogue and confidence on one hand, and, on the other, strong commitments to respond to any North Korean military provocation. The policy gained clear support from the U.S. during Park's recent visit, and it seems that President Park will enhance cooperation and coordination with the United States. At the same time, Park may still craft a foreign policy strategy of her own. She may also pursue foreign relationships with countries other than the U.S.
South Korea's relations with China may be among those dramatically improved. President Park is in a better position to promote Chinese-South Korean relations than were her predecessors. She knows China better than any other top leaders. She has been very much influenced by Chinese classic works and philosophy. She can speak Chinese. In her first visit to China as President, Park has built personal relationship with President Xi Jinping. Both sides have vowed to expand cooperation on economic and social issues and to promote contact between the citizens of their respective nations. As Park said in her speech, China and South Korea share the same dream, and both strive to promote the peace and prosperity in northeast Asia. More importantly, both sides pledged in a joint statement to pursue denuclearization and stability on the Korean Peninsula. They agreed to improve cooperation on security issues, historically the weak point in the countries' relations.
In sum, unlike her predecessors, President Park is trying to strike a balance between South Korea's respective relationships with China, North Korea and the United States. Her recent visit seemed to promise a brighter future for Chinese-South Korean relations. The question, then, is whether Park will deliver on these promises. How she answers that question will determine how successfully China and South Korea cooperate on security issues in the future.
The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/fanjishe.htm
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