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A comparison of messages by Obama and Xi in Korea visit

Posted July. 07, 2014 05:00,   


U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Korea consecutively with a 68-day gap. A look at the messages sent by the two key nations, or G2, makes it clear where their interests lie. Obama tried to get economic gain through gifts in diplomacy and security, while Xi made it clear that he wanted the lead in diplomacy and security in return for economic gain. That is why Korea’s countenance was completely different despite similar messages by the two leaders.

Obama and Xi both criticized the growing conservatism of Japan. In a news conference during his visit to Korea on April 25, Obama said on the wartime sex slavery issue, "It was a "terrible" violation of human rights. Those women were violated in ways that even in the midst of war were shocking." A diplomatic line of the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae welcomed the remarks, which were made for the first time by a U.S. president to directly mention the comfort women issue. Cheong Wa Dae appeared to have gotten strong reinforcement in Korea-Japan historical conflict. Obama accepted Korea’s demands to postpone the transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) slated for December 2015.

Xi’s criticism of Japan was stronger. During his lecture at Seoul National University on Friday, Xi mentioned the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598) and the Korean Liberation Army, saying Korea-China collaboration should be stepped up in response to the growing conservatism of Japan. Yet Korea was in a tight spot as it cannot break the security collaboration with the U.S., and Japan. However, Xi’s comment could not be ignored either. At last, Senior Presidential Secretary for Foreign Affairs and National Security Ju Chul-ki introduced a series of criticisms of Japan the two leaders exchanged. In return for that, Korea was given the economic gift such as the agreement to finish negotiations of Korea-China FTA within this year and to open a won-yuan direct transaction market.

A look at where President Park Geun-hye was deliberately unclear during her summits with both leaders show a clear difference. When Xi proposed a joint event next year, the 70th anniversary of the collapse of Japanese militarism, Park declined to give an immediate response, saying Korea also intends to prepare meaningful events. On the other hand, with Obama, Park did not give a clear answer to U.S. demands to expand the opening of markets to relieve U.S.’ trade deficit with Korea, which has been growing since the Korea-U.S. FTA took effect.

The summits with the G2 were a reminder of the diplomatic circles saying that there are neither eternal enemies nor eternal friends.