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U.S. Experts Assess Roh’s Diplomacy

Posted November. 15, 2005 03:08,   


“It may sound like self-praise, but I think I overachieved in diplomatic matters,” said president Roh Moo-hyun last month during an interview with Daily Surprise, a Korean online media outlet.

What do the diplomatic partners of Korea think about his achievements? After his comment, Dong-A Ilbo conducted an e-mail survey of 15 experts on Korean Peninsula issues working in Washington think tanks. Conducted from November 7 to 13, the survey asked for a college-style grading of Roh’s diplomatic policies.

On a scale of 4.3 points (A+), they gave Roh a 2.51 mark on average to his policies toward the U.S., which is somewhere between a B- and a C+. However, it turns out there are great differences in their viewpoint, as the answers varied from 4.0 (A) to 0.7 (D-). Roh’s Chinese diplomacy received the relatively high score of 2.94 (B), while his Japanese diplomacy only got a 1.9 (C).

To the request to give tips for future policies, one of them answered it is pointless to give advice on the Korea-U.S. alliance because both Roh and U.S. president George W. Bush listen to only their “inner circles.” However, most of them recommended the two countries establish a more efficient communication channel, find a common ground for mutual benefits in their alliance, and avoid making political comments aimed at domestic voters.

To the question about sentiment against each other, the majority answered there are anti-sentiment factions in both Korea and in Washington, but that it will not undermine the alliance.

Still, it is worth noting that some of them also pointed out that the Pentagon’s viewpoint on Korea is more pessimistic than ever.

Policy Assessment-.

Except for Professor David Kang of Dartmouth University, who did not give a score, the sum of the points 14 experts gave to Roh’s U.S. diplomacy was 35.2. The average point total, 2.51, is distant from what Roh thinks about his achievements in diplomacy.

The only “A” Roh got came from Paul Chamberlain, visiting researcher of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Micheal O’Hanlon, a senior fellow of Brookings Institution said that during Roh’s term of office, Korea failed to make a breakthrough in relations with North Korea, and U.S.-Korea relations has been chilled, but it is on good terms with China. “The Korean government is talking about cooperating and sharing values with the U.S., but they sound like empty slogans to me,” said Balbina Hwang at the Heritage Foundation. “Korea and the U.S. need to clearly state the benefits they can get in the alliance, and to make efforts to secure public support for it.”

Larry Wortzel, vice president of the foundation, said South Korea seemed determined to accomplish reunification of the Korean Peninsula at any cost, but that such a stance was evoking distrust in Washington. He also added Roh’s policy to make Korea a “balancer” in Northeast Asia was interpreted by Washington to mean that Korea will bet its future on China rather than on the U.S. He gave Roh B-.

Robert Dujarric, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute gave the lowest mark, D. “It is understandable Korea disagrees with Bush’s policies and tries to prevent North Korea from collapsing,” he said. “However, it seems Korea misunderstood the efforts of the U.S. to improve human rights in North Korea and to prevent nuclear proliferation.”

David Kang took a structural approach to the issue. “Korea places emphasis on a newly emerging China and coaxing North Korea in its foreign policies, while the U.S. puts its top priority on anti-terrorism. These two views are fundamentally opposed,” he said. “The alliance in the cold war era is no longer valid, so the two countries should not be afraid to form new alliances suitable to the changed situation.”

Stephen Costello, president of ProGlobal and an open advocate of the “sunshine policy,” South Korea’s efforts to engage Pyongyang, gave Roh a B+. He said Korea’s U.S. diplomacy put up a good defense in view of the initial hostile attitude of the Bush administration toward the Roh administration. Chamberlain, who gave Roh an A, said it should be appreciated that president Roh made efforts to reflect public sentiment in his policies, no matter how effective they were. However, he also advised that Roh needed to separate domestic politics from foreign policies.

Anti-American Sentiment, Anti-Korean Sentiment-.

Anti-American sentiment among some Koreans is nothing new, but majority of the respondents expressed concerns on its possible negative effects.

In particular, the U.S. Defense Department’s view on Korea rings alarm. “The Defense Department thinks the U.S.-Korea alliance is no longer of great importance,” said David Steinberg, a professor at Georgetown University. “The weariness of the alliance is unfortunate and could be destructive,” he added. Derek Mitchell, a senior fellow at the CSIS, also gave a similar opinion by saying the U.S. Defense Department is questioning if Korea is willing to maintain its alliance with the U.S.

Many of them pointed out that the anti-American trend was exaggerated. “The anti-American sentiment was over-emphasized by those who make living out of the anti-U.S. movement, who was gaining voice in Korea,” said one of the respondents on condition of anonymity. “Anti-American sentiment in Korea was amplified by the Korean media,” said Peter Beck, Northeast Asia Project director of the International Crisis Group. “It is mainly based on hostility toward Bush and his policies, so it is not much different from anti-U.S. sentiment in Europe or Latin America.”

Unsuccessful with Japan, but successful with China-.

Because Korea and Japan relations have been sour for a while, Roh’s policies toward Japan received the poorest grade, a C- on average. Out of the seven answers, the best grade was B-. “Korea’s approach to historical issues hurt its national interest,” said Steinberg.

Costello pointed out that the Bush administration’s favorable attitude toward Japan contributed to the nationalistic sentiment in Korea.

Korea’s relations with China received high grades on the whole. However, Dujarric said, “China needs Korea’s support in the Taiwan issue as much as Korea needs Chinese help,” and added, “Korea does not need to concede too much to China.”

Seung-Ryun Kim srkim@donga.com