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Foreign and Defense Ministers’ Talks

Posted July. 19, 2010 11:11,   


The Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry and the Defense Ministry should be on high alert this week given two major scheduled meetings to show their prowess. Foreign and defense ministers from South Korea and the U.S. will hold talks in Seoul Wednesday and the ASEAN Regional Forum will be held in Vietnam Friday. The former is an occasion to utilize the bilateral alliance between South Korea and the U.S. to devise concrete policies toward North Korea, including countermeasures against the North’s March 26 attack on the South Korean warship Cheonan. Because North Korean Foreign Minister Park Ui Chun will attend the ASEAN forum, dispute over the Cheonan incident is likely. At the 2008 ASEAN security forum, despite the fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean soldier at Mount Kumgang, Seoul failed to condemn Pyongyang through a presidential statement due to the North’s opposition.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama have agreed to hold the bilateral foreign and defense ministers’ meeting for the first time in the history of their alliance to mark the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. The meeting will show the world the strength of the bilateral alliance. Two-way relations could not be better since Seoul’s long-cherished wish of hosting the meeting is realized. Obama said at the Toronto G20 summit last month that the alliance is the security lynchpin not only for South Korea and the U.S. but also for the entire Asia-Pacific region.

Seoul cannot afford, however, to be complacent about the hosting itself. The U.S. began the same meeting with Japan in 1995 and holds a bilateral strategic and economic dialogue with China attended by foreign and finance ministers. The dialogue held in Beijing in May was attended by 200 U.S. high-ranking officials. The South Korea-U.S. foreign and defense ministers’ meeting will be joined by fewer than 100 U.S. delegates and working-level officials. In addition, the talks in Seoul are a one-time event. Considering the process and the size of the meeting, the relationship between South Korea and the U.S. does not match those held by the U.S. with China and Japan.

Yet such a rare opportunity should be an occasion for Seoul to reap fruit. Most of all, South Korea and the U.S. must send a strong signal to the North and China. Seoul and Washington should also reaffirm their determination to punish Pyongyang’s provocations and not to flinch at Beijing’s pressure. Also required is discussion on making the foreign and defense ministers’ meeting a regular one. Frequent consultations between foreign and defense ministers from Seoul and Washington will help curb Pyongyang’s reckless provocations.

Editorial Writer Bhang Hyeong-nam (hnbhang@donga.com)