14 March 2008

Reshaping America's View of Korea

Kim Byung Kook, President Lee Myung Bak's advisor on foreign and security affairs, is headed to the United States to finalize the arrangements for Lee's visit in April (the first for a Korean president to visit Camp David). Kim, a professor at Korea University and president of the East Asia Institute (founded in 2002), will be charged with reshaping the U.S. view of Korea as a potential political, military and economic partner on par with U.S. relations with Japan. This is an issue Lee will emphasize during hi visit, and why he is rather excited about the Camp David visit, which is supposed to symbolize a higher-level relationship between the United States and the hosted leader. South Korea is undergoing a reassessment of its global position. Long stuck between China and Japan, [South] Korea has had to either pay homage to the Chinese to keep them from interfering, or call on larger powers to intervene when Korean sovereignty is threatened. These have not been entirely successful strategies. Seoul is now looking at trying to reform its military and reshape its diplomatic, economic, aid and cultural interactions globally to strengthen its economic connections (both supplies of raw materials and markets for exports) and to insulate itself from shifts in international security. North Korea has steadily fallen in South Korea's threat assessment, and the long-term view is one of peaceful unification, with the biggest troubles being economic disparity and the flow of jobless North Koreans into the south and rich South Koreans into the North. Further down the road, Seoul sees potential trouble from a resurgent Japan – something compounded by the rising China. When Korea gets stuck between a simultaneous rising China and Japan, there is trouble. Kim and Lee are heading to Washington to urge the United States to assist Seoul in a more rapid shift in its military capabilities, as well as to offer Korean assistance abroad – not because Korea is subservient to the Untied States, but to get real-world training alongside the U.S. military in a variety of operations.

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