“President Park’s Upcoming Visit to the United States”
June 2, 2015
Several Korean friends have asked my advice about what President Park Geun Hye should do for her upcoming visit to the United States this June. From what they say, it seems as if Koreans are assuming that President Park must somehow reaffirm the alliance in light of the overwhelming success of Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s recent visit and the “new honeymoon” between Tokyo and Washington that is supposedly in full swing.
Although there is clearly an alignment between certain interest groups in Washington and Tokyo, the pomp accompanying the meetings between Abe and Obama struck most everyone as being rather forced and the results of the discussions was ambiguous.
It is true that Prime Minister Abe addressed both houses of congress and he received much applause. But the congress in the United States is at a historic nadir in terms of the trust that the American people put in it. Most Americans feel that congress is completely out of touch with their needs. So much so that Princeton University issued a report entitled “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens” which suggests that congress rarely represents the concerns and interests of average Americans. .
Prime Minister Abe was welcomed to the United States by a petition signed by 200 scholars of Japanese studies that calls for “as full and unbiased an accounting of past wrongs as possible.” This unambiguous critique of Japanese revisionism was produced by experts including Ezra Vogel, a professor at Harvard University who has worked closely with Japan on economic and security issues for decades.
For that matter, the much ballyhooed Transpacific Trade Partnership promoted by the United States and Japan remains stalled, and unpopular, in both countries.
It is true that the two leaders announced historically significant military guidelines that will allow the Japanese and American military to work in close coordination around the world. But there is far from a consensus in the United States (whatever congress may say) that there is an urgent need for Japan to assume such a role, or that the dismantling of Japan’s peace constitution will make Asia safer.
Above all, President Park should remember that her visit is important not because it comes after Abe’s visit, but rather because it comes before President Xi Jinping’s visit in October.
A comparison between Obama’s meeting with Abe last month and his meeting with China’s Xi Jinping in November of last year is helpful. A personal rapport between Obama and Xi was palpable and some speculate that Obama found Xi’s thinking to be more congenial than that of the anti-science isolationists who now dominate the Republican Party. US-China negotiations were not easy, but they were serious. There was none of the grand spectacles that Prime Minister Abe was treated to, but the two sides produced historic agreements for military-military cooperation and a joint response to climate change that were welcomed by almost every nation in the world.
The best approach for President Park in the build up to her trip, and during her trip, is to subtly shift the nature of the dialog on security for Northeast Asia to issues which appeal to a broad spectrum of Americans–even some of the most vocal members of congress take no interest. Korea has no choice but to promote a different vision for Asia than the wrong-headed, destructive and wasteful drive to militarize Japan and confront China over issues that are not a direct threat to Korea or the United States. And perhaps Korea is the only country that is positioned to make such an argument effectively.
President Park should take with her a plane full of experts in critical fields such as climate change, human trafficking, non-proliferation and cybercrime and the team should engage in low-key discussions with their peers in Washington and elsewhere so as to produce substantial, but not flashy, results. She should not, by any means, try to “out Abe” Abe. Read more of this post