In the year 2005, perhaps the most momentous decision in East Asia will occur in South Korea, where the choice will affect not only the future of the Korean peninsula but the balance of power throughout this region. \nSouth Koreans will have before them three options, given the rise of anti-Americanism, the forthcoming US troop reductions and realignment, improved relations with China, a resurgence in anti-Japanese sentiments, and the demands of domestic politics: \n? "Go it alone" as has been advocated by President Roh Moo-hyun, to rely on Korea's own resources while forsaking alliances with other nations. \n? Forge an alliance with the People's Republic of China, clearly the rising power in Asia. \n? Revive South Korea's faltering alliance with the US even though there is no guarantee that the US would reciprocate. Self-reliant defense would be tempting as it would free South Korea from entangling alliances, permit South Koreans to pursue reunification with North Korea without outside interference, and satisfy nationalistic demands. \nThis course, however, would seem to be unrealistic. South Korea lives in a rough neighborhood and needs outside help to maintain security. A Korean diplomat asserted many years ago: "You must remember that we live next door to the world's most populous nation [China], the world's biggest nation [then the Soviet Union], and the world's second largest economy [Japan]." \nForging an alliance with China would also appear to be tempting. Korea and China are cultural cousins and Beijing is a mere two-hour flight from Seoul. Korea's trade with China has soared as has Korean investment in the blossoming Chinese economy. \nThe Middle Kingdom mentality in China, however, would put Seoul in danger of falling under Chinese dominance. The Chinese would not be expected to march across the Yalu River as they did in 1950 but Beijing seeks the political, economic, and diplomatic clout to insist that major decisions in every Asian capital, including Seoul, meet with its approval. \nReviving the alliance with the US would require a change in Korean attitudes and an effort to persuade Americans to return to the alliance of yesteryear. The accumulation of anti-American demonstrations and rhetoric in recent years has made Americans seriously question their support for South Korea. \nKorean and American scholars have begun to define this issue. Lee Chung-min of Yonsei University in Seoul, wrote last April: "The question for South Korea in the beginning of the 21st century is whether it should strive to prolong, strengthen, and modernize its maritime alliance with the United States or strive to seek "strategic accommodation" with its traditional, pre-20th century patron, China." \nA scholar at Georgetown University and longtime student of Korea, David I. Steinberg, wrote in June that American nationalism after 9/11 has made the United States "much more suspicious of any anti-American sentiments for demonstrations among our friends," including Korea. President George W. Bush has found resonance in his expression: "You are either with us or with the terrorists." That has been transformed in many cases to "you are either with us or against us." In this vein, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has said: "We want to have our forces where people want them. We have no desire to be where we're not wanted." \nThe former US ambassador to Seoul, Donald Gregg, has cautioned that "trust between the two countries had never been lower." \nRichard Allen, national security adviser under President Ronald Reagan, has advocated withdrawing US troops from Korea,"especially now that the harm can come from two directions'North Korea and violent South Korean protestors." Moreover, prominent Koreans have cautioned that a backlash is building in the US A former defense minister, General Kim Dong-shin, has said that Korean anti-American rhetoric has caused an anti-Korea fervor in the US. \nThe hectoring tone of the Korean press after President Bush was re-elected was not likely to win points in the White House. It was ironic that Korean newspapers criticized President Bush for "unilateralism" when the US has insisted that nuclear negotiations with North Korea be centered in the Six-Party Talks in Beijing. \nIn contrast, some Korean political leaders have demanded that the US negotiate bilaterally with North Korea. That is exactly the channel of negotiations to which Seoul objected in 1994 when South Korean diplomats were shut out of negotiations over the Agreed Framework intended to halt North Korea's plans to acquire nuclear arms. \nRichard Halloran is a senior journalist based in Hawaii.
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