Tue, Feb 22, 2005 - Page 8 News List

China has a limited influence on N Korea

By Antonio Chiang江春男

North Korea recently announced that it was pulling out of a possible further round of six-party talks and refused to give up its nuclear weapons program. This comes as quite a blow for the situation in northeastern Asia. Strange as it may seem, however, the party that suffered the biggest blow was not South Korea but China.

Beijing has been playing a very active role in the talks, and North Korea's move demonstrates that Beijing's influence has been overestimated. China has been left with egg on its face, courtesy of North Korea, which has taken back the initiative.

Less than half of all South Koreans are concerned about the threat from the north, and in private many university students there are glad that the north is developing nuclear weapons, for this will entitle Korea to membership of the "nuclear club." As far as they are concerned, North Korea will not turn its nuclear weapons on them, but has its sights on the US and Japan.

Anti-US sentiment has also crept into the ranks of the South Korean army, which to an increasing extent does not believe that North Korea is the enemy, sympathizing with its current predicament, which is blamed on US policy. Furthermore, former president Kim Dae-jung's "Sunshine Policy," with its more conciliatory approach, has made the army unsure of why it should fight the north.

President Roh Moo-hyun faces an even more precarious political situation with regard to confrontation between government opposition groups. On top of this, he has to deal with the North Korea issue and deteriorating relations with the US government. Not only is Roh himself thin on political experience, the members of his team are also relatively inexperienced. Regardless, the last few years have seen South Korea making big strides in the realms of politics, technology and culture, seemingly unaffected by foreign relations. This is due to the fact that their civil service is relatively developed, and there exists a kind of firewall between politics and economics: Power-hungry politicians have not managed to interfere in the country's economic development.

After many years of protectionist policies, South Korean companies have recently embarked on a course of internationalization. They have opened themselves up to foreign investment, taken on foreign management staff, sought to globalize, and are losing the character of family-owned businesses.

China is already South Korea's largest trading partner and investment destination, but South Korean investors are still setting up businesses in other countries, content with a market share in China without putting all their eggs in one basket. In terms of internationalization, South Korea is being more open and aggressive than Japan, and her former sense of inferiority to the latter is being replaced by a new-found confidence and ambition.

South Koreans have a relatively high level of professionalism and a strong work ethic, and their will to fight and sense of justice, products of many years of opposition to dictatorial rule, are proving to be of great benefit in the market economy.

The fact that there are still 30,000 US troops stationed in South Korea is merely a relic from the Cold War. The Koreans are a robust people who have absorbed influences from China, Japan and Russia, and are currently competing with the high-tech industry of northern Europe. This kind of spirit, and a society with such self-confidence, is very rare in Asia, and indeed the world.

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