Korea’s disappointment with neighboring powers

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was exuberantly applauded during his address to the joint session of Congress on April 29. In his speech, Abe apologized for the American lives lost during World War II by offering his “profound respect and (his) eternal condolences.” However, no apology was acknowledged for the Korean “comfort women,” a euphemism for the women forced to provide sexual services for Japanese soldiers during World War II. Five American congressmen (four Democrats, one Republican) advised Abe to offer apologies regarding the “comfort women” issue, but five out of 535 had very limited influence. South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs only remarked that there was a pitiable “regret for a lack of genuine apology” in response.

A day before at the U.S.-Japan summit, President Obama promised to give his active support for Japan to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, a position Japan has long sought. Permanent members are the U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China, who each have the veto power on globally critical issues of conflict and peacekeeping.

The U.N. sent 83,000 peacekeeping troops to 15 regions last year alone, costing $7.54 billion to maintain. In principle, the permanent members that have the right to veto exclusively share this cost, but Japan and Germany have also been participating in this burden. Among the nations, the U.S. pays the largest share at 28.38 percent, Japan 10.83 percent, France 7.22 percent, Germany 7.14 percent, U.K. 6.68 percent, China 6.64 percent, and Russia 3.15 percent. The U.S. and Japan’s combined sum is close to 40 percent of the share. Therefore, it is likely that Japan finds itself justified in becoming a permanent member, and Germany may also follow suit to be considered for a seat at the table.

During my tenure as a representative in the U.S. Congress, I supported a bill to dissolve the U.N. as did tens of other congressmen. On the surface, the growing budget waste that came with the increasing size of the organization and the U.S. taking 30 percent of the burden were the reasons provided as rationale, but Russia and China’s abuse of the veto power was a main reason behind it. This bill, however, failed to pass. Obama’s decision to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, and the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran through nuclear negotiations despite opposition from strong U.S. allies Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are likely gestures to offset China’s growing influence.

Recently, China led the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), to have its headquarters in Beijing, and 57 countries have joined thus far. Once the U.K. joined on the basis of furthering its national interest, Germany, France, Russia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and most of the other European countries followed. Many countries have now joined, with the exception of the U.S., Canada and Japan. In such a procession, Obama strongly felt the need to counter-balance China’s rapidly rising power through forming a tight security partnership. Abe, in his address to the joint session of Congress, emphasized and signaled that the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), in which Japan has been partnering the U.S., would act as a mechanism against the China-led AIIB.

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China, amicably extended an invitation to Abe, asking Japan to join the AIIB during the China-Japan bilateral summit in Indonesia last month. Xi Jinping chose practical benefits over moral justification in his approach to Japan, because it is imperative to have the Asian economic powerhouse as a member of the AIIB. Japan is likely to join the AIIB soon. Korea seems to be left behind while our neighbors are busy seeking and acting to protect their nations’ interests.

Korean-Americans demonstrated in front of the U.S. capital to demand that Abe apologize. In Los Angeles, a few hundred people also protested in front of the hotel where Abe was staying. The protesters mobilized to keep the dignity of their home country. Back in Korea, however, it happened to be Labor Day, and a mass of demonstrators clashed with police, creating much chaos.

Korea is currently confronted with a major crisis as Korea is being left behind in the international community, but we are busy fighting each other demanding more and more from the government. I am again reminded of President Kennedy’s famous quote: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”


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