Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

US and South Korea: Things are different now

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Via Kevin Drum, this story in FT by Christian Oliver and Edward Luce:

When George Bush senior visited Seoul as US president 20 years ago, things were simple – the US was the undisputed main ally and trade partner. Astonishingly, there was only one weekly flight from South Korea to China, the communist foe.

Barack Obama on Wednesday visits a South Korea where the US is no longer the only show in town. China is now the main trade partner, with 642 flights each week. While the US is still the chief political ally, Mr Obama’s cheery soundbites on Korean issues are not convincing Seoul that Washington is dedicating enough thought to the peninsula.

On the military front, ties remain robust, with the US committed to its South Korean presence. But vital issues such as a trade agreement and North Korea’s atom bombs have been sidelined in the US, while China plays a greater role in both Koreas.

“The long-term idea is that Seoul will ultimately drift more towards Beijing’s orbit, although less so under (South Korean) President Lee Myung-bak,” said Andrew Gilholm, senior analyst at Control Risks, the security consultancy.

Diplomacy with nuclear-armed North Korea, which this year blasted a missile over Japan and detonated an atomic warhead, currently hinges on the success of bilateral talks between Kim Jong-il and the US. Washington plans to send an envoy to Pyongyang later this year but diplomats in Seoul say they are unconvinced that Mr Obama’s choice, Stephen Bosworth, is the right man for the job. He is a part-time diplomat, keeping a university teaching job in the US.

“He does not have leverage or political decision-making authority so the bilateral talks are most likely to end up with the countries just stating their own positions,” said Choi Choon-heum, researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification. “If the Obama administration wanted a significant result, he would have chosen a different figure.”

By contrast, China has intervened at a far deeper level, sending its premier, Wen Jiabao, in October…

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2009 at 1:13 pm

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