Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Hope beyond expectations in East Asia

By Ra Jongyil (China Daily) Updated: 2014-07-02 08:22

The meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Republic of Korea President Park Geun-hye scheduled for later this week will be the fifth between the two leaders in the past year.

One of the noteworthy developments in international relations during Park's presidency is the establishment of close relations between China and the ROK. Since assuming office as the top leaders of their respective countries, Xi and Park have had one informal and three formal meetings. But more important than the frequency of their meetings is the mutual understanding that Xi and Park have developed, which will prove vital for them to deal with a mountain of thorny problems facing them.

It is expected that the two heads of state may discuss how to dissuade the Democratic People's Republic of Korea from conducting a fourth nuclear test. The ROK and China could also launch a new initiative to restart the Six-Party Talks, offering the DPRK economic aid in exchange for the abandonment of its nuclear project.

People expect some good progress in the negotiations for a free trade agreement between the two countries. China is the ROK's biggest trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching $274.2 billion last year - 55 times more than the $5 billion in 1992, the year the two countries established diplomatic ties.

No less important an issue is the rising revisionist trend in Japan, led by the country's leadership, which is deeply disturbing for countries that suffered the catastrophic consequences of Japan's militaristic imperialism in the first half of the last century. Without properly addressing this phenomenon, we cannot expect good cooperation in this area just on the basis of mutual understanding and goodwill.

People could also entertain other, and perhaps unrealistic, hopes from such a historical meeting. I could speak for the people whose voices mostly go unheard. Korea is a small nation surrounded by four of the most powerful countries in the world. Therefore, Koreans hope that it will not somehow be made a victim, or even a pawn, in the possible tug of war among the big powers. The Koreans also hope to be allowed a certain leeway to make decisions in order to contribute toward a better future for all. Such a contribution should supplement those made by their neighbors without antagonizing any of them.

There is also a weighty question that the common Korean people have been asking: When will we be free of the international system bequeathed by Western modernity in which powerful nations have to engage in constant struggle to gain more power and influence?

This question was posed by Sun Yat-sen in Kobe in 1924, when he asked Japan to choose between following in the footsteps of Western powers in the pursuit of hegemony or becoming a bastion of righteous order.

The question has stayed with us because we remain basically trapped in the international system of the 19th century European variety. Park for one is reputed to be well versed in Chinese classics, the depository of ancient wisdom of China. We know that the Chinese and ROK presidents have a lot of pressing problems to deal with, but we hope that they create some time to discuss an alternative model of relationships among nations that will be aimed at building a "righteous order" and give the pursuit of "hegemony" a silent but well-meaning burial.

The author is university distinguished professor at Hanyang University in Seoul.

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