Back To Top

Park balances U.S., China in diplomacy, Japan still challenge

Halfway into her five-year tenure, President Park Geun-hye is credited with improving South Korea's relations with China, while keeping the Seoul-Washington alliance robust, experts said Thursday.

But her administration's diplomacy on Japan and efforts to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula leave much to be desired, they added.

Throughout his presidency, Park's predecessor Lee Myung-bak placed a notable emphasis on strengthening the alliance with the U.S. over ties with the neighboring China amid North Korea's continued provocations.

"The Park government has developed a strategic cooperative partnership with China, keeping the South Korea-U.S. alliance strong," Yun Duk-min, head of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy said. "Deepened relations with the two most important nations (for South Korea) has served as a safeguard."

In 2014, South Korea signed a free trade agreement with China and joined the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank earlier this year.

In addition, the Park administration skillfully handled some thorny issues with Washington, including a further delay in the transfer of wartime operational control of South Korean troops and a new bilateral accord on nuclear energy cooperation.

Park's trip to Washington, slated for October, is expected to provide a chance for the two sides to reaffirm the strength of the alliance.

Hong Hyun-ik, senior researcher at Sejong Institute, agreed South Korea has restored a "sense of balance" to some extent between the U.S. and China.

"South Korea-China relations, for sure, have become better, compared with when the Lee Myung-bak administration was in power," he said.

For Park, however, Japan has been a constant challenge, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe refusing to offer a clear and sincere apology himself for the country's wartime atrocities.

Both Seoul and Tokyo have come under growing pressure from Washington to mend fences.

"With regard to the government's policy on Japan, it has stuck to inflexible principles, thus failing to gain what it wants," Hong pointed out.

In the latter half of her tenure, Park faces a daunting task of improving ties with Tokyo while dealing with negative public sentiment at home over the neighboring country, he added.

North Korea has been another setback for the conservative Park government.

Park took office with the so-called Korea Trust-Building Process aimed at engaging the North.

She openly described the reunification as a "bonanza" not only for the Koreas but also for the international community.

On her trip to the former East German city of Dresden in March last year, Park laid out a three-point proposal to the North for the "humanity, co-prosperity, and integration" of the two sides.

Pyongyang rejected the proposal, claiming it demonstrates Park's pursuit of an absorption-based unification.

Tensions on the peninsula have soared with the North's recent landmine attacks on South Korean soldiers in the Demilitarized Zone and its continued war threats.

"Park has released a series of initiatives on North Korea including the Dresden Declaration. But it has not been echoed back," said Kim Yong-hyun, professor at Dongguk University.

He stressed the need for making preparations to cope with the North's provocative acts such as the launch of a long-range rocket and the possibility of sudden political changes in the reclusive nation. (Yonhap)