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(News Focus) 60 yr-old Seoul-Washington alliance needs renewed balance: experts
SEOUL, Dec. 31 (Yonhap) -- After 60 years of forging staunch bilateral relations, South Korea and the United States are now faced with the task of upgrading their ties to the direction of "rebalancing" in both bilateral and multilateral terms in accordance with sweeping changes in circumstances surrounding them, experts said Monday.

   Formed under a mutual defense treaty signed in 1953 and taken into effect the following year, the Seoul-Washington alliance has been developed into a "comprehensive and strategic relationship," with U.S. President Barack Obama recently calling its ties with Seoul "a linchpin of peace and security in the Asia Pacific."

   "The alliance was established in blood and cemented through mutual sacrifice over the past 60 years to become one of the longest and strongest ties in world history. And there would be little doubt that the solid military-based relationship helped Seoul achieve political and economic developments," said a senior foreign ministry official, requesting anonymity.
"Circumstances surrounding the two countries, however, have gone through a sea of changes. In particular, the loosening of the Cold War alignments finally led to changes in South Koreans' perception of North Korea and the U.S., among other things. That urges both Seoul and Washington to redefine their ties," he added.

   With the emergence of younger generations in Korean society, who do not have first-hand experience of the 1950-53 Korean War and see the rise of non-conservative establishments in domestic politics, calls have grown from the public for the redefinition of the high-handed diplomacy with the U.S.

   "The South Korean people increasingly value ties with the U.S. on an equal footing if a series of incidents, particularly under the former President Roh Moo-hyun administration, serve any guide when the anti-American sentiment put the alliance to a serious test," said Yun Deok-min, a senior analyst at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. "How to resolve such tasks, while maintaining superb ties, will be key to future relations."

   Expanding the alliance covering not only bilateral or security issues but a wider range of social and economic ones at regional as well as global levels will be one option, experts said.

   "On the issues regarding the Korean peninsula, the two countries need to put more focus on South Korea's national interests, while paying more attention to the U.S. side in terms of general, international issues," said Hong Hyun-ik, a senior expert on North Korea at Seoul's Sejong Institute think-tank.

   "Turning the focus into wider, more global issues will be critical for the two countries to deepen ties both externally and internally down the road as equal partners," said another senior foreign ministry official.

   "In this regards, it is noteworthy that Obama and Park Geun-hye said they share a global partnership with deep economic, security, and people-to-people ties," he added, citing South Korea's president-elect who will take office in February.


South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan (L) shakes hands with Gen. James Thurman, the commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, during a visit to U.S. Camp Bonifas in the South Korean part of the Joint Security Area in Paju, north of Seoul, on Dec. 28, 2012. (Yonhap file photo)

With the rise of China as a global hegemony, it is critical in the long run For Seoul to achieve a balanced diplomacy with the two giants-China and the U.S.-for the future of the Seoul-Washington alliance, experts said.

   China has replaced the U.S. as South Korea's largest trading partner, and both parties, including Japan, are taking steps to deepen economic relations, declaring the start of the trilateral free trade talks in November. The Obama administration vowed to "pivot" its foreign policy focus from the Middle East to Asia.

   "The U.S. policy of rebalancing attention and resources to Asia is often viewed as its covert effort to block China's growing influence in Asia," said expert Hong.

   "Seoul should guard against possible indication that firmer Korea-U.S. ties mean the anti-Chinese alliance, with South Korea taking an active role in checking China to take the U.S. side. It will ruin Seoul's relations not only with Beijing, but also with North Korea, and will ultimately hamper the Seoul-Washington relations," he added.

   South Korea faces a daunting challenge with regard to North Korea's nuclear issues and should "maximize its diplomatic capabilities" when forging strong, bilateral relationships with each power, said Jeon Jae-sung, professor at Seoul National University.


South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (R), U.S. President Barack Obama (C), and Chinese Primier Wen Jiabao. (Yonhap file photo)