2011년 11월 13일 일요일
Why does U.S. President Barack Obama get along with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak so well?
The New York Times recently wrote a whole article offering theories for what appears to be one of Mr. Obama’s closest relationships with another head of state. One of the closest observers of U.S.-Korean relations in Washington, Gordon Flake, executive director of the Mansfield Foundation, has a different take on the relationship between the two presidents. Mr. Flake says that Mr. Obama sees in Mr. Lee a leader who has clear ideas and doesn’t waste Mr. Obama’s time. As well, says Mr. Flake, South Korea as a country is clearly rising upward in its political, economic and cultural power. “President Lee meets Obama and sets things in a strategic context, says this is what I’m doing and this is what I need the U.S. to do,” Mr. Flake said over coffee on a recent visit to Seoul for a nuclear disarmament conference. “For President Obama, that’s extremely refreshing, especially coming from an Asian leader.” What’s often overlooked in both countries, Mr. Flake said, is how much the U.S.-South Korea relationship has come to encompass matters beyond South Korea’s security. When Mr. Lee visited Washington last month (and was accorded a state dinner, the highest level of diplomatic hosting), the topic of North Korea was far down the agenda, below a number of economic items, Afghanistan and even piracy off the African coast. “This is all a reflection of Korea’s growth and its rising stature around the world,” Mr. Flake said. He added he objects to the “prevailing narrative” with some South Koreans that the country is led around by the United States and that Lee does whatever Obama wants. Instead, he said, “There is a national trajectory happening for South Korea. The country is seen in Washington and by other countries as hitting on all strides.” Japan’s leadership appears lethargic, by contrast, and China’s appears stretched to the limits by the self-created problem of maintaining authoritarian politics in an increasingly free-wheeling economy. For all of Mr. Lee’s difficulties in domestic politics, on the international stage, he’s created a strong image, helped in part by the natural forces of Korea’s rise and the difficulties being faced by neighboring countries. “Who is more of a leader in Asia than Lee Myung-bak?” Mr. Flake asks. “There’s no one out there.”