South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s visit to Washington this week was a welcome reminder of Seoul’s centrality in America’s efforts to make the world more stable. As Mr. Lee put the bilateral unity so succinctly in regards to North Korean belligerence and nuclear proliferation, “We speak with one voice.”
There will always be some disagreements between friends - such as the periodic conflict over basing of U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula or the competition heating up between the two nation’s automobile companies - but Mr. Lee’s visit emphasizes the necessity to focus on the common interests and shared beliefs that bind these two nations together.
The long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have taken U.S. eyes off the ball in much of the most important strategic and fastest-growing region of the new century: Asia. This week’s summit between South Korean and U.S. leaders underscores the vital necessity for Washington to constantly renew and strengthen its ties to our traditional allies. The twin pillars of democracy and capitalism served as the foundation for prosperity in both lands and stand as the model for the developing world. That the South Korean president’s journey includes stops in Detroit and Chicago - two tough business towns in the Midwestern rust belt - shows the increasing importance of manufacturing in this relationship.
President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton deserve credit for supporting the long-delayed bilateral free-trade agreement between Seoul and Washington, especially given how unpopular the pact is with the Democrats’ base voters in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. As Mrs. Clinton stated on Wednesday, “The free-trade agreements passed by Congress tonight will make it easier for American companies to sell their products to South Korea, Colombia and Panama, which will create jobs here at home.”
The rapid militarization of the People’s Republic of China makes the decades-old alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States just as important now as ever. A regional arms race is escalating in East and Southeast Asia as nations grow increasingly nervous about Chinese hegemony. A major global democratic power needs to counter Beijing in the Western Pacific. Pan-Asian wariness about Japan that dates to World War II means this responsibility rests with America. Washington is natural for this job given our role in developing democratic institutions and staving off communism in the area during the Cold War. America can only carry the burden with the continued aid of old allies like South Korea.
The importance of the U.S.-South Korean relationship was made evident by the fact that the feting of Mr. Lee included only the fifth state dinner at the White House during the Obama presidency and an address by the South Korean president before a joint session of Congress. Just as America and South Korea stood together against communist expansion in the past, President Lee’s state visit reassures that these two allies are dedicated to continuing to work together to spread freedom in the future.
Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times. He is coauthor of the new book “Bowing to Beijing” (Regnery, 2011).