The months-long protests over U.S. beef imports have resulted in the cancellation of U.S. President George W. Bush's return visit to Seoul in July. The White House left open the possibility that Bush may visit South Korea before or after he attends the opening of the Beijing Olympics, but it now looks quite unlikely that the U.S. president will come to Seoul this year. President Lee Myung-bak will instead meet Bush in Japan during the G-8 conference, to which he was invited as an observer.
The situation in Korea has changed dramatically since the new Korean president's U.S. visit in April. Consumer protests against the beef import agreement, signed on the eve of President Lee's arrival at Camp David, rapidly developed into a nationwide antigovernment and anti-American movement.
The White House must be worried that a welcoming mood has been dampened and Bush's visit could even add to the turmoil in Korea. It is regrettable that the two presidents' efforts to put relations between the two allies back on the right track failed at the start of the proclaimed pro-American administration here, due to the unfavorable public sentiment that built up during a period of strain.
In the first place, a visit to Seoul by the U.S. president in his final months would only have symbolic significance, with the expected reconfirmation of a "strategic partnership." Even a symbolic visit, however, is of value, given the security situation on the peninsula. This is especially so, considering that the sizeable U.S. Forces in Korea now face a change in their structure and mission.
Bush's cancellation of his visit amounts to losing an opportunity for him to offset the generally negative image he has here for his slow grasp of the realities on the Korean Peninsula and his not-so-appreciable role in the delayed resolution of the North Korean nuclear question.
We hope that the situation in Seoul will soon return to normal and President Bush will be able to visit this ally in Northeast Asia before the end of his tenure. If he cannot make it, we would like to ask him to exert efforts to have the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement ratified by Congress as a final contribution to the lasting partnership between the two countries.