President Park Geun-hye’s Visit to the United States and MERS Are Two Separate Problems

There is controversy brewing due to President Park Geun-hye abandoning her planned visit to the United States from June 14 to June 19. On one hand, there are those who insist that the summit with President Barack Obama should proceed as scheduled. On the other hand, some are calling for the meeting to be delayed because of the emergency situation that Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, poses to the health of citizens. Of course, there is the view that we should wait and see how the situation develops before making a decision whether or not to go to the United States. Each one of these has its own merits.

However, the current state of international affairs surrounding the Korean Peninsula cannot afford a delay of the summit with the United States. North Korea successfully tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) last month and is set to continue to raise provocations, while demands to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) on the Korean Peninsula continue to grow stronger. So sensitive is this issue that China has expressed concern about this to our government on three separate occasions. It seems as though we have no choice but to walk the tightrope between our greatest ally and our greatest trading partner. In addition, the Japanese issue regarding comfort women, the possible deployment of their Self-Defense Force overseas and cultural heritage issues now add to the complexity of the situation. Furthermore, the issue of Korea joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could completely alter our economic environment, creating another quagmire.

In addition, this abrupt stunt regarding the visit to the U.S. can undermine diplomatic confidence, and needless to say, we must consider that this fosters greater panic about the MERS emergency both domestically and abroad. Regardless, the diplomatic isolation continues to grow. Didn’t Lee Jong-gul, the party floor leader for the New Politics Alliance for Democracy,* even say, “Our relationship with our greatest ally, the United States, is critically important.” As president, exerting all one’s effort to respond to infectious diseases is important, but one must not forget resolving foreign issues. MERS and the visit to the U.S. are two separate issues.

*Translator’s Note: The New Politics Alliance for Democracy is the liberal opposition party in South Korea.

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