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十萬美元的錯誤

THE 100 GRAND MISSTEP: THE BULL IN THE KOREAN CHINA SHOP

By Tom Plate

April 30, 2004

LOS ANGELES -- What does 100 grand buy you these days? Oh, a pair of medium-priced Mercedes-Benz sedans, or the first tier of a decent 401(k), or maybe the down payment on a small house in California. But a high-roller losing weekend in Vegas? Probably not.

Nowadays $100,000 is not much. And not much is what the White House on April 26 threw on the international-aid table in the wake of the mysterious trains explosion in North Korea that killed more than 150 people and wounded more than 1,000, many of them, tragically, children.

To that, the White House offers a hundred grand. "Can you believe that?" exploded my good friend, a West Coast-based Korean-American philanthropist who prefers to remain nameless. "It's just insulting. Better for America to have offered nothing at all than this!"

But adding insult to injury is too often the way of this American administration. It doesn't much care what others think, it doesn't much listen, and it pretty much says and does what it likes. From throwing Tehran and Pyongyang into the Baghdad "axis of evil," to the astonishing snub of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung on his diplomatically disastrous visit to Washington in March 2001, this administration is not for treating friends and allies with "more tender care," as pro-American Asian statesman Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding prime minister, advised in a speech a year ago.

For ripe targets to insult, of course, the Bush administration couldn’t have chosen better than the Kim Jong Il regime. The catalogue of its failures is a textbook case in how not to govern a nation. Even China, its closest ally, years ago threw up its hands in despair as the regime stubbornly stuck to its "self-reliance” philosophy -- in this age of increasing global economic interdependence.

But insult one target, and sometimes you inadvertently insult others.

For starters, the $100,000 slap certainly brought the Bush administration (in this presidential election year) no friends in the Korean-American community.  More than 2 million strong, this is an increasingly energized and highly informed sector of America that retains emotional ties and loyalties to their old country. Not a few of them still have long-suffering relatives and friends in North Korea. To watch their White House behave with childish disdain in the wake of this horrific humanitarian tragedy (or perhaps even assassination conspiracy against the regime?) astonished many of them. Will the incident impact the November presidential election? If it's very close, as last time, it might. To generalize wildly, Koreans are not a people you want to make mad.

Nor did the White House snub charm Tokyo and Beijing. Japan's prime minister had visited Pyongyang in 2002, in the first such Japan-North Korea summit. The bold Junichiro Koizumi, who single-handedly put Japanese troops into Iraq at the request of President George W. Bush, is way out on the proverbial limb on the dangerous North Korean issue. Does the White House really want to saw him off with such rudeness and crudeness?

Or pull the rug out from under China? The businesslike Hu Jintao government has followed carefully but aggressively in the footsteps of the predecessor Jiang Zemin regime to construct, step by step, an artful architecture of negotiation to tamp down the red-hot North Korean nuclear-arms buildup issue into a putative diplomatic solution. The next round of so-called six-party talks (North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States) is scheduled to take place in Beijing after the completion of a May 12 working group meeting.

This new lower level, nuts-and-bolts wrinkle was agreed to by "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il himself during his recent trip to Beijing, from which the North Korean dictator -- son of the founding dictator -- had been returning home by rail around the time of the mysterious trains explosion.

Whether the incompetent "Dear Leader" is today alive or dead, the wellspring of sympathy in the South for the humanitarian tragedy shows that the emotion of one-people, one-nation remains latent in the Korean psyche and soul. Normally dismissive and contemptuous of those bumbling Stalinists up north, South Koreans started emptying their pockets at the sight of bleeding children in cramped hospital beds. At this writing, well more than $22 million -- in various forms of aid ­- has been collected for shipment up to the north.

Sure, it would be a mistake to go overboard in knocking the White House for stiffing North Korea, run by a truly a rotten regime. But with this unbelievable $100,000 U.S. insult, the Bush administration again does nothing to vitiate its global image for arrogance. International diplomacy really is a china shop, and a bull breaks the good stuff as well as the bad.

 
 

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