Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev achieved strikingly different results from his fund-raising forays to Japan and South Korea, and that carries big implications for the U. S.
Neither the Soviets nor the Japanese could bring themselves to compromise on the return to Japan of four tiny islands off its northern coast. Instead of both parties agreeing to disagree on a matter that everyone knows is going to be resolved eventually and getting on with more important matters, Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu decided to withhold investment, trade, and financial links with the Kremlin. Broader goals of stability and improved relationships were put on hold. Needlessly, the overall tone of Gorbachev's Tokyo visit became one of hat-in-hand humiliation.
In sharp relief, the South Koreans are gung-ho about expanding trade and investment links with the Soviets, as President Roh Tae Woo told Gorbachev. To be sure, the South Koreans are not acting out of altruism. They want to expand their relationship with Moscow, as they have with Beijing, to outflank Communist North Korea diplomatically. Seoul places the greater goal of Korean reunification above short-term worries about the Soviet Union's business climate--and above old wounds.
Why should the U. S. care? There are some 40,000 American G. I.s in South Korea, armed with tactical nuclear weapons. It would be nice to bring `em back home. It is in everybody's interest to reduce tensions in the area. That means that Korean-style dealmaking is far more desirable than letting what amounts to a border dispute jeopardize progress on a Russo-Japanese peace treaty and resumption, after 46 years, of normal bilateral relations.