By Kang Seung-woo

U.S Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is facing a Wendy Sherman test.

Carter, here Thursday for a three-day visit, has failed initially, considering what he said during his stay in Japan mdash his previous stop.

The real test lies in what he says in Korea

Sherman, under secretary of state for political affairs, was criticized here for telling a forum that Korea should forget about the past and move on. Later, the US government said that it was Sherman’s personal opinion, trying to calm a firestorm triggered by her remarks.

The latest remarks from US government officials urging Korea to look beyond the past came Wednesday when the Pentagon chief stressed that potential gains from trilateral cooperation between Korea, the US and Japan are more important than the tensions of the past.

“Our three nations must look toward the future,” Carter said in an interview with the Japanese Yomiuri Shimbun, referring to the need to jointly deter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.

“The United States appreciates the historical sensitivities in this relationship, but we believe the potential gains of cooperation mdash the opportunities that exist for both our two longtime allies, and the entire region mdash outweigh yesterday’s tensions and today’s politics. ”

His remarks came after Sherman made similar, yet controversial, comments in February.

“To what extent does the past limit future possibilities for cooperation? The conventional answer to that question, sadly, is a lot,” she said.

Kim Youl-soo, professor of international political science at Sungshin Women’s University, said that Carter echoed Sherman, adding that such “backing” might mislead Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to go too far in a historical row with Korea

“Carter made the remarks due to uneasy relations between Korea and Japan. But he should have urged Japan to face up to history, which would have been a balanced viewpoint, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi did,” Kim said.

Pelosi said during her visit last week’s to Korea she hopes that Abe apologizes over the wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women mdash the main impediment to the improvement in relations between Seoul and Tokyo.

“Such well-chosen words may buttress Abe’s distorted perception of history,” Kim said.

On Monday, Japan approved new textbooks for middle school students that include its claim of sovereignty over Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo.

Earlier this week, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel also praised Abe for describing the sexual slavery as “human trafficking,” saying it is a “forward-looking” message mdash a sharp contrast to Seoul’s foreign ministry that criticized the characterization because it believes Abe refuses to acknowledge Japan’s responsibility for the atrocity.

Hong Hyun-ik, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, said, “The US is urging Korea to choose between Washington and Beijing in a battle for regional hegemony.”

He added that a series of cases have made it clear that Korea, which has managed to juggle its ties with the US and China successfully, cannot thrive on President Park Geun-hye’s balanced diplomacy.

Kim said that the US is taking sides with Japan because the latter is committed to the US pivot to Asia, aimed at keeping in check China’s efforts to expand its political clout.

“The US thinks that Korea doubtfully interacts with China and, in addition, Korea is not on good terms with Japan due to rows over history and territory amid growing needs for three-way cooperation,” the professor said.

In the wake of a series of controversial US remarks, however, the foreign minister Thursday downplayed that speculation.

“The (Korea)-U. S alliance and the US-Japan alliance are not a zero-sum game,” Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told Yonhap News, adding that the two are mutually beneficial in terms of regional security.

SOURCE: The Korea Times