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From 'America first' to 'Earth first'

By Song Young-gil

Rep. Song Young-gil of the Democratic Party of Korea, who is the chairman of the National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee / Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk
Rep. Song Young-gil of the Democratic Party of Korea, who is the chairman of the National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee / Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

U.S. President Joe Biden's inauguration ceremony was held with 25,000 armed National Guard soldiers standing by under a martial law-like atmosphere to prevent possible intrusions by armed pro-Trump protesters. This is the first time in 152 years that an outgoing president has not attended an inauguration ceremony since President Andrew Jackson skipped President Ulysses S. Grant's inauguration in 1869.

Something else that goes against long-standing American values: outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter that multiculturalism is "not who America is," but the outgoing president's refusal to accept the election result and skipping the inauguration ceremony seems to be more un-American to me.

In terms of multiculturalism, Melania Trump, the former first lady, was born in Yugoslavia, and she still has Slovenian citizenship. Melania is the first first lady to have been born outside of the U.S. in 180 years after President John Quincy Adams' first lady, Louisa Adams, who was born in London, England. These first ladies marked a chapter in the history of multiculturalism in the U.S.

We saw what happened to multiculturalism in the U.S. during the Trump administration, and it still continues after the presidential election last year. On Monday, Jan. 18, the U.S. celebrated one of the most influential figures in the history of multiculturalism, Martin Luther King Jr. on MLK Jr. Day. However, most of the news that day was still about the unfortunate event at the U.S. Capitol 12 days prior. The U.S. media described the armed white supremacists' storming of the U.S. Capitol as domestic terrorism, seditious conspiracy and insurrection.

President Trump's key slogan was "MAGA" or "Make America Great Again." But really, what makes America great? Is it the white supremacy, anti-multiculturalism, undermined alliance relations, skepticism over climate change, and undermined COVID-19 pandemic measures? These ideas have put a shame on the U.S. in front of the global community rather than making it great. Many people who have made America great were from immigrant families. Steve Jobs is from a Syrian refugee family, former President Barack Obama's father is from Kenya, and Elon Musk is originally from South Africa, and the list goes on and on.

We hope that Biden's presidency will be a turning point in making America indeed America again. President Biden's election campaign slogan said, "Restore the Soul of America." I think America's soul means the soft power through which the United States can lead the world.

Soft power entails ideas of democracy, fundamental rights (such as the right to life, property, media, religion, conscience, freedom of thought, etc.), the rule of law, separation of powers, free-market economy, etc. Even if China, Japan, or Russia have more economic and military power than the U.S., they are not enough to lead the world because they lack soft power to replace the constitutional, democratic, and fundamental values that the U.S. represented.

There is no Planet B

COVID-19 is a byproduct of climate change and ecosystem destruction. A second and third virus epidemic will likely appear periodically. Some ecologists say that this pandemic is a vaccine for the Earth and that humankind is a virus.

As such, humanity is emerging as the main culprit behind the destruction of the global ecosystem. The critical problem of the Trump administration was its denial of climate change. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. withdrew from the Paris agreement. Trump denied all scientific arguments, saying that climate change is a periodic phenomenon.

During his visit to the U.S. in 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech at the joint session of the U.S. Congress. During his speech, President Macron reiterated that "there is no planet B," and he believed that the U.S. would one day return to the Paris Agreement. The members of both chambers stood up and applauded President Macron's remarks. President Macron appealed to the message "Make our planet great again" even during the presidency of Trump. The picture "Pale Blue Dot" reminds us of the stark warning that the Earth is the only place for us to exist in this vast universe. Thankfully, the U.S. under President Biden made the right call.

What is to be done?

Under President Biden, Washington's first move was to return to the Paris Agreement. President Biden also declared a carbon neutralization target by 2050, and his administration will vigorously pursue the Green New Deal to carry it through.

The Biden administration emphasizes that the Green New Deal is not an obligation but an opportunity. The Biden administration announced a $2 trillion climate plan for the federal government and a $5 trillion plan for state governments, combined with ones from the private sector over the next decade.

The U.S. is expected to reflect its climate change strategy in its foreign policy, national security, and trade. The U.S. is likely to call for a summit to address climate change and will ask participating nations to cooperate with its climate plan. In light of that, the utilization of a carbon tax is highly likely. Through its trade policy, the U.S. might pressure countries that cheat with its climate change goals.

The South Korean government also announced carbon-neutrality by 2050 under President Moon Jae-in. We should thoroughly inspect and oversee the implementation process so that South Korea is keeping up with international efforts to tackle climate change.

Conflicts and negotiations regarding carbon emissions are likely to occur between the U.S. and China. The prospect for U.S.-China relations lies in their cooperation on climate change. China is also making active efforts to address climate change. President Xi Jinping also stressed the importance of a collaborative approach to climate change and criticized the U.S. for withdrawing from the Paris Agreement while insisting on humanity's fate.

Damage caused by climate change has a greater impact on under-developed countries and relatively more impoverished working-class people. For instance, under President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil pursued a development plan for the Amazon rainforest even while it experienced a severe wildfire, and other nations expressed concerns. Environmental protection cannot be sought only by unilateral coercion without suggesting a practical alternative to forest development plans.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) was established to enhance under-developed and developing countries' ability to cope with climate change. Upon its launch, participating countries decided to raise $100 billion annually to raise $1 trillion over 10 years. However, the U.S. was reluctant to do so. (The GCF and its operations are dear to me as I led the efforts to have the GCF's headquarters in Incheon, South Korea, while Bonn, Germany was the other candidate city.)

The GCF's role is actively required to minimize the conflict between developed and under-developed nations regarding carbon emissions. Just as the IMF and IBRD system led the new global financial order after World War II, I think GCF should lead the financial flow for sustainable policies and lead the way to save the Earth in the era of climate change and COVID-19. I hope that the Biden administration will play an active role in raising GCF funds and cooperating with other nations via the fund.

Climate change and COVID-19 are borderless and affect all ethnic groups. These are significant matters to humanity. We cannot solve these problems alone, and if we wait too long, the issues will have broader and more terrifying consequences than any security issues, worse than the nuclear weapons issue or even terrorism.

I am looking forward to seeing the U.S. lead the international community again to tackle rising conventional security issues ― climate change and the global pandemic ― under President Biden, and hopefully (and truthfully) make America great again. Also, I want to see the evolution of the ROK-U.S. alliance so that our partnership not only addresses conventional security issues but also leads the international community to address humanity's problems.


Song Young-gil is a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and the chairman of the National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee.


By Song Young-gil

Rep. Song Young-gil of the Democratic Party of Korea, who is the chairman of the National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee / Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk
Rep. Song Young-gil of the Democratic Party of Korea, who is the chairman of the National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee / Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

U.S. President Joe Biden's inauguration ceremony was held with 25,000 armed National Guard soldiers standing by under a martial law-like atmosphere to prevent possible intrusions by armed pro-Trump protesters. This is the first time in 152 years that an outgoing president has not attended an inauguration ceremony since President Andrew Jackson skipped President Ulysses S. Grant's inauguration in 1869.

Something else that goes against long-standing American values: outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter that multiculturalism is "not who America is," but the outgoing president's refusal to accept the election result and skipping the inauguration ceremony seems to be more un-American to me.

In terms of multiculturalism, Melania Trump, the former first lady, was born in Yugoslavia, and she still has Slovenian citizenship. Melania is the first first lady to have been born outside of the U.S. in 180 years after President John Quincy Adams' first lady, Louisa Adams, who was born in London, England. These first ladies marked a chapter in the history of multiculturalism in the U.S.

We saw what happened to multiculturalism in the U.S. during the Trump administration, and it still continues after the presidential election last year. On Monday, Jan. 18, the U.S. celebrated one of the most influential figures in the history of multiculturalism, Martin Luther King Jr. on MLK Jr. Day. However, most of the news that day was still about the unfortunate event at the U.S. Capitol 12 days prior. The U.S. media described the armed white supremacists' storming of the U.S. Capitol as domestic terrorism, seditious conspiracy and insurrection.

President Trump's key slogan was "MAGA" or "Make America Great Again." But really, what makes America great? Is it the white supremacy, anti-multiculturalism, undermined alliance relations, skepticism over climate change, and undermined COVID-19 pandemic measures? These ideas have put a shame on the U.S. in front of the global community rather than making it great. Many people who have made America great were from immigrant families. Steve Jobs is from a Syrian refugee family, former President Barack Obama's father is from Kenya, and Elon Musk is originally from South Africa, and the list goes on and on.

We hope that Biden's presidency will be a turning point in making America indeed America again. President Biden's election campaign slogan said, "Restore the Soul of America." I think America's soul means the soft power through which the United States can lead the world.

Soft power entails ideas of democracy, fundamental rights (such as the right to life, property, media, religion, conscience, freedom of thought, etc.), the rule of law, separation of powers, free-market economy, etc. Even if China, Japan, or Russia have more economic and military power than the U.S., they are not enough to lead the world because they lack soft power to replace the constitutional, democratic, and fundamental values that the U.S. represented.

There is no Planet B

COVID-19 is a byproduct of climate change and ecosystem destruction. A second and third virus epidemic will likely appear periodically. Some ecologists say that this pandemic is a vaccine for the Earth and that humankind is a virus.

As such, humanity is emerging as the main culprit behind the destruction of the global ecosystem. The critical problem of the Trump administration was its denial of climate change. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. withdrew from the Paris agreement. Trump denied all scientific arguments, saying that climate change is a periodic phenomenon.

During his visit to the U.S. in 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech at the joint session of the U.S. Congress. During his speech, President Macron reiterated that "there is no planet B," and he believed that the U.S. would one day return to the Paris Agreement. The members of both chambers stood up and applauded President Macron's remarks. President Macron appealed to the message "Make our planet great again" even during the presidency of Trump. The picture "Pale Blue Dot" reminds us of the stark warning that the Earth is the only place for us to exist in this vast universe. Thankfully, the U.S. under President Biden made the right call.

What is to be done?

Under President Biden, Washington's first move was to return to the Paris Agreement. President Biden also declared a carbon neutralization target by 2050, and his administration will vigorously pursue the Green New Deal to carry it through.

The Biden administration emphasizes that the Green New Deal is not an obligation but an opportunity. The Biden administration announced a $2 trillion climate plan for the federal government and a $5 trillion plan for state governments, combined with ones from the private sector over the next decade.

The U.S. is expected to reflect its climate change strategy in its foreign policy, national security, and trade. The U.S. is likely to call for a summit to address climate change and will ask participating nations to cooperate with its climate plan. In light of that, the utilization of a carbon tax is highly likely. Through its trade policy, the U.S. might pressure countries that cheat with its climate change goals.

The South Korean government also announced carbon-neutrality by 2050 under President Moon Jae-in. We should thoroughly inspect and oversee the implementation process so that South Korea is keeping up with international efforts to tackle climate change.

Conflicts and negotiations regarding carbon emissions are likely to occur between the U.S. and China. The prospect for U.S.-China relations lies in their cooperation on climate change. China is also making active efforts to address climate change. President Xi Jinping also stressed the importance of a collaborative approach to climate change and criticized the U.S. for withdrawing from the Paris Agreement while insisting on humanity's fate.

Damage caused by climate change has a greater impact on under-developed countries and relatively more impoverished working-class people. For instance, under President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil pursued a development plan for the Amazon rainforest even while it experienced a severe wildfire, and other nations expressed concerns. Environmental protection cannot be sought only by unilateral coercion without suggesting a practical alternative to forest development plans.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) was established to enhance under-developed and developing countries' ability to cope with climate change. Upon its launch, participating countries decided to raise $100 billion annually to raise $1 trillion over 10 years. However, the U.S. was reluctant to do so. (The GCF and its operations are dear to me as I led the efforts to have the GCF's headquarters in Incheon, South Korea, while Bonn, Germany was the other candidate city.)

The GCF's role is actively required to minimize the conflict between developed and under-developed nations regarding carbon emissions. Just as the IMF and IBRD system led the new global financial order after World War II, I think GCF should lead the financial flow for sustainable policies and lead the way to save the Earth in the era of climate change and COVID-19. I hope that the Biden administration will play an active role in raising GCF funds and cooperating with other nations via the fund.

Climate change and COVID-19 are borderless and affect all ethnic groups. These are significant matters to humanity. We cannot solve these problems alone, and if we wait too long, the issues will have broader and more terrifying consequences than any security issues, worse than the nuclear weapons issue or even terrorism.

I am looking forward to seeing the U.S. lead the international community again to tackle rising conventional security issues ― climate change and the global pandemic ― under President Biden, and hopefully (and truthfully) make America great again. Also, I want to see the evolution of the ROK-U.S. alliance so that our partnership not only addresses conventional security issues but also leads the international community to address humanity's problems.


Song Young-gil is a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and the chairman of the National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee.




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