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In light of the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, I thought I’d post some editorials from the Chinese government mouthpiece Global Times newspaper. China of course takes a relatively soft line on North Korea, while tweaking the United States in particular. I’ll continue to give my own opinions in my “Week in Review” column.
Nov. 24, 2010
North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire yesterday, increasing regional tension. Dialogue through artillery fire is rarely an effective means to settle a dispute. But yesterday, dozens of shells struck the economic belt of Northeast Asia.
The clash benefits neither the North nor the South. North Korea showed its toughness through the skirmish.
But the move neither helps solve its economic plight, nor wins over understanding from other nations.
The exchange of artillery fire reportedly caused injuries and deaths in South Korea. The strike also proves the failure of the hard-line policies of the Lee Myung-bak administration. A series of joint military exercises by South Korea and the U.S. apparently also failed to deter the North.
The exchange of artillery fire yesterday was more evidence of the chaotic status of the Korean Peninsula. The North tried to protect its own security in an inconceivable manner, whereas other countries’ response was impotent.
The South, which was clearly reluctant to militarily engage the North, flexed its military muscles. The U.S. and Japan tried economic sanctions, which proved futile. China and Russia could only appeal for restraint.
Northeast Asia should try to eradicate the Cold War mentality in this region, and fix North Korea’s sense of insecurity. However, the U.S. has no such strategic desire, whereas South Korea appears to be hesitating.
After the recent artillery exchange on the Korean Peninsula, North Korea seems to be the only country that gained, but Pyongyang is drinking poison to curb its thirst. It is running head long down a road that leads to nowhere.
Is the Korean Peninsula heading toward a dangerous dead end?
Stability is a shared goal of the countries involved. North Korea wishes to maintain a stable government; the South would like to see a stable border area.
It is in the interest of China to keep an uneventful situation on the Peninsula, and the U.S. hopes to see its influence in Northeast Asia unchallenged. Japan and Russia hold attitudes similar to China’s or the United States’.
However, this shared goal is often interrupted by other interests, primarily, the pursuit of nuclear weapons by the North and its continuous provocation. In addition, the inconsistent policies of the U.S. and South Korea toward Pyongyang also cause the North agitation, which in turn tends to overreact.
Strategic trust is almost zero among the players involved. The efforts China makes in promoting regional stability are often offset by U.S. strategic intentions in the Western Pacific. China’s efforts also often get the cold shoulder by North Korea. The on again, off again, Six-Party talks best exemplify the difficulty.
The hard line approach of the U.S. is unlikely to succeed on the Korean Peninsula. If it did succeed it would mean the failure of China’s diplomacy and bring unbearable strategic risk to China. But it is equally impossible that China’s moderate stance takes the lead, which suggests a much needed fundamental policy adjustment from the U.S., South Korea and Japan.
The stalemate will continue and test the tolerance of all the parties involved. But the way things stand now, South Korea will go on living under the shadow of the non-stop provocations of the North; while Pyongyang will continue suffering isolation and poverty, which is getting worse after each incident.
Among all the countries with a stake in the region, it looks like South Korea can and should take the initiative to adjust its policy toward the North. But, the question is, is it willing to do so?
The tension on the Korean Peninsula soared to a new level with the U.S. aircraft carrier George Washington set to join a Yellow Sea military drill. If a new clash erupts with a U.S. aircraft carrier involved, a final scenario will be much harder to predict.
Despite the strong rhetoric, none of the countries involved in the confrontation are truly prepared to fight an all out war.
North Korea does not have the capability to beat South Korea and the U.S., while South Korea does not have the will to see the peninsula engulfed in a military clash. Barely emerging from the Iraqi war nightmare, another war without a clear ending is the last thing the U.S. needs.
Keeping this in mind, the three countries should stop trying to intimidate the other side with strong-arm tactics. China pushed for emergency talks yesterday, trying to cool down the tense situation. Whatever the response, China’s attitude is in earnest and the initiative should be taken to get the parties involved back to the negotiation table in Beijing.
Strategic intimidation has to be renounced. Within the U.S. and South Korea, the official stance from the governments and strong public sentiment can affect each other. Many wars have been fought because public sentiment mistakenly influenced government policy.
In Northeast Asia, peace and stability are of the greatest concern, however, it is often pushed aside by minor but vocal hard line opinions. Peace comes second to election rhetoric and media noise. Advocacy for rationally and mutual compromise, on the contrary, would cause political risk and often be dubbed as traitorous.
Experience from the last decade suggests that hawkish policies rarely work out in Northeast Asia. Short-term political gains often incur long-term damage that has to be repaired by the entire region. The erratic policies are also often dumped with a change in administration.
The accumulation of tension on the Korean Peninsula has now reached a dangerous breaking point. The two Koreas, and also the entire region, must be cautious.
War is not welcome, yet it is approaching and the danger is being bizarrely tolerated. What is happening is not a game. No one can guarantee the situation will not turn into a real war.