KOREA IS A PAWN IN CHINA DIPLOMACY
As tensions heat up on the Korean Peninsula, the news commentators on both broadcasting and print media are sending alarming signals about the threat of a nuclear confrontation with the North Korean regime. I was drawn to this subject after hearing a radio broadcast referring to “Preparing for Judgment Day.” It got me to thinking about a nuclear holocaust.
I revisited my previous commentary about the unfinished war in Korea. For over 60 years there has been an uneasy truce between the U. S. and North Korea that has threatened the sovereignty of South Korea and subjecting Japan to missile attacks from the unruly North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
I pondered over the reference to judgment day and tried to imagine what would happen if there was actually a nuclear war in Asia, or perhaps even in the near East as Iraq continues to develop its nuclear capability. The leaders of these two foreign countries are not humanitarians and could be provoked into firing their destructive weapons. At home there are many citizens who likewise do not trust Donald Trump in dealing with this very sensitive diplomatic issue.
Much of a diplomatic safety net to avoid nuclear attack rests with China, the only nation that has an open door to North Korea. Even a sight nudge from China to the Kim regime would help cool the international crisis that implicates America. We are presumed to be the guardians of South Korea and Japan and yet do business with China.
China likes a buffer for its northern border to keep its distance from U.S. and South Korean face-to-face contact. China also likes its trade with North Korea, the only country not imposing severe trade sanctions. Without China’s source of materials for military and civilian goods, North Korea could not display so much bluster.
President Trump has not helped ease the tension with both North and South Korea. Already he has angered the new president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, with demands for payment for the U.S. missile-defense system recently installed 135 miles southeast of Seoul. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) is a sophisticated radar system that is capable of intercepting missiles fired from North Korea or China.
Further complicating diplomatic relations is China’s concern that THAAD is a threat by installing a military weapon in the zone that China believes it should control. However, President Moon is trying to juggle diplomacy between the U.S. and China realizing South Korea needs American military support.
A panel discussion on events unfolding on the Korean Peninsula was a timely presentation by UCSD’s School of Global Policy and Strategy in June. The speakers included a former ambassador to South Korea and a professor from a university in Seoul, among other Korean experts. The hot topic of the day was nuclear proliferation by North Korea with frequent missile launches over recent months.
China is the linchpin in diplomacy among the three nations dealing with North Korea’s aggressive defiance. One panelist referred to a peaceful resolution being America’s fantasy and China’s nightmare. All the speakers agreed that China can be either an arbitrator or a deal breaker.
Currently there needs to be a re-alignment of each nation’s strategy to reflect the changes in U.S. and South Korean governments. The impeachment of the president and a newly elected President Moon Jae-in reverses South Korea’s prior strategy in dealing with North Korea. A similar switch from the Obama administration to Trump’s more aggressive response to the missile crisis is underway.
That is the reason the U.S. deployment of the THAAD missile defense system was stopped by President Moon as soon as he took office. Part of his decision was appeasement of China’s leaders who are skittish about U.S. weapons in their domain. Also, THAAD is a direct defense against North Korea’s aggressive missile activity. U.S. military presence makes Moon’s appeasement efforts with the Kim Jong Un regime difficult.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, speaking at a defense summit in Singapore, borrowed a phrase used by President Clinton to defend the military action against Saddam Hussein in 1998. Mattis said North Korea “is a clear and present danger” recalling bad memories of a strategy that thrust America into an endless war in the Near East.
The delicate diplomacy among the U.S., South Korea and China dealing with North Korea’s aggression will continue until one of the leaders blinks.