Subtle changes are taking place in the geopolitical situation in Northeast Asia. They are occurring in the diplomacy of the Republic of (South) Korea (ROK) toward the United States, China and Japan.
Japan is rearming itself through expansion of its ‘right of collective self-defense’ making Korea and China worried. However, Japan’s military beefup more or less meets the requirement of the US that wants to keep Asia and Pacific free from the increasing influence of China.
President Xi Jinping of China visited Seoul on July 3, 2014, breaking the long tradition of visiting North Korea before the South, and had summit talks with President Park Geun-hye agreeing on a number of important matters, including early conclusion of Korea-China Free Trade Agreement.
Over this development, the conservatives who account for more than one half of the total population of Korea are worried that whatever President Park does it should not be at the expense of close relationship and alliance with the US.
In contrast, the liberals and progressives say that the ROK should pay more attention to China because the ROK’s trade with China is larger than that with the US and that China has more influence on North Korea than the US has. Furthermore the Korean-Chinese trade and economic cooperation will continue to increase and will by far outstrip the volume of ROK-US trade and economic cooperation.
Conservatives and middle-of-the- roaders in Korea are generally worried that the closer relations between the ROK and China could do harm to the alliance between the ROK and the US and that this should not happen.
In the ROK’s relations with Japan, too, the conservatives and the centrists in Korea hope that the two countries could recover their good relations.
On the most sensitive issue between them, namely the Korean ‘comfort women’ for the Imperial Japanese Army in past, the conservatives and centrists demand a sincere apology from Japan and redemption of their wrongdoings. However, they also demand the same apology also from China who captured and raped an estimated 300,000 Korean women, many of them married women, during Qing China’s invasion of Korea in the 1627. In their opinion, the Chinese troops were much worse than the Japanese because China at the time even demanded ransoms from their Korean husbands and families for their return to Korea after using them as sex slaves, which the Japanese did not do.
On top of that, the Chinese troops rounded up Korean women on the street like cowboys did the wild cattle, raped them and killed their children outside the Namhansanseong Mountain Fortress southeast of Seoul.
Generally, liberals and progressives want early resumption of dialogue with North Korea and improvement relations with Chairman Kim Jong-Un and his regime.
In contrast, the conservatives and centrists are wary of the real intention of China and want continued close relations with the US and Japan, while they are not overly interested in mending relations with North Korea as long as the North kept developing nuclear weapons and missiles.
Improvement of relations with North Korea demanded by the liberals and progressives, including the New Politics Alliance for democracy headed by Co-Chairmen Ahn Cheol-soo and Kim Han-gil, refreshes the memory of what the late Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun did to North Korea through their ‘Sunshine Engagement Policy’ which ultimately provided North Korea with US$8 billion worth of economic benefits during their 10-year-rule.
The conservatives and centrists claim that Chairman Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un used only one half (US$4 billion) of the total amount of money given the North in developing nuclear weapons and missiles, with which Kim Jong-Un now threatens to turn Seoul into an inferno.
They are concerned that Chairman Kim Jong-Un by should have already started using the other half (US$4 billion) in making sophisticated smaller nuclear bombs and improved missiles that can carry the nuclear warhead anywhere in the world to Seoul and other parts of the ROK and to most of the targets on the West Coast of the US.
Here excerpts from the views of experts and surveys of the Korean-language media and experts:
Opinion polls on ROK-US and ROK-China relations:
On this situation, Dong-A Ilbo, one of the leading Korean-language dailies in Seoul, published the result of an opinion survey on July 9, 2014, which was conducted by Research and Research on orders of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
The survey showed that 69.9% of the respondents said that the economic growth of China was ‘threatening’ and 66.4% said China’s military buildup was equally ‘threatening.’ Answers that did not agree with the above views on the economic growth and military buildup of China were 22.6% and 24.6%, respectively.
On the Korean-Chinese summit meeting, 64.7% of the respondents gave a favorable view while 13% had negative opinions. However, the favorable views showed a drop of 11% from the 75.7% which was recorded at the time of President Park’s earlier summit with President Xi in Beijing about a year ago.
The majority of the people in the ROK consider strengthening of the alliance with the US as important as improving relations with China.
Asked which country the ROK should increase cooperation with between the US and China who are called G1 and G2 countries, 59.6% chose the US while 24.9% said China. In similar survey in March 2014, the result was 5.9% in favor of the US and 29.4% for 29.4%.
Then the interviewees were asked which was more important between the trilateral security cooperation of The ROK-US-Japan and the ROK-China security cooperation. Fifty-nine percent chose the Korea-US-Japan alliance while 26.5% favored Korea-China security cooperation.
In contrast with the security matters, however, the Korean people have increasingly high expectations from economic cooperation with China. On the ROK-China FTA, 48.9% of the respondents showed a favorable response which indicated gradual increases with the passage of time in view of 416% in May 2013 and 31.2% in May 2012.
Asked what the most impressive was from Park-Xi summit meeting, 21.9% cited Korea-China agreement on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, 16.6% cooperation on historical matters and 12.2% agreement to sign FTA within this year.
The respondents were also asked which country they liked best. The preference order was the United States 58.5%, China 51.3%, Japan 2.56% and North Korea 2.53%. In an identical survey one month earlier in June this year, the ratings were China 48.5% and the US 59.2%. This indicates that China gained 2.8% while the US lost 0.7%.
Asked on their preference of the Heads of Government, 61.8% cited President Barak Obama of the US followed by President Xi Jinping of China with 50.5%, Chairman Kim Jong-Un of North Korea with 11.8% and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with 11.6%. On Abe’s reduction of sanctions on North Korea, 70.9% said that it was not a right thing to do.
The media responses to the recent development of diplomacy among the ROK, the US and Japan differ from one another depending on the political-ideological tendencies of the media.
The conservative media emphasize the importance of strengthening the traditional relations of cooperation and friendship with the US, mending of relations with Japan and make cautious approaches to China.
In contrast, liberal and progressive media complain that President Park knows so little about China and that The ROK should review its relations with China in the direction of improving and expanding exchange and cooperation.
In contrast independent, neutral media recommend continued development and improvement relations with China without causing any the US and other traditional allies to lose their interest in Korea. Examples follow:
Cooperate with China based on ROK-US alliance and improve relations
with North Korea (Seoul Kyungje business daily):
Through the medium of Park-Xi summit meeting on July 3, 2014, President Xi sent a message to the international community that he will build a new Asian security and diplomacy centering around China--loosening the ties of the tripartite alliance among the ROK, US and Japan.
This gives the ROK a tough home work that is new to the ROK who has been handling political and diplomatic matters based on the tripartite alliance among the ROK, US and Japan.
Experts emphasize that while ROK-China cooperation is very important it must not be permitted to do any harm to the essential axis of the ROK-US alliance.
They also emphasize that the ROK should try to have dialogue and negotiations with North Korea so that the ROK would not lose its power of independent decision- making in its diplomacy with the Big Four (the US, China, Japan and Russia) and North Korea.
The New York Times and other major media of the US directly hit the new development saying, “President Xi’s visit to South Korea has an intention to weaken the alliance between the US and South Korea.”
The Kyoto News Agency of Japan, too, said that President Park took a critical attitude against Japan’s “Right of Collective Self-defense” taking sides with China on the issue, which will further rock the tripartite alliance among the ROK, US and Japan.
If the ROK’s construction of relations of cooperation with China should appear to be a sign of crack in the alliance between the ROK and US or give a signal to the international community that the ROK is having a dangerous adventure, it could deal a serious blow to the national interests of the ROK.
In contrast with the position of China who seeks an early dialogue between the ROK and North Korea for the settlement of the North Korean nuclear issue, the ROK should try to further strengthen its alliance with the US and insist on the resumption of the Six-party Talks with a precondition of change in the attitude of North Korea.
If a wrong message is sent to North Korea that improvement of ROK-China relations can damage the ROK-US alliance, it could cause North Korea to make a possible wrong judgment. On this point, Professor Shin Yul of Myongji University in Seoul said: “Improvement of relations between the ROK and China should not cause any slackening of the close ties of alliance between the ROK and the US or between the ROK and US, it is a relationship of alliance and between the ROK and China it is a relationship of strategic partnership of cooperation. This point must be made very clear.”
Improve relations with North Korea and develop independent diplomatic potential:
President Park Geun-hye’s basic North Korea policy is predicated on a position where the ROK will not lift its May-24 economic sanctions or have a dialogue with the North if there is no sign of sincere changes on the part of the North. This hardline North Korea policy, however, deprives us of our opportunity to lead the inter-Korean negotiations such as the Six-party Talks and North Korean nuclear issue, and turns over the leader role to the US, China and Japan.
At the ROK-China summit, we were unable to present any conditions or timetable for the resumption of the Six-party Talks. In this situation, we should try to re-open dialogue with North Korea even in the economic or trade areas. On this point, Professor Kim Yong- Hyun of Dongguk University states: “Conditions for the resumption of inter-Korean dialogue are improving, including the visit of the Pope to the ROK in August and the Incheon Asian Games in September, which the ROK could use in re-opening dialogue with the North so that the ROK could lead the inter-Korean negotiations.”
Establish future-oriented ROK- Japan relations:
The ROK-China summit meeting brought North Korea and Japan closer to each other. Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper said editorially that the ROK-China joint communique contains provisions to jointly conduct researches concerning the comfort women of the two countries conscripted as sex slaves by the Imperial Japanese Army, which could contribute to forming a common publicity front in the international community against Japan.
On the past wrongs that Japan committed against Korea, the ROK should take a strong position, but this does not mean that the ROK should give up even such matters that are related with the future. Senior Researcher Chung Sung- jang of the Sejong Research Institute states that the ROK-Japan relations should not be handled emotionally but with a view to promoting national interests and that resumption of bilateral dialogue is needed for the settlement of the North Korean nuclear issue and the Six-party Talks.
Park Geun-hye Government knows nothing about China (progressive-oriented
Pressian Internet Media):At the summit meeting, the leaders of the ROK and China agreed to develop a mature strategic partnership and to push ahead with a number of projects in the political and security areas and also in the spheres of economic, manpower and cultural exchanges. The two leaders also exchanged views on the North Korean nuclear issue and peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.
However, while there were some results in the areas of economic, manpower and cultural exchanges, there was no visible outcome in the political and diplomatic fields, where the two sides only confirmed the existence of difference in each other’s position.
There are many indications that the going was tough at the ROK-Chinese summit meeting. They show in the joint communique and also in the media reports from China.
Shortly after the end of the press conference following the joint communique, there were news reports published by the official Chinese media such as Xinwenlianbo. To our surprise, this Chinese media reported some details that were not contained in the joint communique or referred to at the subsequent press conference.
For instance, Xinwenlianbo reported to the following effect:
At the summit meeting, President Xi Jinping emphasized that the two countries should concentrate efforts on a number of areas and one of them was as follows: “Next year marks the 70th anniversary of victory of the war against Fascists, the 70th anniversary of China’s victory of war against Japanese and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Korean peninsula from Japan. The two countries could jointly host celebration events.”
Xinwenlianbo, the official Chinese media, reported details that were not contained in the joint communique.
The joint communique can only contain things that were agreed upon by the two leaders. The Chinese media, which follows the policies of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese Government and which reports what are desired by the Party and Government to be published, published details that were not contained in the official joint communique.
The Chinese media report indicated that at the summit meeting President Xi proposed to President Park to jointly host the celebration event of China’s victory and Korea’s liberation from Japan.
It was obvious that the ROK could not readily agree to the proposal and because of this the related details were not included in the official joint communique, but the Chinese media reported it anyway.
There were other similar instances in connection with the joint communique. It is the question of the ROK’s participation in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which President Xi might have considered a very sensitive matter before his visit to the ROK, was neither contained in the joint communique nor mentioned at the subsequent press conference. However, the official Chinese media published the details without filtering. Xinwenlianbo reported that China wants to strengthen cooperation with the ROK in the formation of AIIB and FTAAP (Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific) and that the ROK highly appreciated the formation of AIIB proposed by China and wished to continuously communicate with China on the matter.
A similar situation is observed also of the ROK side. The Presidential Office of Cheong Wa Dae and the government said that both sides reaffirmed their position to resolutely oppose the development of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula and that China has made the strongest expression so far against the nuclear weapons development in North Korea. At the joint press conference, too, President Park said, “At our (summit) meeting today, the two leaders agreed to realize the denuclearization of North Korea at any cost and to resolutely oppose any nuclear test.”
The Korean society was excited at President Xi’s visit to the ROK before North Korea and expected that Xi will send a strong message to North Korea against development of nuclear weapons. However, the expectations proved futile. Two things became clear. One is that the ROK relied much on China to solve the North Korean nuclear weapons problem. The other is that the ROK does not know much about China.
Also, there was no question-answer session at the press conference of the two leaders.
According to Cheong Wa Dae, the summit meeting lasted much longer than scheduled and this reduced the time of the press conference and to skip the question-answer session. However, the question-answer session might have been eliminated because there were so many sensitive areas to which the two leaders could not readily offer an answer.
In the ‘Era of G2,’ one ‘big typhoon’ (ROK-China summit) has passed. However, there could come second and third ‘typhoons.’ The first typhoon, in a way, provided us with an opportunity and time to think and prepare for the second and more typhoons in the future.
One important lesson we learned from the ROK-China summit meeting is that the ROK needs a self-reliant diplomacy. Specifically, it means that the ROK should try to seek equal distance, balance and neutrality between the US and China. However, it is easily said but not easily done. In the ROK if one mentions ‘self-reliance’ or ‘neutrality’ one is branded as an ‘anti-American element.’ The present situation in the ROK, where the military are relying on the US while the business community leans toward China, demands a serious study.
In this situation there is only one answer. It is the improvement of relations with North Korea. Because the ROK defines North Korea as primary enemy, the ROK is militarily dependent on the US and at the same time has an illusion that China would exert its influence on North Korea in favor of the ROK.
The further remote the relations with North Korea, the more will the ROK be at a nonplus and waver between the US and China--becoming more and more dependent on both of them.
So the clear message and lesson learned from the Xi visit to the ROK was: “Expedite your effort to improve your relations with North Korea.”
Best solution to fast changes in NE Asia is improving ties with North Korea
(Domin Ilbo by Prof. Kim Kun-sik):
To many Koreans, Japan is a bad country that distorts history to its advantage and against the interest of other countries and a country that is now trying to increase its armament through ‘expansion of its right of collective self-defense.’ But the United States that the ROK likes best supports Japan’s expansion of the ‘right of collective self-defense.’ North Korea that did not like Japan due to Japan’s wrong idea about its past wrongs done to Korea and China, now tries to improve relations with Japan. Against this backdrop the Chinese leader visited the ROK before he did North Korea.
The geopolitical situation of the Northeast Asian region is one where each country tries to seek its own interests and benefits without regard to other countries--be they allies or foes.
In the center of this picture are the US and China that are trying to expand their influence in the region. The US tries to encircle China with a tripartite alliance with Japan and the ROK by strengthening military alliance with Japan. In this situation, China is trying to cause a crack in the US- Japan-ROK alliance by wooing the ROK to its side at the expense of its traditional close ties with North Korea.
Both Japan and North Korea had been experiencing isolation, Japan on its military expansion plans that are supported only by the US while North Korea in its relations with China.
Japan is seeking military expansion ‘crying wolf’ about North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles. North Korea is feeding on the past wrongdoings of Japan done to the Korean people.
The recent Park-Xi summit looks bright on the outside but a close look into it shows that there was not much done for the ROK. This is true also of the ROK-US relations where there are a lot of rhetorics but not much in substance.
The newly developing situation in the Northeast Asian region may be summed up with one phrase, “There is neither an everlasting ally nor an eternal enemy.” In this situation where each country is seeking its own interests, the ROK alone is somewhat behind other countries in seeking its own interests.
In fact, the ROK has a very good card but President Park is not using it. It is the ROK’s improvement of relations with North Korea. When she does this, she could gain a leading role plus a larger say in the ROK’s relations with the US and China. If, otherwise, the ROK should continue to shun North Korea, the ROK would have to ask the US and China to exert their influence on North Korea and hear news on North Korea through the medium of the US and China.
The ROK has a good experience. For example, in 2005 when the inter-Korean relations and the Six-party Talks had been deadlocked for an extended period of time, the then Minister of National Unification Chung Dong-young visited Pyongyang and met with Chairman Kim Jong-il on June 17 that year and this resulted in the adoption of the joint ROK-NK Joint Declaration in September 19.
In October 2000, the then North Korean Envoy Cho Myung-rok visited the United States and met with President Bill Clinton and issued a joint US-NK communique and there was a meeting between US Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Chairman Kim Jong-il during Albright’s visit to Pyongyang. All this was possible thanks to the South-North Summit Meeting in June that year. The improvement of inter-Korean relations caused dramatic progress in the US-NK relations.
North Korea criticized the statement of President Park Geun-hye where she said unification of the Korean peninsula would be like hitting jackpot as well as her Dresden Declaration made in Germany where she proposed settlement of humanitarian matters with North Korea, improvement of living infrastructure, recovery of national identity, ROK’s assistance for the mothers and infants in North Korea, agricultural development in North Korea, tripartite cooperation projects of the ROK, North Korea and China, establishment of Northeast Asian Bank and formation of Northeast Asia multilateral security consultation body.
North Korea turned down all such proposals of dialogue overtures made by Park and since then the two sides have been confronting with each other. It is about time the ROK took the initiative to improve relations with North Korea.
Both the ROK and North Korea basically agree that improvement of relations between them is important. It is well exemplified in the Dresden Declaration by President Park in Germany. North Korea, too, have been continuously making proposals to the ROK to improve inter-Korean relations.
The ROK and North Korea have had a high-level meeting and successfully implemented the reunion meeting between the separated families of the South and North--in spite of the ROK-US joint military exercise.
In particular, the North Korean Military Affairs Commission (of which Kim Jong-Un is the chairman) made an ‘Important Proposal’ in January this year in which Kim proposed a South-North dialogue on the political and military issues.
The ROK regarded it as a ‘peace propaganda’ and turned it down on the spot but the North repeatedly asked the ROK to agree to the proposal.
To tell the truth, the confrontation between the ROK and the North started with the ROK’s turndown of the ‘Important Proposal’ of the North Korean Military Affairs Commission.
The ROK government could have responded to the North Korean proposal in an affirmative manner.
The ‘Important Proposal’ of the North Korean Military Affairs Commission is rather harshly worded and does not look very attractive but the ROK could have had second thoughts on the matter instead of its downright rejection.
In the past inter-Korean relations, there was a time when the ROK took the initiative and proposed to the North a defense minister-level meeting or a general grade officer-level one.
The ROK could try to improve relations with the North with in mind simultaneously the Dresden Declaration of the ROK and the ‘Important Proposal’ of the North Korean Military Affairs Commission.
The ROK and the North should not argue over the priority between the political-military matters and social-economic matters. Both the ROK and the North could handle all such matters together. Both sides should act like grown-ups.
Like Japan, China, too, has a debt to pay to the Korean people (Profs. Cho Byung-ro, Sung Joo-hyun, Park Young-woo and Lee Dae-yun of Kyonggi University):
During the Japanese colonial rule of the Korean peninsula for the past 36 years until Korea’s Liberation on Aug. 15, 1945 following the end of the World War II, an estimated total of up to 200,000 young Korean women were conscripted by the Japanese military gendarmes and police, and were sent to the frontlines to satisfy the carnal need of the Imperial Japanese Armed soldiers as sex slaves during World War II. The Korean women were mostly the daughters of the common people.
China did the same to the Korean people in the past, but China did it in a more immoral and savage way than Japan did and to a much larger number, 300,000--although it was done during a less civilized, savage period of history.
In December 1627 during the rule of King Injo of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea, HouJin China (later Qing Dynasty) invaded Korea and forced upon Korea the status of a ‘Little Brother’ of China.
Then in 1632, the Qing China conquered Manchuria and invaded Ming China. Qing China then told Korea that it wanted to change the relationship of Big-Little Brother s to that of a lord (Qing) and vassal (Korea). China then demanded that Korea provide to Qing Dynasty 10,000 Ryang worth of gold and platinum, 3,000 military horses and 30,000 well-trained Korean soldiers to fight for Qing China against Ming.
King Injo of the Joseon Dynasty resisted the Qing Army but was unable to defend Seoul. So he took refuge in Namhansanseong Mountain Fortress (now UNESCO World Historical Heritage), 23.7 miles southeast of Seoul. The Qing Army encircled the Namhansan- seong Fortress with 200,000 troops. Inside the Fortress, there were only 13,000 Korean defenders.
The Qing Army murdered the innocent civilians and raped women who lived outside the Fortress, and killed their children.
On Jan. 28 the following year, King Injo surrendered to the Qing Army due to the extreme sufferings of his people by the Qing invaders. In accepting the surrender of the Korean court, Qing China subjected King Injo to indescribable extent of humiliation and demanded so many things from the war-devastated Korea.
The Chinese demanded Korea to: (1) serve Qing as its ruler in the status of a vassal, (2) send the first and second sons of the King to Qing China as hostages together with the sons of a number of high officials (cabinet ministers), (3) send Korean troops to Qing to fight against Ming, (4) send 50 Korean naval vessels to Qing, (5) discontinue any repair of Korean fortresses or build new ones, and (6) pay ransom for the captured Korean men and women.
An estimated 600,000 Koreans (one half of them women) were captured and forcibly taken to Qing China as hostages and raping and for their repatriation to Korea the Qing Dynasty demanded large amounts of ransoms. The captured women included court ladies and wives and other members of the noble families and ranking officials of the Korean court.
The Japanese Imperial Army drafted the daughters of the common people in Korea. Qing China, in contrast, rounded up women on the street like cowboys did to wild cattle with ropes and also forced the King and ranking officials to send their daughters to Qing China to serve as sex slaves. Qing China then demanded large sums of ransoms in return for their repatriation to Korea.
Most of the Korean women captured by Qing China were raped and many of them became pregnant. Some of the Korean women were repatriated to Korea from Qing China but not until large sums of ransom had been paid to the Qing court.
Many Korean women who were raped by the Qing soldiers gave birth to mixed-blood children.
This situation caused a great social confusion in Korea because the Korean husbands of the raped wives wanted to have a divorce from their ‘contaminated’ women.
In order to solve this problem, King Injo issued a decree that the Korean women who had lost their chastity to the Qing Chinese troops would restore their chastity if they crossed the Hongje Stream in Seoul washing themselves in the war (now flowing in Segeom-dong and Hongeun-dong in Seoul (near the Grand Hilton Seoul). This decree is said to have made husbands reconsider their divorce from their ‘contaminated’ wives.
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