Is a war looming on the Korean Peninsula?

There are just too much media noises on current situation, with all kind of hot air posturing by pundits and politicians, particularly in the West calling for concerted efforts against the apparent North Korea transgression.  Here’s two excellent editorials from Global Times which provides a calm and rational  analysis of the current situation (absence from much of Western media) – that no one really want or can afford the war, despite the rhetorics from politicians, propaganda machines and other interest groups.  But any miscalculation in the posturings  could ignite war of horrendous consequence.

The tension on the Korean Peninsula soared to a new level with the US aircraft carrier George Washington set to join a Yellow Sea military drill. If a new clash erupts with a US 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 US,  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 US 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 US 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 rationality 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 administrations.

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.


Korean borders vital to China’s own security

Last week, as soon as I heard the clouds of war were once again threatening the Korean Peninsula, I walked into the Western Hills of Beijing, where I lit incense and prayed in front of the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, originally a Korean monk who came to China,  in the peaceful temple that bears his name.

I prayed not only for the people of both Koreas. I also prayed for a long-lasting peaceful environment for the Chinese people, and particularly for the people living in the three provinces near North Korea.

The current dangerous situation on the Korean Peninsula results from a crusade mentality held by people in both the North and the South, who have for decades strongly regarded each other as un-Korean blasphemers.  

Over one hundred years ago, the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) broke out near Weihai in the Yellow Sea, where Chinese naval forces were defeated. Pyongyang was occupied by the Japanese army. At the end of the war, China ceded Taiwan, Penghu Islands and part of Liaoning to Japan and allowed Korea to be colonized by Japan.

Any war in Korea would eventually drag China in. With China’s geopolitical strategy and national security in mind, we know the North Korean issue is crucial to the safety and peace of China’s border.

The Chinese government must have courage and wisdom to tackle the Korean issue. China should maximize the peace and security interest for its northeastern provinces and make the issue the cornerstone of China’s Korean policies.

If North Korea goes to war, millions of Korean refugees might flee north into China.  China would be forced to use police and military to contain them, which could lead to international condemnation. 

In their speeches, the leaders of South Korea and the US have all anticipated that the northern regime might collapse shortly after a war broke out.

The US and South Korea army would take over the defense of the North, from Pyongyang to the Yalu River, with American soldiers patrolling the 1,300-kilometer border between China and North Korea, currently undefended.

China should deal with North Korean issue in the way it deals with its other neighbors like Pakistan and Nepal. No matter what kind of political system these countries adopt and who is in power, these countries will always be the most important countries of China’s core national interests.

China should work harder to keep peace between the two Koreas because an independent and peaceful North Korea could serve as a buffer zone between China and the US.

China and North Korea have made groundbreaking progress in bilateral economic and trade cooperation this year, especially established a special economic zone in the border area.

But China should do more to push North Korea to transform itself from a “nuclear crisis country” to a “peaceful developing country,” which could prevent the US, Japan and South Korea from taking advantage of any confrontational incident to ferment a war. 

China should facilitate economic reform in North Korea by increasing its investment and encourage the US, Japan and South Korea to open up their doors to North Korea, rather than using blockades and sanctions.

Beijing should make it clear to North Korea, South Korea, the US and Japan that peace in North Korea is important to China’s core national interests.

China should sternly warn the North not to take any provocative action against the South and refrain itself in its response from any provocations from the South.

Meanwhile, China should also send a clear message to the US and Japan not to encourage South Korea to take any aggressive actions against the North.

China should make it crystal clear that anyone who uses the Yeonpyeong incident as an excuse for further provocative actions is playing with fire. 

The author is a professor of Tsinghua University. His blog: cn/lixiguang2010, follow him on: MyNewsToday. xiguang@


About kchew

an occasional culturalist
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