The complete loss of bilateral trust in the peninsula is directly proportional to the expansionist interests of Beijing and Washington, DC. While the former patronises Pyongyang, the latter is an ally of Seoul
The Korean peninsula is again going through a rough time. North Korea’s nuclear test and South Korea’s close military co-operation with the US has lead the region and international community towards deep uncertainty. But this is not for the first time that there have been tensions in the Korean region. The two countries have been bitter rivals since the Korean War ended in 1953.
From North Korea’s standpoint, its aggression has been surfacing because of South Korea’s over-reliance on the US. Over the decades, South Korea’s easy access to nuclear capacity has created a sense of grave insecurity within the dictatorial regime of North Korea.
However, it is by manipulating this potential threat from a neighbour that the dynasty in North Korea has endured for long. And, the swiftness with which Mr Kim Jong-un succeeded his father as the Supreme Leader of North Korea confirms it. As for South Korea, it has moved with the times, keeping in mind its defence and trade-related requirements, under the shadow of the US.
North Korea, too, found in China, a patron to help it challenge the combined might of the US-South Korea alliance. Nevertheless, its reliance on China is not quite on the same level as the symbiotic relationship that South Korea shares with the US. But a liberal South Korea tried to bring about a rapprochement in the past with its ‘sunshine policy’ — this was a genuine initiative put forth by then President Kim Dae-jung in 1998.
The policy was a big step towards improved political and economic engagement with North Korea. Unfortunately, within a decade, it ceased to exist. This created ground for never-ending acrimony between these two countries. The present wave of hostilities in the Korean peninsula is possibly generated in response to the recent leadership change in South Korea and US President Barack Obama’s unprecedented aggression towards the ‘wrong part of world’.
For years, North Korea has routinely violated the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. But the country’s third and latest nuclear test worried the American establishment to such an extent that North Korea is now considered by Washington, DC to be a serious threat — in fact, it seems to have been listed as the ‘foremost security threat in the region’.
North Korea’s young and immature Supreme Leader has only made the situation worse by behaving unmindfully. At the height of a crisis such as this, North Korea has made a terrible blunder by not pushing for serious negotiations.
North Korea may succeed in engaging the US, but it has no infrastructure to effectively challenge the world’s mightiest country. The US is formidable because it can fight relentlessly. Often, it even wages war without apparent reason. This is perhaps because it has no civilisational back-up that India enjoys, so it has little to consider regarding the moral degradation that comes with such aggression.
A few weeks ago, the North Korean Government stepped up the security-cover it provides to foreign diplomatic missions in Pyongyang. Before that, it had stopped the movement of South Korean workers employed in a giant business district run by both countries — this was an attack on business interests, and had more than just a symbolic impact on South Korea. It made Seoul more worried over its vulnerable location. South Korea’s capital is close to the demilitarised zone and could be demolished in case there is a military confrontation with the North.
The complete loss of bilateral trust in this region can be seen as directly proportional to the expansionist interests of both China and the US.
‘Multi-lateralism’ is an obsolete term today — the US has ensured as much with its remarkable follies in the past six decades. The Cold War has been over for more than two decades now, and there is no supposed threat from the Soviet Union which does not even exist. But given the manner in which the US is responding to any Chinese overture around the world, it seems like the the foreign and military policies of America are yet to move with the times.
As for China, it is not always what it appears. Sometimes, its actions help clear the fog around it; at other times its intentions are unclear. For example, in the Korean region and even in Nepal, China has played an awkward role. Remember North Korea was once sanctioned by China too under its opportunistic state policy. And Nepal will pay the price for cosying up to the Asian giant.
As for the Korean clashes, they will probably not end in the foreseeable future. But India can, meanwhile, learn a lesson from China which has undertaken a dangerous march in the neighbourhood, outside of its den. It needs to be careful
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Pioneer on May7,2013)