The endangered state
Tension on the Korean Peninsula is escalating. On April 23, the North Korean military issued a menacing statement which forecast imminent ``special actions” against South Korea. It said they would last three to four minutes and be carried out by unprecedented peculiar means.
It has been reported that the North seems to be in the final phase of preparations for a third underground nuclear test. Prior to this news account, on April 19 Pyongyang made it known to the world that it would continue to test new missiles despite the failed launch of a rocket earlier this month. Apparently, the North is determined to continue to test long-range missiles, despite a strong condemnation from the U.N. Security Council.
On April 15, North Korea displayed a new ballistic missile during a military parade held in Pyongyang. The nation’s ballistic missile and nuclear activities are moving it closer to developing a long-range missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.
In the same week, South Korea unveiled two new cruise missiles capable of hitting targets anywhere in North Korea. The Hyunmu-3 has a range of 1,500 kilometers and is capable of delivering precision attacks on key North Korean facilities, including nuclear and missile installations, while the Hyunmu-2 has a 300-kilometer range and can destroy a target the size of several soccer fields. The South Korean military stated it had kept the existence of these missiles top secret but decided to unveil them to ease public jitters following Pyongyang’s latest threats to strike Seoul.
In a separate news conference on the same day, South Korea’s unification minister, Yu Woo-ik said, ``We have no choice but to suspend the efforts that we`ve made so far to expand flexible steps toward the North.”
The deteriorating situation on the Korean Peninsula comes amidst an evolving global crisis of power. The long-lasting political dominance previously enjoyed by the West has been fading for some decades. This global power shift from the West to the East has been discussed for some time now. America’s dominance seems to be waning. On the other hand, China’s influence is growing, and it is speculated that China will ascend to global primacy at some point.
With regards to China’s foreign policy, some international media have reported it as being ``increasingly assertive.” In 2010, the Japanese Coast Guard arrested the crew of a Chinese vessel operating in the South China Sea. The incident prompted a serious diplomatic dispute between the two countries. When China demanded an apology from Japan even after it released the fishing boat’s captain, the international media portrayed China to be ``arrogant” and ``unforgiving”.
Here is another example: A Chinese foreign affairs commentator said, ``With China's continuous rapid rise and the elevation of its status as a rising big power, the sequence of the power ranking list between China and the United States will change sooner or later, and it will be unavoidable that the two sides will contend for their ranking positions.”
It seems that China has moved away from their traditional foreign policy posture which was guided by the principles of Deng Xiaoping’s maxim for calculated prudence and long-term ambitions. ``Observe calmly; secure our position: cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time: be good at maintaining a low profile; never claim leadership," he said
Former U.S. White House National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski said, ``In the contemporary world, the security of a number of weaker states located geographically next to major regional powers depends on the international status quo reinforced by America's global preeminence. The states in that vulnerable position are today's geopolitical equivalents of nature's ‘most endangered species’.” He observed that America's decline would inevitably contribute to a rise in the frequency, scope, and intensity of regional conflicts.
South Korea has been backed by the United States for deterrence and defense against North Korean hostilities. America’s decline would result in difficult choices for South Korea. How best to effectively deter North Korea’s belligerence, and how best to deal with the China’s growing influence in Asia are questions that arise. China, in regards to the Korean Peninsula, has pursued a two-pronged policy; maintaining a strategic partnership with South Korea while extending the continued and full support to North Korea.
Remarks by a Chinese Foreign Ministry official are reassuring. In December last year, at a seminar in Beijing, China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Le Yucheng stated, ``China has to be a responsible and reasonable player on the world stage. Either through dialogue, through economic, cultural and even military exchanges, or resorting to international bodies when disputes arise, the ultimate goal is to fix problems and create a better environment for China and other countries.”
In South Korea, parliamentary elections have just ended. Three hundred deputies for the National Assembly have been chosen with the prescribed mission to further ensure national security and public happiness. There is no time to waste on dirty political contention. The general public wants to see the selected representatives of both the ruling and opposition parties unite for the sake of the nation’s safety and affluence.
The writer is a chair professor of the Catholic University of Daegu. He previously headed the Foreign News Division of the Korea Overseas Information Service. His email address is email@example.com.