War-games or Reality? The Korean Peninsula: early 2017
A small monument, on display to commemorate wartime abuse of Korean woman by occupation Japanese military forces, has created a major diplomatic rift between South Korea (ROK) and their US-led defence and security allies.
Behind the rift, however, lie far more pressing contemporary issues which have created: an escalation of regional tension centred on the Korean peninsula; a rapid polarisation within the ROK.
A bronze status of a young, seated woman with a small bird lodged on her shoulder, has come to symbolise the struggle of Korean women to publicise their enforced sexual slavery during the war-time Japanese military occupation of their country. Soon after one of the statues was placed outside their consulate in Busan, the Japanese government in Tokyo recalled its ambassador to Seoul and the Consul-General to Busan in protest.
The main Japanese Embassy in Seoul also had a similar monument placed outside the premises, which was removed following protests from Japan. It was, however, soon replaced by peace activists who were subsequently supported by local ROK authorities. (1)
The dispute over comfort woman has raged between the two countries for decades. While Japan was eventually forced to settle compensation claims over the matter, many Korean people do not accept their apology. The matter is further aggravated by successive Japanese political leaders continuing to pay homage at war-shrines, including the Yasukuni site, where fourteen Class A war-criminals are buried. Progressive forces in Korea argue the homage depicts continuing respect for Japanese militarism and all which accompanied it. (2)
Korean people, together with many others across the Asia-Pacific region, have long and unhappy memories of Imperial Japan and their atrocities committed during their brutal occupation from 1910-45. It is not surprising, therefore, moves by the United States in recent times to change the status of Japan from a client state to a fully-fledged regional hub for 'US interests' has rekindled those fears of militarism and war.
The moves, given an urgent priority by US presidential administrations, were accompanied by Japan conveniently losing its pacifist constitution and hosting numerous sensitive US military facilities which have been mirrored by similar moves in Australia. Today, the US-led Global Transformation of Defence and Security (GTDS), has Japan in the north of the region, with expanded facilities in Australia in the south which is increasingly littered with official, semi-official and non-official military facilities. The triangular relationship is an important part of US planning to reassert hegemonic positions threatened by the rise of China and those countries with sympathetic diplomatic relations with Beijing.
The Korean peninsula is one area of the region where continual war-games have had seemingly real-life scenarios. The ROK, for example, has strong diplomatic relations with China. The US, therefore, have sought to prise the country away and reinsert it into more US spheres of influence which has included partial relations with the GTDS. The moves have been accompanied with joint military manoeuvres between the US and ROK toward the northern DPRK. There has been little left to the imagination with US military forces in the ROK being placed 'on their highest level of alert' early last year and subsequent drills using live ammunition. (3)
The recent ROK announcement it would host a highly sophisticated US THAAD system has caused still further serious regional concerns. The system is linked into larger GTDS networks. Initially President Park was not in favour of accepting the THAAD system. Influence, however, was brought to bear and the government caved in. It led to considerable opposition not only from within the ROK but across the wider region. (4)
Soon after a scandal broke in Seoul implicating President Park in serious financial corruption which has led to her impeachment, the removal of senior government officials and raids upon leading corporate institutions accused of fraudulent behaviour. It is alleged 'conglomerates such as Samsung, Hyundai and LG donated millions of dollars to foundations controlled by Ms Park's confidante Choi Soon-sil in exchange for political favours' (5)
For ROK legislators and judicial figures the matter is quite clear-cut: the chief prosecutor appointed to deal with the scandal, Kweon Seong-dong, has already stated 'Ms. Park abused her position by broadly and gravely violating the constitution to commit corruption and turn state affairs into a profit tool for confidante Choi Soon-sil'. (6)
In recent weeks millions of ordinary Korean people have taken to the streets in massive demonstrations across the ROK in protest at recent government behaviour. Opposition to the remains of the Park administration show no sign of abating.
There are 28,500 US military personnel stationed in the ROK, the decades-old treaty being officially for the defence of Japan and rapid deployment elsewhere in the region. The size of recent demonstrations together with the political paralysis in Seoul, however, must now raise questions in Washington about the operational effectiveness of US forces in the ROK.
It is particularly significant to note the THAAD system is scheduled to be operational shortly before the end of this year, the timing of which coincides with the final months of the Park administration. The US-led western defence and security officials responsible for the THAAD system clearly want Park to remain in office until her official presidential term is completed, for other, ulterior motives despite the problems which have arisen. They fear new elections may produce a president not sympathetic to their foreign policy.
The mass of Korean people, by contrast, want her to go immediately. Recent reliable opinion polls show 'her approval rating has fallen to 4 per cent with 80 per cent of people recently polled saying they backed her impeachment'. (7) A major struggle is therefore taking place in the ROK, with far-reaching implications for the wider region. It has not been particularly difficult to identify which close ally has taken the lead to defend US regional military planning.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suddenly announced he would arrive in Sydney on 13 January, at only a few days’ notice, for 'a chance to discuss security arrangements' and to 'deepen ties with the major countries of the Asia-Pacific' with the Australian government. (8)
While the nature and contents of seemingly hastily drawn up agendas for the several high-level diplomatic meetings taking place in Canberra over a usual Australian weekend remain classified, recent developments in the ROK were obviously a priority, with pressing major defence and security considerations affecting US military planning for Japan and Australia.
Secondly, the matter of strained diplomatic relations between Japan and the ROK over the monument outside their consular facilities in Busan and implications for Australia might also be more than a passing interest. Recently, the Australia-Japan Community Network lodged a complaint under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 'over a monument at inner western Sydney's Ashfield Uniting Church commemorating the suffering of the more than 200,000 women and girls forced by the Imperial Japanese Army into prostitution' might well also be more than a passing consideration. (9) The present Japanese government are clearly worried about adverse publicity into their shameful past and continued honouring of those responsible for the atrocities with specific reference to the Korean peninsula and elsewhere.
The US, likewise, are also concerned their military planning in the ROK is being met with obstacles: they appear, in recent times, quite desperate. The tone of the media releases has highlighted the rising tide of militarism.
A recent statement from the US, for example, included the establishment of a special unit and brigade within the ROK military with the intention of 'removing or paralysing North Korea's wartime command structure' including 'new hardware such as Chinook helicopters' with capacity to infiltrate and successfully implement the operation. (10) The statement also included a 'targeted information campaign' to create social turmoil and civil unrest, making the country ungovernable.
The statement, however, was economical with the words and failed to acknowledge the fact both sides of the Korean peninsula remain in a potential war-situation following failure to resolve the war of the early 1950s. The position of the US-led planning, therefore, can best be viewed as a definite statement of intention as opposed to merely a war-game.
And following the US-led military initiatives against the DPRK one can but question whether another recent announcement was also linked to their wholesale warmongering on the Korean peninsula: during mid-2016 Australia and Singapore updated their military alliance with a $2.25 billion expansion of training facilities in Queensland. A statement issued about joint military training provision between Special Forces from the two countries also included personnel from the ROK in what appeared to be stabilisation of civil unrest, counter-insurgency and elimination of 'stay-behind' agents. The massive expansion of military training provision included such specialities as 'planning a mock city with multi-story buildings for soldiers to hone their urban warfare skills', and to, 'storm and seize control of a terrorist hideout' in a mock village. (11)
Progressive-minded people across the Asia-Pacific region should note recent developments with alarm. The US imperialists and their allies are preparing for a real war to reassert hegemonic positions in the region. Perhaps we should all start collecting money to buy small monuments to place outside Japanese diplomatic facilities before it is too late.
1. Envoy recalled in statue stand-off, Weekend Australian, 7-8 January 2017.
2. Monk sets self alight at Park protest, Australian, 9 January 2017.
3. US troops in S Korea put on highest alert, Australian, 12 January 2016.
4. China slams US-S Korea decision to deploy THAAD Air Defence System, Sputnik International, 8 July 2016.
5. Samsung heir to be grilled for 'bribery', Australian, 12 January 2017.
6. Park 'crucified' by mob: lawyer, Australian, 6 January 2017.
7. S Korean President prepares to quit, Australian, 30 November 2016.
8. Regional security focus for Abe visit, Australian, 12 January 2017.
9. Envoy recalled in statue stand-off, op., cit.
10. Special unit to kill Kim, Australian, 6 January 2017.
11. Singapore's military training area, Straits Times, 9 May 2016.