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South Korea not happy with US-Japanese agenda

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The United States’ preoccupation with China in the Asia-Pacific has been responsible for a massive wave of militarism. China, however, is not their sole regional consideration.

The US also pays special attention to countries pursing favourable diplomacy and trade with China; they are regarded with suspicion.

The Korean peninsula, therefore, is an important consideration for US diplomatic positioning.

Korea has been a major consideration in recent high-level diplomatic meetings between the US and Japan. .

However, the US has under-estimated those regarded as clients and failed to understand and accurately assess the dynamism of Korean-Chinese and Korean-Japanese diplomacy.

The problem, for the US, is a logical outcome of aggressive foreign policy, symptomatic of imperialist arrogance.

The rapid rise of China has tilted the balance of forces across the Asia-Pacific. The US has increasingly sought to regain a perceived loss of their traditional hegemonic position. Their response has been waged at two levels: economic and militarily.

Both levels of US foreign policy are encompassed within the Global Transformation of Defence and Security (GTDS) regional planning inherited from the previous Bush administration when Donald Rumsfeld was Defence Secretary.

It included the transformation of Japan from a client-type state into a fully-fledged northern regional hub for 'US interests' with Australia as a southern counterpart. The GTDS has nearly been fully implemented, with the Japanese pacifist constitution being conspicuously sidelined to serve US foreign policy. The US developed the GTDS as a means by which China could be contained and encircled, restricting its ability to dislodge traditional US hegemonic positions.

South Korea rejects US plan for ballistic missiles

US military strategy has faced a number of problems linked to their failure to accurately assess the intricate nature of Asian diplomacy and the historical legacy of the Second World War and Japanese aggression toward the region. Matters recently came to head.

In October last year the US casually announced they were considering placing 'an advanced missile defence system in South Korea'. Two days later a diplomatic statement from Seoul, declared, 'there have been no bilateral discussion on the deployment of a THAAD system to South Korea'. The matter was then allowed to be conveniently shelved for future reference amid the highest levels of the South Korean administration of President Park.

In March, however, a further statement from the Park administration noted 'the ROK were not keen to host US ballistic missile systems for fear of upsetting China', and 'a spokesman for the South Korean Defence Ministry had noted that other countries should keep out of South Korean security policy debates'.

Further discussions would appear to have taken place within the higher levels of President Park's administration, and, eventually, the following official statement was released: 'South Korea's Defence Ministry on Monday affirmed and confirmed it will not be acquiring the US advanced defence system'.

China-South Korea relations improve

Three important factors had been overlooked by the US.

China has become the major trading partner for South Korea. An example of the high-level diplomacy taking place between the two countries can be seen by the four-day state visit by President Park to China in June, 2013. She was accompanied by 71 South Korean business leaders and the official outcome was, 'to bolster bilateral ties'. Extensive Chinese investment is also used for the joint Korean Kaesong Trade Park where 123 ROK companies and 800 staff employ 53,000 DPRK workers.

Secondly, in January, President Park announced her administration was willing to reopen high-level diplomatic relations with Pyongyang without any preconditions. She also stated, 'my position is that, to ease the pain of division and to accomplish peaceful reunification, I am willing to meet with anyone'. The statement was also accompanied by the US$2.7 million aid money to the DPRK and a stated willingness to resume cross-border visits for families in both countries.

The statement clearly riled the US which seeks, at all times, a strategy of permanent tension toward the DPRK. A peaceful resolution of problems on the Korean peninsula does not form part of Pentagon military planning. It also raises questions about the continued US military involvement in South Korea after peace is achieved.

Thirdly, Japan-Korean diplomatic relations remain in a state of tension: South Korean people have a lasting memory of the atrocities which took place during the Japanese occupation of their country and Second World War period. The development of the GTDS has heightened fears of a resurgence of Japanese nationalism and militarism.

Japan’s aggressive nationalism

Moves by Japan to nationalise about 280 remote islands which have served for generations as markers for regional shipping-lanes has been interpreted as the resumption of aggressive foreign policy, unleashed by the reinterpretation of their pacifist constitution which accompanied the country's incorporation into the GTDS. The Korean people are not alone. Most Asian countries were content to have Japan kept in military check with a constitution which prevented aggressive nationalism. Serious questions now arise.

Likewise, a statement from the Japanese education ministry that they were planning to revise teaching manuals and textbooks about disputed islands from the 2016 academic year has thrown Japanese-South Korean diplomacy into direct hostility. Tokyo regards the disputed Takeshima islets as 'our inherent territories', and says 'it is necessary to help students understand that for the nation there is no sovereignty issue that needs to be resolved'. The islets, however, remain at the centre of a long-time ownership dispute with Seoul.

US and Japan relegating South Korea’s importance.

And for a clear view of future US foreign policy toward the Asia-Pacific region, a recent ANZ Bank report, ASEAN: The Next Horizon, released in the first half of the year, provided an assessment of economic prospects. It suggested three sub-divisions will develop: Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, with a large youthful workforce for 'new production platforms'; Thailand, the Philippines and others 'competing as the most cost-effective mid-value manufacturing centres’; Singapore and Malaysia 'as dominant finance, technology and design hubs'.

Korea, however, was hardly referred to in the report. It was as if it had been assessed as not forming part of the bigger US-led picture of the region in the future.

And finally, when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed both houses of the US parliamentary system in early May, he 'pointedly relegated South Korea to a clause about enhancing cooperation which also took in ASEAN'.

Throughout the period of the high-level diplomatic manoeuvring between the US and Japan, they had difficulty contacting President Park who was officially, 'recuperating from a stomach ailment following a South American tour'.

Perhaps President Park also learned a few political lessons about the past excesses of US power and imperialist arrogance from leaders in the southern half of the Americas.

Their conspicuous 'de-coupling' from US-led trade and financial deals may well have provided the South Korean leader with food for considerable thought.


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