in , ,

South Korea shifts towards China

South Korea imposes limits on THAAD, rejects tripartite alliance with US and Japan, begins defence talks with China

Message from The Duran: If you like this article then please consider supporting our Crowdfunding campaign.  We depend on your support to continue to provide you with articles like this one.

The big news in Asia this week is not US President Trump’s grand but ultimately empty visit to China.  It is the quiet steps China and South Korea have begun to take towards each other.

In a recent article for The Duran I discussed how Russian foreign policy seemed to be edging towards a solution to the Korean crisis involving direct Chinese – Russian brokered talks between North and South Korea which would not involve the US.

I also referred to the longstanding Russian projects to build railway lines and gas pipelines across North Korea to South Korea, providing South Korea via North Korea and Russia with a land bridge to Europe, whilst bringing the two Koreas together and binding them closer both economically and politically to the two Great Eurasian Powers ie. Russia and China.

I also speculated that these Russian plans – which I said had unquestionably been worked out in collaboration with China – might also involve the two Koreas coming together in some form of confederation with each other, this being an idea first mooted by North Korean President Kim Il-sung in the 1970s, and floated from time to time since.

In my article I summed this all up as follow

It is not after all as if the contours of a possible Korean settlement are difficult to see: a non-aggression pact between the two Koreas, a withdrawal of US troops from the Korean Peninsula, and an agreement by North Korea that it give up its weapons in return for formal security guarantees from the Great Powers (in this case this means the two Eurasian Great Powers, Russia and China).

There is no logical reason why any of this should require the agreement of the US, and if the two Koreas were to agree to this the US would not be in a position to prevent it.

The South Koreans are not ready for this message at the moment, but the Russians – who privately probably already think all these things – may calculate that if they bide their time and wait for the right moment the South Koreans will become more willing to listen as the true extent of US intransigence becomes clear.

That after all is how the big breakthrough came in the Syrian crisis, with Russia and Turkey agreeing a deal with each other after the fall of the Jihadi stronghold in Aleppo, which did not involve the US.

We are some way from this point in the Korean crisis. The North Koreans will need a great deal of persuasion before they are prepared to talk to the South Koreans whose government they consider to be a US puppet.  The South Koreans will need a great deal of persuasion before they are willing to break with the US and are ready to act without the prior agreement of the US.

However given the strong interests all three parties have in a settlement, if the US is not careful it may not be so long before it comes to that.

In that case we could see Russian diplomats in Pyongyang and Seoul, and North Korea’s and South Korea’s leaders – Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in – in Moscow, with the US completely cut out of the talks – brokered by China and the Russia – for a comprehensive settlement of the Korean crisis, which would be going ahead without them.

It goes without saying that China will be involved every step of the way.  Indeed the Russians are undoubtedly informing the Chinese in advance about every step they are taking, just as Iran was kept informed and was involved in every step the Russians and the Turks took together towards bringing the Syrian crisis to an end, and has been made a co-chair of the Astana talks.

China’s involvement and agreement is in fact essential.  Ultimately, because of the history of mistrust between the two Koreas, China as well as Russia will almost certainly have to act as a co-signatory and guarantor of whatever agreement the two Koreas finally agree with each other.  Almost certainly that will require China and Russia giving formal security guarantees not just to North Korea but probably to South Korea as well

It turns that whilst the Russians have been talking to the North Koreans – as I discussed at length in my article – the Chinese have been talking to the South Koreans, and the proposals they have been making to the South Koreans have been exactly in line with what I predicted in my article.

Moreover these discussions are bearing fruit.  Here is how Global Times describes their outcome

Trump’s visit to South Korea comes as Beijing decides to mend ties with Seoul. On October 30, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha ruled out the possibility of deploying additional Terminal High Altitude Area Defense batteries, the South joining US-led missile defense system, and entering into a formal trilateral military alliance with Washington and Tokyo.

Kang’s strong comments are rare for the traditional diplomat whose language usually comes with nuance and strategic ambiguity to secure greater diplomatic maneuverability and leverage, highlighting South Korean President Moon Jae-in‘s firm will to improve relations with China…..

On October 14, Moon had called for military restraint on all sides, stating that he would “block war by all means” and that military action against North Korea should be decided only by South Koreans and “not by anyone else.”…….

……South Korea’s and China’s recent decision to resume military dialogue comes at an opportune time. On October 24, defense ministers of the two countries held their first one-on-one meeting in two years. Working-level talks and chief-of-staff dialogue mechanism severed since January 2016 and June 2013, respectively, are also scheduled to resume at a later time. Such military channels provide a niche to improve the quality of bilateral relationship, and can add both content and substance to their existing “strategic and cooperative partnership.”

As to China’s ultimate objectives in its negotiations with South Korea, here is how the article in Global Times describes them

In this context, South Korea is in a unique position to become a strategic fulcrum for China, at least under the Trump and Moon administration. It is crucial that both countries utilize this historical moment to build up strategic and military substance, so that any future possible security frictions do not erode their hard-won friendship.

Professor Yan Xuetong of Tsinghua University once argued that South Korea could and should be a natural security ally of China. Although Yan’s vision is unlikely to materialize in the near to medium future, the two countries at least have sufficient collective economic, diplomatic, and military power to leverage peace in East Asia and provide global public goods for the region in the form of traditional and non-traditional security. Such strategic objectives are beneficial for both China which seeks to become a major power with Chinese characteristics and South Korea which needs to boost its diplomacy.

(bold italics added)

Compare these words with my description in my article of Russia’s ultimate objective in the Korean Peninsula

If the two Koreas – with an aggregate population of almost 80 million people, a highly trained and well-educated population, abundant natural resources, and advanced industries (including some in North Korea) – were ever to come together in that way the result would be an economic colossus, potentially rivalling Japan as the second biggest economy after China in East Asia.

For the Russians – with their good relations with both Koreas – it is a tantalising prospect, especially if they can use the prospect of better economic and political links between themselves and the two Koreas – and between the two Koreas with each other – to distance South Korea from the US, and to draw the two Koreas into closer relations and perhaps in time into full integration with the Eurasian powers (ie. with China and Russia).

(bold italics added)

The Chinese and Russian objectives are in all respects identical, conclusively confirming that the two Eurasian Great Powers are acting in concert towards the same objective,.

Clearly there is an agreed division of labour between them, with the Chinese talking to the South Koreans over whom they have substantial economic leverage (see this article by Reuters), and with the Russians talking to the North Koreans, with whom – unlike the Chinese – they have traditionally always had good relations.

What are the prospects of these Chinese-Russian moves?

A trip I took to South Korea in 2004 made me starkly aware of the overwhelming cultural influence in South Korea of China, compared to which the US presence in South Korea seemed ephemeral.

It also brought home to me the extent of the South Korean people’s pride in the achievements of the Korean nation – achievements which are both very great and little known in the West – and of the deep suspicion most of them still have of Japan, which was Korea’s colonial master from 1910 to 1945.

In that context a key development of the last two weeks – touched on by Global Times – is that the South Korean government has emphatically ruled out any idea of South Korea joining a trilateral alliance of the US, South Korea and Japan directed in theory against the threat from North Korea but in reality pitched also against the Eurasian Powers: China and Russia.

Lastly my 2004 trip made me vividly aware of the longing of the Korean people – South as well as North – for peace and independence, and for at least some form of reunification of the Korean nation, divided against its wishes at the end of the Second World War.

In light of all this the possibility of an eventual South Korean realignment with South Korea agreeing to become part of some sort of regional structure bringing together however loosely the two Koreas and China and Russia does not seem to me altogether farfetched.

Whether Kim Jong-un and his officials would be interested in such an arrangement is another matter.  Doubtless the Russians are working hard to try to find out, and in time they will no doubt point out to Kim Jong-un its very obvious advantages to him

Such an arrangement would obviously distance South Korea from the US. However it would not mean that South Korea would have to become an enemy of the US.

The Chinese and the Russians know that that is something to which the South Koreans would not agree, and from their point of view it would not be desirable anyway.

However South Korea – unlike say Germany or Turkey – is not a member of a tightly structured US-led alliance like NATO in Europe.  A shift by South Korea away from its current close security relationship with the US would not therefore require a formal break with the US.  That makes a realignment easier to achieve.

As the article in Global Times shows, the Chinese and the Russians – being the highly practical and realistic people that they are – are not proposing such a realignment to Seoul at the moment.

Rather they are pressing Seoul and Pyongyang to begin direct talks with each other.  At the back of their minds they will hope that when such talks begin the idea of a realignment will emerge naturally out of them.

The prospects are in fact better now than they have ever been.

A rapprochement bringing together the two Koreas and China and Russia would have been inconceivable during the Cold War when Kim Il-sung first proposed it because of the bitter ideological divisions of that period.

In the early 2000s, when it was again mooted, the US was still very much the hyper-power with an effective veto over any move by South Korea and with the Chinese and the Russians having little to offer.

By contrast today the huge growth of Chinese power and the strong recovery of Russia mean that for the first time a rapprochement between the two Koreas, China and Russia looks both attractive and viable.

Whether the negotiations currently underway between the Chinese and the South Koreans and the North Koreans and the Russians eventually lead to that outcome remains to be seen.

However already Chinese diplomacy has achieved a dramatic success, with South Korea’s agreement to limit THAAD deployments on the Korean Peninsula, the South Koreans ruling out the idea of a tripartite alliance between themselves the US and Japan, and with the South Koreans also agreeing to re-start defence talks with China.

My guess is that a rapprochement bringing together the two Koreas and realigning them closer to China and Russia is both fully viable and much closer than many realise.

Indeed its logic is so strong that if or rather when the two Koreas finally begin to talk to each other I expect it to come to the forefront quickly.

The challenge is to get those talks started.

The Russians have made a strong pitch to the North Koreans, whilst the Chinese breakthrough with the South Koreans suggests that the start of direct talks between Seoul and Pyongyang may not be as far off as most people think.

Message from The Duran: If you like this article then please consider supporting our Crowdfunding campaign.  We depend on your support to continue to provide you with articles like this one.

What do you think?

41 points
Upvote Downvote

Total votes: 45

Upvotes: 43

Upvotes percentage: 95.555556%

Downvotes: 2

Downvotes percentage: 4.444444%

Leave a Reply

Loading…

Donna Brazile goes on Tucker Carlson to blame Wasserman Schultz for blocking FBI investigation into DNC servers (Video)

Duterte meets Putin – thanks him for helping Philippines to win battle against ISIS