Monday, May 24, 2010

The US and South Korea playing chicken

The US has announced beefed up joint military exercises with the ROK [Republic of Korea aka South Korea], including submarine warfare in the Yellow Sea close to the waters of the DPRK [Democratic Republic of Korea aka North Korea], the scene of the sinking of the South Korean corvette 'Cheonan'.
It is not clear if the US' announcement is premature since South Korea has not cautioned it yet?
The waters in the Yellow Sea are contested waters; their boundaries remain a matter of contraversy and a scar of unfinished business from the Korean war. Which makes them a theatre of continuous conflict, the more especially some ROK islands lie dangerously close to the DPRK.
Continuous joint military exercises in the area have but one goal: to make Pyongyang blink. It will take more than sabre rattling to make the DPRK cry Uncle! The US and the ROK in tow think building pressure on North Korea by denying it trade, withholding food aid, and big military brass band noise with provoke the DPRK to call or fold.
GuamDiary has already expressed its concern that such measures do and can take on a life of their own which neither Washington nor Seoul can control. The two capitols are puffing military medal chests, with the feeling that truth and justice are on their side. Are they? That remains to be seen.
The Obama administration is continuing the hard nosed, hard lined and failed George W Bush tack towards the DPRK. GuamDiary has already noted how Mr. Bush had to turn tail, and tail between his legs, had to re engage Pyongyang at the bargaining table.
Washington's and Seoul's pathological fear of talking to Pyongyang has the odour of gnashing teeth and wailing. It is an inability to lest the baggage of the past, in order to unravel a tangled tale of missteps, failed opportunities, and wrong roads taken.
South Korea's president Lee Myung bek from his first day in office has sought to teach the DPRK at lesson. Triumphant in his success at the polls, he quashed the 'Sunshine Policy', which for all its warts lessened tensions on the divided Korean peninsula, and proved in many instances, in the face of North Korea's obstinancy, were bearing positive results.
Mr. Lee reversed that by say denying the North fertilizer, to increase food production; cut back harshly food imports, and stood tall on questionable principles of Mr. Lee's morality.
In a right punch, left punch policy pursed by the ROK and the US, we are seeing the logical conclusion of Mr. Lee's policy to bring the DPRK to its knees. On the other hand, the US is wailing that the North is not returning to the six party talks in Beijing. Well why should it, given the hostile posturing of Washington, speaking out two sides of its mouth.
Washington and Seoul have taken the road of squeezing North Korea. The sinking of the 'Cheonan' has it seems given them the hammer to smash the DPRK.
Had these two allies glanced lightly at recent history, they would see this tack is doomed to failure, or that the results will be minimal, but the danger of reheating a Korean war in cryogenic state of suspended animation.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, pushing a no nonsense approach to the DPRK, and very open to ratcheding up with military measures not completely thought through. She has made no headway with China who preached 'patience and calm', in dealing with the DPRK.
GuamDiary raises this question: did Mrs. Clinton raise the question with the Chinese about Kim Jong il's recent visit to Beijing? Did he given Beijing reason to pass along a message to Washington about the sunken 'Cheonan'? Or did China try to explain more fully its position of preaching calm, based on conversations with Kim Jong il? Perhaps it is too early to tell. Yet, it is important to raise the matter.
The recourse to heightened military shows in the Yellow Sea is fraught with the danger of war, which even China may be helpless to stop.
At the present moment, Washington and Seoul are playing chicken. Will they blink first?

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