Sunday, September 5, 2010

Two can play the same game: China's military exercises in the Yellow Sea

If the US thought that China was going to do its dirty work in dealing with the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea aka North Korea], let US president Barack Obama & co. think again.
It might not have fully sunk into the minds of America's North Korean clerisy, career diplomats and military and analysts that China has purchase on the survival of North Korea. [See, Obama's flat footed approach to North Korea]
Kim Jong il's second trip this year should have sent a sharp message to Washington. But as we know, the US thinks it knows best in spreading its gospel of the righteous of global power.
Joint US and ROK [Republic of Korea aka South Korea]military exercises in the Yellow Sea, China's backyard, does not make for good neighbourly relations, even though they are a way of non verbally communicating to the DPRK: keep a low profile and to think twice about engaging in risky, provocative activities towards South Korea and reopening old wounds of the Korean War on the divided Korean peninsula.
This year's US ROK military exercises take on another dark colouring in the wake of the sinking in March 2010 of the ROK corvette 'Cheonan', with is of 46 crew.
Rushing to judgment, South Korea's president Lee Myung bek tarred North Korea with the brush of blame. North Korea firmly denied responsibility. Cooler heads were not to be found in Washington either. The Obama team pointed the finger of culpability at Pyongyang. America and South Korea jump started the rusty machinery of a war in words which may have failed at the UN Security Council but not in the display of military prowess in the air and sea in South Korea in the Yellow Sea and close to the NLL [Northern Line Limit] near the DPRK territorial waters where the 'Cheonan' sank.
Beijing showed its displeasure during the first round of US' and South Korea's sabre rattling by conducting air exercises.
You may wonder why China wanted to answer in kind? In an ostentious display of military power when in the past a note of protest to Seoul and Washington would have sufficed?
Let's roll the cameras back to the conference of South East Asian nations in Hanoi in late spring 2010. At that time, to tweak the Chinese dragon's tail, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton put the fly in China's ointment. In her school marmish way she lectured Beijing on Vietnam's claim to islands in the South China sea.
China has claimed sovereignty of the Spratley and Paracel islands in the South China sea, to China a 'mare nostrum'.
Vietnam sorely contests China's claim. Under these islands is a fountain of natural gas and the sea offers a barrier towards invasion. China fought a brief war over these islands. Vietnam routed the Chinese army on land but lacked sufficient naval power to repulse China's navy. A shaky truce holds.
Mme. Clinton's sticking her nose into what China considers its domestic affairs has found a reply in the Yellow Sea.
It is a day or two before the second volley of joint US ROK manoeuvres, Beijing is carrying out drills involving mainly shipboard artillery off of Qingdao. It's China's way of shooting a warning across the US' and the ROK's bow. It carries a bald message to Mr. Obama & co. that two can play the same game.
Nonetheless, by staging its own naval exercises days before the US ROK's, China is exercising proverbial caution.
Nonetheless their import is clear as one's nose on one's face. And what's more, in spite of US economic sanctions and Washington and Seoul playing tin horn admirals and generals, the DPRK is able to marshal the full weight and baggage of its neighbour and ally China to mate any move by America and South Korea seeking to destablise it.
If anything the plans of the US to 'use' China has wilted in the heat of historical, geographical, and political reality. The Obama administration forgets that the sword cuts both ways.

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