An Alliance? Japan Japan & Korea Korean Politics Korean Society

Tokdo: Now Officially the Dumbest International Crisis in History

… thus supplanting all of that Seige of Troy unpleasantness.

I cannot say that South Korea would be much the worse for having dismissed Ambassador Lee Tae Shik from his post, but that is incidental to the skull-smacking stupidity of why:

The government on Monday decided to call Korean Ambassador to the U.S. Lee Tae-shik to account if it is found that the embassy did not react promptly to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names listing Dokdo under “undesignated sovereignty.” The change, from a clear indication of Korea’s sovereignty, appears to play into the hands of Japanese attempts to portray the islets as disputed territory. [Chosun Ilbo]

Even the Foreign Minister’s job may be in peril over this insignificant development in the dispute over two insignificant and uninhabitable lumps of guano.

Wait.  It gets even dumber:

South Korea could stop cooperating with Japan in six-party talks on denuclearising North Korea if their territorial dispute worsens, Seoul’s ambassador to Tokyo said Thursday.  South Korea has already rejected a Japanese proposal for foreign ministerial talks next week on the sidelines of a regional security forum in Singapore.

Japan’s reaffirmed claim to South Korean-controlled islands in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) has sparked anger and public protests in Seoul, which recalled ambassador Kwon Chul-Hyun this week.  The furore began when Japan Monday published new educational guidelines calling on students to have a deeper understanding of their country’s claim to the islands known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea.

“The worst thing happened at a time when South Korea and Japan need to cooperate as partners in various aspects internationally,” Kwon told reporters.

He said South Korea has been cooperating with Japan in issues arising in six-party talks such as North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese citizens.

“If public opinion worsens at home or political circles strongly oppose such cooperation, we have no other choice but to take it into consideration,” Yonhap news agency quoted him as saying.  [AFP]

Somewhere, Kim Jong Il is smiling. 

If Occam’s Razor is of any use in explaining this, it means that the current South Korean government is just as infantile, irrational, and emotional as its predecessor.  What is particularly  reprehensible and self-defeating about  South  Korea’s threat  is that by using the abduction issue in this way,  it is functually using North Korean terrorism as a negotiating instrument.  It would do this  notwithstanding the fact that North Korea is committing the same continuing pattern of terrorism against hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of South Koreans who are being held against their will in the North — South Koreans that President Lee Myung Bak until recently feigned interest in bringing home.   

That, in turn,  would be  further evidence that an alliance with South Korea is not worth the strategic risks it brings for the United States.   In that case,  the United States would be better off not to include South Korea in any regional security framework whose presence it would only gum up with manipulated faux crises at critical moments.   Such an  alliance  has long been needed to deter Chinese expansion or North Korean aggression.  Obvious candidates include Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines, and India.  The essential prerequisites must be that member nations must share our  values and  interests … and our basic rational framework. 

Of course, Occam’s Razor allows for  the possibility of more complex explanations.  A few have crossed my mind.  For one thing, Japan has recently  declared that it’s opting out of contributing to  any aid package for North Korea until its abducted citizens are accounted for, so it’s questionable whether South  Korea making good on that threat would mean all that much.  After all,  Japan has already functionally seceded from the six-party process, and the U.S. State Department is driving on anyway, with the South Koreans in tow. 

For another, I’ve suspected for some time that the current South Korean government isn’t entirely fond of our State Department’s total giveaway to the North Koreans, but doesn’t want to say so openly.  Anyone who actually listens to what the North Koreans are saying must realize that Agreed Framework 2.0 isn’t going to disarm North Korea.  If South Korea’s new government  can see the value  of economic pressure in  securing  North Korea’s nuclear disarmament, it must realize that throwing away our leverage won’t help us get Kim Jong Il’s nukes away from him.   You’d think that with advisors as  savvy as Park Jin, the South  Koreans  must realize that the process has descended into an eleventh-hour legacy grasp that will only be an albatross around their necks  after Bush and Rice go off to write their memoirs and leave this problem behind for others to deal with.  Tokdo would seem to be as good an excuse as any to impede that, especially if you’d rather not  antagonize the United States directly.

On balance, however,  the second-simplest explanation is most likely the closest to being correct:  for unpopular presidents, old-fashioned Jap-baiting  will probably always be  the crack cocaine of South Korean politics.  That means there isn’t room for both countries in the same security framework.  And any side-by-side comparison of the two nations’ wealth, military strength, strategic geography, and political stability makes  it very clear which would be the stronger, more reliable ally.

One comment

  1. So very true. I can only hope we someday get a president who acts in accordance with reality.

    I’d take Japan over South Korea as an ally (and a thoroughly militarized one at that) anyday.

    Doubly so for India. Now that I’ve moved from Philadelphia to India (much hilarity ensues), it becomes all the more apparent how much of a natural ally India is. A huge, (somewhat)-anglophone federated nation, led by a boisterous and dysfunctional (but nevertheless successful) democracy, grappling Islamic terrorism, the skyrocketing cost of energy, the rise of non-democratic China, etc.



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