Will a North Korean Attack Win the Yellow Sea for China?

Is the Yellow Sea a Chinese lake? Under ordinary circumstances, I’d understand China’s complaints about a U.S. naval exercise in an inland sea near its shores. It’s not as if I’d want Chinese ships in the Gulf of Mexico, either, but these are not ordinary circumstances. This time, North Korea has sunk a South Korean warship, and China has both shielded North Korea from any consequences for that attack and continued to provide necessary financial support to the regime that carried it out. Argue among yourselves whether this makes China an accessory after the fact, but it certainly destroys the myth of China as a mature, responsible power promoting peace and stability. That’s why the U.S. Navy is now forced to deter without any help from China.

It now appears that China’s obnoxious protestations will get at least part of a joint U.S.-South Korean naval exercise moved to North Korea’s East Coast. Given China’s indefensible behavior, that would be a very bad concession for President Obama to make. Despite the U.S. Navy’s insistence, it’s clear that there’s a message for China in these exercises, too, as there should be. But instead of China suffering some vicarious liability for North Korea’s attack, it could stand to benefit from what amounts to thuggery by proxy. If the Navy moves its exercise out of the Yellow Sea, China will have achieved a great leap forward for its regional hegemony. And while a naval exercise in the Yellow Sea is useful for showing America’s commitment to its allies in the region, it still falls far short of the sort of economic and security consequences needed to deter North Korea and China from letting something like the Cheonan Incident happen again.

One deferential commenter asks, “Will the anti-submarine warfare exercises signal an expansion of the coverage area of the U.S.-(South Korea) alliance?” I hope the answer to that is “yes.” Whereas I’ve long believed that U.S. ground forces should be withdrawn from Korea, I believe having a U.S. air component in Korea is good for both countries’ security, and that if any part of the alliance has the potential to grow, it’s the naval component. Having U.S. infantry in South Korea is an anachronism and an inviting target, but creating a multinational naval alliance between the United States and the Pacific democracies will better protect those democracies against Chinese intimidation and proxy attacks.

Rather than showing contrition and doing its share to restore regional stability by dialing back its support for Kim Jong Il, China’s behavior is bombastic (but very helpful to my side of the argument about China’s intentions). I certainly do not suggest that Peter Lee speaks for Beijing, but I do suppose his writing probably reflects the way Beijing hopes to use this incident to advance its hegemonic ambitions and divert its suppressed domestic rage toward foreign demons.

Lee betrays his misunderstanding of South Korea by suggesting that there is “a wave of excitement” there over the possibility of immediate reunification (if only!). He then frets, needlessly, that this could frustrate China’s ability to “win recognition of its national interest in the future of the peninsula, especially since its national interest seems best served by the continued existence of an impoverished, anti-American buffer state.” I hope Koreans are listening carefully. This is the sort of honesty about China’s motives you’ll seldom hear from Washington’s Foreign Policy Industry, or Seoul’s. But in the next breath, Lee nonetheless protests that China’s influence over its North Korean dependent is overstated. China is always trying to play this both ways — claiming hegemony over North Korea while insisting that it has no influence over events there. But with the decline in inter-Korean trade, China is by far North Korea’s largest source of cash, fuel, food, and trade.

Lee acknowledges the wave of anger by the Chinese people against the corruption and lack of accountability of their own government (and also, bad restaurant service). Release the mobs!

Indeed, nationalism and a thirst for vigilante justice targeting anyone from rude waitresses to corrupt officials to countries deemed insufficiently friendly and respectful have emerged as a remarkable source of potential energy, particularly on the Internet. It is easy to imagine China permitting the expression and, through the media, “amplification” of anti-foreign feeling to threaten the economic interests of countries that challenge China’s interests and self-esteem.

The strategy would have the added benefit of using vociferous and intolerant nationalism to crowd out domestic criticism of Communist Party rule and its various shortcomings, which threaten to become a dominant theme on China’s lively, massive, and indignant domestic Internet despite extensive monitoring and censorship operations and the Herculean efforts of paid sock puppets to dilute and redirect unsuitable threads.

Lee then cites the example of a K-pop concert gone bad to support dark threats that Beijing will fall back on the tired tactic of redirecting this anger toward xenophobic nationalism directed against the United States and South Korea, and that Chinese, marching as the state leads them, will riot against the foreign devils (whether digitally or physically isn’t specified). But of course, Beijing has been doing this for years, and while that hasn’t made the people of China any more content, it’s not a tactic whose historical precedents augur favorably for China or anyone else.

31 comments

  1. xyzzy says:

    When I did some reading on antisubmarine warfare after this attack, it occurred to me that NK may also have had a hidden objective. China has a strong interest in submarine warfare against the US in the waters off of its coast, and there have been a number of espionage cases involving Chinese attempts to discern US countermeasures.

    In this incident, NK tested a fairly simple method for shallow-water torpedo operations against US-style ASW, all without directly involving China or the US. I suspect NK gave China a full writeup on the mission in exchange for help against the consequences.

  2. Joe says:

    I too am disappointed that the USS George Washington will not be deployed in the Yellow Sea, but, more so because I take the South Korean government’s position here to make China lose more face — which it seems South Korea’s government seems bent on doing…

    But, on the policy implications, I beg to differ. I think South Korea (the U.S. was never really in danger) as a country is safer now. I can’t imagine North Korean Adventurism happening anymore. Next time, there will probably be very real consequences — the financial sanctions you seem to be a strong proponent of — and the permanent death of six party talks (which China hates the thought of as much as I or, perhaps, you, may like).

    I’ll probably try to post on the extent of these exercises if some other K-blog doesn’t cover it, but it seems to be truly a magnificent – with a capital M – Magnificent show of force and a huge slap to China.

    North Korea should be leashed for the time being, but at least it has killed the Sunshine Policy. As to what to make of the lives of the lost SKorean soldiers? I’d hate to think they died in vain, but at the very least it will have left an imprint in the South Korean mindset that China is not ready to be a responsible leader even at the regional level.

  3. milton says:

    I can’t imagine North Korean Adventurism happening anymore. Next time, there will probably be very real consequences.

    I’m not so sure about that. If you look back at the history of Allied responses to North Korea’s provocations, one pattern you tend to notice is some variation of “well, this time you’ll get off with a slap on the wrist, but next time you just wait.” When next time rolls around, there’s the same old hand-wringing and the same old equivocating. And then the next time rolls around, and the next time, ad infinitum.

    Consider the US response to the Cheonan sinking: late, lacking clarity, conflicting, tempered, qualified…the US government can’t even decide if the upcoming military drills are defensive in nature or a show of force. The White House is more reticent while the UN Command (basically the US) and the Defense Department are engaging in chest-thumping and bravado. Such conflicting messages do not send a message of strength to the North. If anything, the US is sending the message that, in the interest of regional stability, tactical provocations by the North will be tolerated and it’s up to South Korea to defend itself from North Korean aggression while American leaders dither and dally over the best response. I’ll put money down that the North will make yet another provocative move before the year is up.

  4. David Woolley says:

    Xyzzy’s right. The PLA Navy will be salivating for hard data on the Cheonan incident — but in part because the DPRK was testing torpedoes that were designed by or compatible with Chinese models. China has some amazing mines, mine-torpedo combinations and torpedoes. Maybe they don’t all work — but one in three is enough to frighten a big ship navy such as ours.

    The Yellow Sea is really a bay, and quite unsuitable for a nuclear carrier and its shadowing nuclear subs. One of the reasons why Mainland China has worked so assiduously to prevent Taiwan from buying the diesel submarines that we promised it, is that the Yellow Sea is a perfect pigboat environment. We were wise to back the GW off, but I’d like to know if we plan to introduce one of our smaller marine landing carriers to that exercise, which would be more worrying to the DPRK than a big nuke carrier.

  5. angrysoba says:

    It’s not as if I’d want Chinese ships in the Gulf of Mexico, either, but these are not ordinary circumstances.

    Not even if they were cleaning up?

    They have their own problems now though.

  6. jordan says:

    My only question would be the traditional approach of the U.S. Navy toward freedom of navigation. The U.S. Navy used to do FONOPS to establish that principle, and remind others of it. Do we still do that? It seems to me, while the particulars of this U.S./ROK exercise might not be suited to the Yellow Sea, the U.S. Navy has a profoundly deep interest in not giving an inch when it comes to freedom of the seas. If we abide by China’s unilateral assertion of “ownership” of the Yellow Sea, we put ourselves on a slippery slope that suggests retreat on the seas.

    The Navy is our “show of force” arm. It goes where it has to go to maintain and strengthen U.S. interests. Submitting to “no go” areas declared by naval adversaries seems like the wrong approach. Coupled with the significant cuts to the Navy being proposed on the Hill by the Debt Commission, acquiescing to China on the Yellow Sea could send entirely the wrong message.

  7. Han Kim says:

    I agree with Milton that this will not be the last provocation from the North Koreans. In fact, there have been many other attacks against South Koreans in the past: Commando teams raided the Presidential Palace in the late 60’s in a blatant attempt to assassinate the President. In 1987, North Korean agents blew up a Korean Air airliner carrying construction workers home from the mideast.

    South Korea has never retaliated militarily against such attacks. Until the 1970’s, the US has always severely restrained the South Koreans. After the 1980’s, South Korea had too much to lose. This pattern will unfortunately continue.

    I believe the commotion over the exercises and the USS George Washington is more posturing than any substance. In fact, I remember reading somewhere that, the GW conducted exercises in the Yellow Sea the last time the US and Korea held joint exercises.

    The North Korean leaders care little for the welfare of their non-elite troops in any case, so a military strike would be futile. However, the Plan B-ish attacks, if the South Koreans begin to carry them out in earnest, against North Korean leadership’s slush funds will probably get the Kim Family Regime’s attention.

  8. Ditto81 says:

    Thus the conundrum Han Kim. How does the rational world deal with a people who learned irrational racial purity traits so quickly from their former masters, the Japanese, (both north and south Koreans) while they were “slaves” to them. Yet they also perfected it’s xenophobicness by the Deification of a racial leader in such a short period of time.

    Unique…

  9. Joe says:

    Milton writes:
    I’ll put money down that the North will make yet another provocative move before the year is up.
    Sure, Milton. How much?

    I’m entirely convinced that current US actions will stop North Korean Adventurism.

    North Korea won’t do anything such as say detonate another nuclear device, test a long range missile, sink down a ship — or launch a commando raid on Seoul…

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say the current administration dithered… I would say they were waiting to see first what South Korea would do… Previous North Korean transgressions have usually gone unanswered (take your pick of events) left aside for the sake of the Sunshine Policy and “Engagement.”

    Consider that the South Korean government was basically silent on the issue for quite some time and did not initially blame North Korea. To me, the whole current ongoing response to the Cheonan saga on the part of South Korea and the U.S. looks to have been calculated, coordinated, and — yes, very — effective [towards stopping North Korean transgression for the time being and not so much for speeding up or increasing the possibility of a regime change].

    Of course, I’m not privy to any inside information… It’s just an observation…

    Anyhow, what would you like to wager?

  10. milton says:

    Well, Joe, you kinda called my bluff, because I’m not in the habit of giving personal information over the Internet (a life lesson my mother taught me way back when the Internet was a baby). So any money-based wager is off the table. However, I’d be willing to wager bragging rights, lame as that is.

    We’d have to first define what a “provocation” is, something that has been missing in this discussion all along. I define the word to mean: any North Korean military action designed to incite a response from South Korea, Japan, or the US. Hence, rhetoric or threats do not count.

    Things that would count as a provocation:
    -a nuclear test
    -a naval battle
    -a cross-border incursion or fire fight, or any naval incursion that results in the discharge of a shipboard weapon
    -a long-range missile test or rocket launch
    -terrorism or a bombing
    -an assassination attempt on a South Korean leader or prominent anti-North Korean figure
    -the North Korean government putting the military on high-alert or declaring a state of semi-war

    My bet is that one of the above such events will occur before midnight, Korea time, on December 31st, 2010.

    I’ll leave it to you to determine what online mischief the loser must partake in.

    Previous North Korean transgressions have usually gone unanswered (take your pick of events) left aside for the sake of the Sunshine Policy and “Engagement.”

    Actually, a lot of the major provocations (the Aung San, KAL, and Gimpo bombings, the Blue House Raid, etc) took place during the Cold War, well before the engagement was on the table.

    Also, one issue that has yet to be established with reasonable certainty is to what extent the initial South Korean delay-in-response was the product of South Korean decision-making or American restraint. Evidence suggests the SK military was well-aware of who sank the Cheonan within hours of the sinking, and was probably in a position to respond immediatly. Some Korea watchers have suggested Obama administration officials urged the South Korean government to respond slowly and cautiously for various reasons. This is a matter for the historians as none of us are yet privvy to that information.

  11. Joe says:

    Milton writes:

    Things that would count as a provocation:
    -a nuclear test
    -a naval battle
    -a cross-border incursion or fire fight, or any naval incursion that results in the discharge of a shipboard weapon
    -a long-range missile test or rocket launch
    -terrorism or a bombing
    -an assassination attempt on a South Korean leader or prominent anti-North Korean figure
    -the North Korean government putting the military on high-alert or declaring a state of semi-war

    Okay, I think that is for the most part a fair definition of “North Korean Adventurism” but since this is North Korea I do take exception with the last two lines. I think North Korea is stuck in a state of “semi-war” for perpetuity and that assassination/kidnapping civilians should not count… For example, kidnapping an, ethnic-Korean, American pastor helping North Koreans defect should not count as Adventurism.

    With respect to what to bet? Hmm. Well, I maintain a blog — it’s been about a slightly over a year now — and I can write on w/e topic you choose me to along with a full retraction over why I think I was wrong say 500 words.

    I understand your wish for anonymity — though it’s easy to make anonymous claims, hence, one of the reasons for the recent, draconian laws passed by South Korea that makes it people accountable on the web for the claims they make. If you lose and which I’m fairly certain of, you will write a 500 word short essay for me and I will post that either on my blog or some blog of your choice as to why and how you believe North Korean Adventurism was for at least four full months fully leashed.

    How does it sound?

  12. KCJ says:

    Conventional military activities are fair game on Milton’s list, but two other major ‘fronts’ have to be factored in: infiltration of SK leftist organs and cyber-warfare, which the PRC is prosecuting against the US/ROK Alliance with fury. There are a substantial number of ROK citizens that sympathize with Juche (go figure) and believe that the main barrier to peaceful reunification is the presence of USFK on the peninsula.

    KJI’s soon demise and the purges that will both precede and follow passage of nominal power to Kim Jong woon will probably demand a military action against an external antagonist in order to unify the population. DPRK cyber warriors are constantly attempting to hack into ROK/US computer systems and networks upon which much of the military infrastructure depends.

  13. milton says:

    Joe, sounds good. I’m fine with nixing the last two items. May the best prognosticator win.

    KCJ, can you name a single South Korean leftist organ that isn’t throughly infiltrated by North Korean agents and sympathizers? Those guys are so off in ethno-nationalistic lalaland that it doesn’t take much prodding to get them on the NDC’s payroll. You have a point about cyber-warfare, but I think our original bet was about physical military-related activities.

  14. KCJ says:

    Well, it stands to reason that they could work in concert – southern lefties leaking information to the DPRK via cyberspace. I think the walls are closing on the Juche cult, however. The whole fantasy is about collapse into chaos and perhaps internicine civil war.

  15. Joe says:

    Milton, email me.

    As of right now — though I understand your desire for anonymity — I have no idea who you are other than a reader of One Free Korea.

    I look forward to reading the 500 word essay. :)

  16. Joe says:

    KCJ, DPRK cyber warfare? That’s a joke. I mean we’re spekaing about North Korea’s perhaps i don’t know how many “trained soldiers they have for cyber warfare.” The moment that any western site — or say as the US recently did.. make a reference to the East Sea as, well, the Sea of Japan — it will be bombarded by South Korean “Netizens.”

    That’s DPRK propaganda working in reverse. For example, such as say the story of DPRK claiming to use “road side bombs” against the U.S. It’s for domestic U.S. consumption.

    And, I checked out your site. While South Korea sends a great deal of missionaries to the rest of the world — better than the per capita figure would be the absolute figure, which I’m guessing still stands at 2nd highest in the world for a country where probably only a quarter of its people are Protestant — is a better reflection of South Korea’s desire to assert a Korean identity in the face of a colonizing Shinto/Buddhist Japanese people than of a war against North Korea.

    Religion in South Korea will not dictate foreign policy (as say it did in the 13th century when Goryeo printed Buddhist script to help defend the nation against Jurchen — or ancient Manchurian — incursions). There is no overwhelming creed to which Koreans abide by other than traditional Confucian/Shamanistic (Korean) beliefs and the traditional xenophobic, racial exceptionalism of the Korean people. Though both may to some extent be in decline in South Korea, they are there. And, introduction of Western or Chinese or Sinicized or Japanese or Russian religions/philosophy into South Korea does not replace Korean traditions, but actually merges with traditional Korean practices and views — becoming essentially Korean in the process.

    However, Christianity has decidedly influenced North Korean policy in the United States. For example, passage of the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, which I posted about some time ago and wish I’m certain Joshua and I’m guessing you did as well, was passed through a grassroots campaign by a coalition of the American Christian Right and Korean-American, who are almost entirely Christian with the vast majority being Protestant.

  17. sboss says:

    Event 1:

    The US decided to port the USS GW at Busan, on the opposite side of the peninsula from where the Cheonan attack occurred.

    Event 2:

    The Chinese allegedly test the Dong Feng 21-D anti-carrier ballistic missile.

    Both events taking place within the same approximate time frame and so presumably not coincidence; Beijing’s ‘keep out of our private lake’ message is pretty clear. Having said that, the four month delay has done more to damage American standing in East Asia than anything China could have done. Most of our security agreements in the region consist of our allies doing their best to hold ground and not die while the American calvary comes swiftly to the rescue, and if we can’t move swiftly in an exercise, I’m not sure why anyone should believe in our ability to respond quicker to real-world contingencies (practice as we play, as the military loves to preach).

  18. KCJ says:

    Joe:
    Cyber warfare is conducted on the classified level – I was not referring to the blogosphere or the www. Both the Norks and the Chinese are experts at exfiltrating classified information from Alliance systems.

    The largest Christian population in the East in 1945 was Pyongyang (250,000 Christians). The idea that Koreans converted to Christianity to make purely political or even cultural statements is deeply insulting to Christians. It often cost them their lives to serve Christ. Today, the DPRK is the most dangerous place on earth to be Christian. And yet Cornerstone International Ministries which supports the underground Church in NK estimates that there are 500,000 believers there.

    This zeal is matched by South Korea’s Churches. In 1979, there were 21 missionary agencies which sent out foreign missionaries from the ROK; as of 2006, there were 174. Surely you know about the ROK missionaries held for ransom by the Taliban in 2007.

    Pyongyang fears nothing as much as ROK missionaries. The most potent weapon against the Juche cult are the leaflets flown into the North by defectors in SK who have converted to Christianity. And Kim Jong Il knows this.

    You say religion will not dictate foreign policy in Korea – well, it will soon be forcing the hand of the defense esablishment on both sides of the DMZ as the ideological war continues to tilt in favor of the ROK missionary enterprise.

  19. steffen says:

    off-topic question to KCJ

    why are there so many Korean missionaries (not only in the Koreas)?

  20. Joe says:

    KCJ, with respect to cyberwarfare, I’m not sure actually, but I would be hard pressed to believe that even for a country — North Korea — that would probably be investing heavily in asymmetrical warfare, not unlike the Chinese, would have the resources to prevail against tech saavy South Korea. I’d think their women spies do more damage… But, again, I’m not sure…

    With respect to Pyongyang, here I’m a bit more certain. I’m not trying to come off as insulting though it may have come off as a bit insensitive.

    Nonetheless, Pyongyang and the northern part of the peninsula — and even the more barbaric Northeastern regions, if you look at a map of Korea you’ll see there’s a mountain range that divides the northwestern region from the northeastern provinces — have traditionally been considered to be less civilized — as they were less Confucian. Even in modern North Korean history, you see that Pyongyang is willing to starve the Northeast — I believe Chongjin was the worst hit during the famine? This is just a history and I believe history gives a better understanding as to why things are the way they are.

    Have you considered the enormous amount of work that tries to paint Japan as still a feudalistic society? I mean if you consider that the country has been open to western ideas for a great deal longer than Korea and yet, there are relatively few, very few Japanese Christians? I went to Nagasaki (the traditional Christian stronghold for Japan) and I didn’t saw the torrent of red crosses (which I’m sure the founder, and I’m paraphrasing somebody here, of the Donghak movement would be proud of).

    Moreover, Korea has been a spiritually devoid place for a long time. If you go to South Korea, all the large monasteries are banished to places far away from the cities (unlike in say, neighboring Japan). The reason for this is that the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897) — the longest in Asia I believe — was for the most part heavily influenced by Confucianism, which is in a sense anti-Buddhist. So, for about five centuries, most of the country were followers of native, Shamanistic Korean religions.

    Also, the appeal to Christianity for many Koreans is enormous if you place yourself in Korea at say 1897 I believe the country had not even yet abolished slavery at that point. If there are people that come to you and tell you that you are not bound to rigid social classifications and hierarchy in front of the Almighty, then it’s understandable. I believe there are many recorded times in Korean history when entire “classes” of people converted. Of course, this is not why I am saying why an individual ethnic-Korean would become a Christian. And, I can see why you would be offended in that Christianity — particularly Protestant Christianity — places emphasis on the individual decision to accept Jesus Christ as your savior.

    So, please do understand that that wasn’t an anti-Christian post, but more of a historical reference.

    p.s. Milton, is this why you like to preserve your anonymity on the Internet?

  21. KCJ says:

    Steffen: Perhaps because many Koreans believe in Jesus Christ and are willing to follow Him.

    Joe: surely you know that cyberwarfare is dirt cheap and does not require massive industrial infrastructure?

    Per your analysis of the history of Korea and religion: I too am a student of history albeit I give place to the God of Heaven in my reckoning. Yes, we can look for purely rational historical patterns upon which to base our analysis and conclude that the current phenomena are the products of sociological forces at work along an observable human trajectory. That does not explain the completely different attitudes toward Christianity between Koreans and Japanese. Hirohito’s denunciation of divinity at the insistence of General MacArthur (himself a convinced Christian) in some way may have shaped Japanese attitudes toward foreign faiths. I will not attempt to explain this phenomena other than to say God has a vote in these things, and historical trajectories are completely ineffectual in deducing predictions about the spread of a supernatural faith.

    Also, the appeal to Christianity for many Koreans is enormous if you place yourself in Korea at say 1897 I believe the country had not even yet abolished slavery at that point.

    Again, you seem to intimate that Christianity is somehow backward, anti-progressive, or embraced only by the prescientific gullible masses of uneducated people. In 1897 less than 3% of Koreans were Christian. The Church’s greatest growth spurt has occured since the republic of Korea succeeded in transitioning from military dictatorship to a functioning democratic republic. South Korea has the highest rate of literacy on earth and is more technologically advanced than nearly any country we could care to name. And Christianity is the single greatest social force that opened up the ROK to the rest of the world among which it emerged as a leader in technology, economics, maritime industry, media, and yes – religion. To reduce the appeal of Christianity to a simple way out of the social caste system is to deeply insult the committed believers in Korea who not only are sincere in their beliefs but boast of the world’s greatest Christian missionary enterprise. This is what keeps Kim Jong il awake at night more than any other factor.

    BTW, it was Roman Catholicism that piloted the Faith in Korea – from outposts in China in the 18th century. Protestants profited from the foothold established by the Catholic Church and spread the faith very rapidly. Today, the Catholic Church is growing faster than the Protestant sects – probably more to do with attitudes toward birth control than evangelism.

    Lastly, I deeply appreciated the historical reference to Pyongyang and its behavior towards the NE. I did not know that. However, the moral destruction generated by driving a quarter of a million Christians from the capital (not too mention the blood on the hands of the Kims for their barbaric and systematic persecution of Christians) is also right there for us to see in the history books. NK’s forced collectivism, socialism, coerced conformist society has been degenerating ever since. The bizarre transformational of NK from a Stalinist communist state into a full-blown religious cult more sinister and dehumanizing than the Japanese occupation is instructive if we are willing to see that Almighty God is also an actor on the world’s stage. ;-)

  22. Han Kim says:

    Just my 2 cents:

    This interview by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air with former counter-terror czar Richard Clarke regarding the paradoxical strength of North Korea in the cyber-sphere is very interesting:

    http://ww.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=126097038

    Christianity in South Korea is indeed multifaceted. If anyone has been to a Korean church, I would wager they have seen quite a bit of infighting and intolerance as well as serious good works. Like any other human venture, there are glimmers of enlightenment and true courage and compassion amongst the noise.

    But for all my dislikes regarding organized religion in general and the Korean churches in particular (I am Catholic for the record), I have the utmost respect for the South Korean Christian groups doing missionary work in North Korea. Unlike the vast majority of South Korean society that seems to only fervently wish North Korea would just go away, they are trying. Like it or not, they are already in the forefront of Plan B.

  23. KCJ says:

    From the link provided by Han Kim:

    GROSS: Now, getting back to your point about how cyber-war can skip the battlefield, you can attack through cyber-war without an elaborate military, you said that North Korea is a real power in terms of cyber-war. What are their capabilities?

    Mr. CLARKE: Well, they’re a real power because they don’t have certain kinds of capabilities. This is very counterintuitive. I think the way you determine how powerful a nation is in cyber-war is to add up how good it is in offense and how good it is in defense and get a sum total.

    So the United States is very good at offense and very bad at defense, because we really can’t defend anything beyond the military. So our score is kind of middling.

    If you look at the North Korea, there’s some good intelligence information that they have a fairly decent – not world-class, but fairly decent offensive capability. And they do it from outside North Korea. They attack from South Korea. They attack from China. And in terms of a defensive capability, they’re about the best, because there are only a few lines leading into North Korea, and very few things in North Korea are controlled by computer networks.

    So in terms of a pure cyber-war against one country and the cyber-war back, North Korea can do some damage to us, and we can do almost no damage to them.

    GROSS: What do you think the odds are that they would actually launch a cyber-attack?

    Mr. CLARKE: Well, with North Korea, I think it’s actually pretty high. Because when you say: Why would China hurt the U.S. banking system? They’re invested in it. There’s a lot of truth to that. Nations have an investment in the international system and the international stability it creates. North Korea doesn’t. North Korea could very well pull the temple down around it at some point.

    And on July 4th, 2009, they appear to have conducted an experiment: launching attacks from China and from South Korea against the United States and against South Korea, clogging up the pipes, the largest attack in terms of number of digits and volume that has ever been seen on the Internet.

    And it had an effect on some sites in Washington. It appears to have been an experiment to see how much they could generate and how much of the pipes would be blocked if they did it.

  24. Dan Ó C says:

    But for all my dislikes regarding organized religion in general and the Korean churches in particular (I am Catholic for the record), I have the utmost respect for the South Korean Christian groups doing missionary work in North Korea.

    Agreed. As distasteful as I find the actions of certain far-right “Christian” groups (I live in Uganda at the moment, and religious-based intolerance can get downright disgusting here), those involved in efforts to emancipate the people of North Korea play a vital role in providing alternative conceptual resources for the population, and that has to be respected. There are religious people on both sides of the struggle for human rights. It’s not religious teachings that are at issue but rather their interpretations and their manipulation in terms of political discourse. Things are rarely black and white, and I don’t believe religion ever is.

  25. Joe says:

    KCJ & Steffen,

    Quite the contrary, I’d say the reason Christianity took off in the past six decades is not only that was it anti-Japanese, but the religion came off as modern. Koreans do not look to the past and think very proudly of what has happened. Consider the many wars that involved Korea in some sense: First Sino-Japanese War (1894), Russo-Japanese War(1904-05), Japanese Colonization (1945), Second Sino-Japanese War/World War II (1937-1945), Korean War (1950-53), divided country (1948-present).

    That’s a lot for a country to take. So, it’s understandable that many Koreans would be looking to new things as opposed to things that may be considered traditional or historic. For example, and there’s a parallel here with China — and Vietnam, I’d wager — as to why Communism — the new, modern ideology without the stigma of collaboration. Consider the zeal to which North Korea adopted Communism wholeheartedly and tried to replace all its old institutions. So, this zeal is present in not only religion, but ideology and government and probably why South Koreans today are so liberal.

    As to why Japanese are not Christian, I’d consider that Japan aside from the absolutely humiliating defeat in World War II did not face a similar history. I’d think the rise of democratic institutions in South Korea versus essentially a one party government in Japan (I’ll wait before I call Japan a true democracy) also has a parallel. (I think wealth inequality or better yet regional wealth disparities also probably played a strong role.) Whereas South Korea was quick — 50 years is pretty quick for probably the most Confucian country on the planet — to adopt democratic (“modern”) institutions, Japan’s government was basically forced on them by General MacArthur.

    With respect to Catholicism, I think another of its appeals are that the Church has a less disruptive factor on traditional Korean institutions, such as Shamanistic rituals, such as ancestor worship rituals — though Catholics aren’t supposed to “worship” their ancestors. Protestant denominations reject these rituals.

    Han and Dan,
    Hmm. I don’t know I’m usually quite skeptical about ways to talk up the ability of North Koreans to wage war against South Korea/United States + Japan.

  26. KCJ says:

    Joe, I don’t have a problem with charting the sociological factors you cite as possible cultural and political influences in the transformation of Korean society, but they are still incomplete explanations of the meteoric rise of Christianity in Korea and certainly cannot explain Korea’s phenomenal missionary zeal. You seem oddly dismissive of the role Korea’s Christian martyrs played in establishing the Faith here (yes, I am in Korea) and the innocence and credulity with which they embrace the Faith (as of yet untainted by the Modernist bent that has emasculated Western christian theology).

    And if a psychological need to put a troublesome recent past behind them were a driver of Korean political and social behavior (and I am prepared to admit to this possibility) it is remarkably instructive to look at the polar opposites the divided Korea(s) occupy in both ideology and end result at the present time. The DPRK is the most hostile nation on earth towards Christianity and is dangling over the precipice of state failure. The ROK is a top 15 world economy with the most ambitious missionary enterprise in the world. These cannot be mere coincidentals without causal relationships, wouldn’t you agree?

    I believe as does Dr. Lankov that Christianity may very well fill the vacuum caused the failure of Juche in the DPRK, and soon at that.

  27. Joe says:

    KCJ,

    Back to Steffen’s question, why do you believe South Korea — with a population of probably 49 million Koreans and 1 million “foreigners” with a quarter of its population being Protestant (and of that fraction — I don’t know how many how much would be Evangelical Christians), why is the country the second leading source country for Christian missionaries? What’s your explanation? I think South and North Korea are not at all that different. I think the “Cleanest Race,” a book which I have not yet read would be yet another example.

  28. kushibo says:

    Joe, I think that South Korea, and South Korean protestants in particular, has a very positive association with missionary work. The Catholics and then especially the Protestants came from a somewhat wide range of countries and set up schools and hospitals, and helped the occasional orphan.

    They trained local people to be clergy who then eventually ran the churches, and thus there is very little in the way of negative association with missionaries and missionary work.

    Combine that with the zeal that many evangelicals feel for their faith, and it’s hardly a surprise that a sizable number want to do that. Then consider that a lot of the projects they work on overseas are real-world aid projects at the local level, and then you can see that the government doesn’t mind them spreading a positive image of South Korea and thus expanding its soft power.

    China is a big exception to that latter part, where religious faithful are doing things — helping ferry out North Korean refugees — that can hurt relations with China and also abuse the resettlement money the refugees get in the South (by using it to ferry out relatives instead of improving life in South Korea), but the first factors I mentioned are still strong.

    And that’s my best guess at the answer to your question.

  29. Joe says:

    Kushibo,

    By the way, I just recently started following your blog. You seem to have been on the scene for quite a while, :) I just didn’t happen to see it when I was in Korea unlike ROKdrop and Marmot’s Hole.

    However, I think there is some misunderstanding here. I’m not placing any value on missionaries; i’m not saying they are “good” or “bad.” If looking at the role that missionaries have had on Korea, I would begin with say Yonsei University or Ehwa Women’s University. I’m not looking at the role that missionaries have had on Korea per se, I was looking at the reasons why Korea sends so many missionaries.

    -Joe

  30. KCJ says:

    Back to cyber warfare:

    The presidential office is on alert against a cyberattack by North Korea after receiving intelligence reports, the Blue House said yesterday. “The National Cyber Security Center [NCSC] obtained intelligence on a possible cyberattack from North Korea,” Blue House spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung told reporters. A relevant team at the Blue House is on emergency alert footing from Tuesday in cooperation with the NCSC, she added. The possible cyberattack seems to be associated with the North’s threat of a “sacred war” to retaliate against the large-scale joint naval drills between South Korea and the United States in the East Sea, which ended yesterday, she added. The Web sites of the Blue House and several other key government offices were hit last year and in recent months by a series of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, a massive number of access attempts, which are believed to have been from the communist regime. (JoongAng Daily)http://joongangdaily.joins.com/article/view.asp?aid=2923873

  31. kushibo says:

    Joe wrote:

    I’m not looking at the role that missionaries have had on Korea per se, I was looking at the reasons why Korea sends so many missionaries.

    Perhaps I should have more clearly that many evangelical Christians (as well as non-evangelicals, including Catholics) have started emulating what has been viewed as a positive experience themselves with missionaries.

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