[GLOBAL EYE]Peace mission hardly peacefulWhile the Republic of Korea is still buoyed up by the National Liberation Day festivities, China and Russia are playing an intense war game war around the Korean Peninsula. The two nations are holding Peace Mission 2005, a joint military exercise against international terrorism, extremism and separatism. However, far from this grand cause, the format and content of this military exercise is not that of peace.
The military drill involves 10,000 troops, strategic bombers, submarines, destroyers and guided missiles. The ground, marine and air forces of the Chinese and Russian military are to coordinate a multi-dimensional landing operation against a virtual enemy state on the Shandong Peninsula. The Russian fleet left Vladivostok then wrapped around the Korean Peninsula from the East Sea, through the South Sea and into the Yellow Sea to join the Chinese troops.
Beneath the operation lies the two nations’ apparent intent to develop joint operational capability to prevent a northward advance by U.S. or U.S.-South Korean combined forces in case of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula, as well as potential operations in the Taiwan Strait. It is also no coincidence that the operation has been timed for the 60th anniversary of Japan’s surrender. Peace Mission 2005 draws dark clouds of fierce rivalry for the hegemony of Northeast Asia through an arms race.
From a military perspective, China and Russia can hardly become strategic partners and it is the United States that has made the two long-time rivals unite. Since the war in Afghanistan, the military presence of the United States in Central Asia has been reinforced, and as the “Orange Revolution” of Ukraine spread to Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, the pro-westernization of former members of the Soviet Union has accelerated. Such changes are an intolerable insult to Russia.
Also, the separation and independence movements of Taiwan, the Xinjiang Uygur region and the Tibet autonomous region are an annoyance to China. As Japan reinforces its military preparation and alliance with the United States, modernization of armaments is an urgent task for China and Russia. However, it is not easy to purchase cutting-edge weapons from the European Union because of Washington’s interference. While the two nations are collaborating out of necessity, it is not likely the joint drill will develop into a military alliance between China and Russia.
Moreover, Russia’s latest weapons seen in the operation are from the 1980s, so even if China was armed with Russia’s help, Washington believes it won’t be a major military threat anytime soon. Korea’s concern is that the Sino-Russian military exercise will promote regional instability by sparking a competition for regional hegemony, encouraging armament expansion, and creating a complex multi-polar structure of power around the Korean Peninsula.
Despite the controversial Operations Plan 5029 of the U.S.-ROK Combined Forces Command, the commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet has said U.S. forces “would go in and help restore order in North Korea if there were instability or a regime failure.”
China wants to exert political influence over the North Korean lands north of the Han River as well as the territorial ownership of the three provinces in northeast China and the Kanto region. Russia, also, hopes to maintain influence in the region by using its weapons inventory, technology from its military heyday and its oil and natural gas resources.
It is a reversion to the power struggle among the regional giants of a century ago.
At this juncture, Korea can easily find itself alone if we turn our back on the United States, stand against Japan and show lukewarm tolerance to China and Russia. While the government might consider cooperating with China and Russia, it needs to ponder the reasons Beijing refused its request to observe the drill. The dichotomy of anti-American versus pro-Chinese, or the southern alliance of Korea, Japan and the United States versus the northern alliance of North Korea, China and Russia puts everyone in jeopardy. If the arms race in Northeast Asia causes U.S. forces in Korea to become mobile troops for all of the Asian Pacific region and the aggravating Korea-U.S. alliance results in no guarantee of strategic flexibility, we cannot rule out the possibility of “security bankruptcy.” The Korean government needs the wisdom to keep both the alliance with the United States and a partnership with China.
Like it or not, the unification of the Korean Peninsula will materialize in a multilateral frame of regional security. Amid the emotional enthusiasm for national cooperation in the name of self-reliant unification, we run the risk of losing the existence and legitimacy of the Republic of Korea. The “drastic moves” on the side of the North Korean delegates during the National Liberation Day celebrations were a “charm offensive” against the South. Behind the rhetoric of “among Koreans,” Pyongyang must have a plot to soften South Koreans’ antagonism and caution toward the North Korean authorities and expand the territory of activities of the pro-Pyongyang faction. If we are buried under nationalistic reasoning, there is no guarantee we will not lose the Republic of Korea, much less than achieve unification. Anti-war doesn’t always mean peace, and peace can only be protected when we are prepared for war. The first joint Sino-Russian military drill in the name of peace once again reminds us of the truth of history.
* The writer is a senior columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Byun Sang-keun