[VIEWPOINT]Korea and regional power politics

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[VIEWPOINT]Korea and regional power politics

In 2010, the United States withdraws its military forces from the Korean Peninsula, and China begins to get more restive, seeking to expand its influence in Northeast Asia. Beijing expands its claims of territorial rights in the South China Sea, where extensive oil fields have been discovered, and invades Vietnam.
At the request of Vietnam, the United States intervenes in the dispute between Vietnam and China, and the involvement leads to a world war between pro-Western nations of the Christian civilization and anti-American nations of the Islamic civilization.
An outlandish scenario?
In the “Clash of Civilizations,” Samuel Huntington presumed the expansionism of China as the beginning of the clash between Christendom and the Muslim world. Considering the fact that the United States plans to transfer wartime operational control and reduce the U.S. forces stationed in Korea by 2009, we cannot help worrying that there are too many similarities between Mr. Huntington’s theory and what could be reality in the near future.
In August 2005, China and Russia held a joint military exercise in the extensive area from Vladivostok, Russia, to Qingdao in the Shandong Peninsula. Over 10,000 troops took part in “Peace Mission 2005,” and some of the latest weapons of the two nations were showcased.
Russia and China once had an armed conflict, but in the post-Cold War era, the two nations are enjoying a military and economic honeymoon. When the vice chairman of the Chinese Military Commission visited Moscow in September 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the relationship between the two countries was “the best since the beginning of history” and suggested a continuation of the expanding military cooperation.
In 2004, trade between China and Russia exceeded $20 billion for the first time. By 2010, the two countries expect trade to grow to $60 to $80 billion.
We have to pay attention to the new honeymoon between China and Russia.
At a summit meeting between Russia and China held in Beijing in March, the two countries promised to collaborate in trade, energy and investment and to reinforce the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, of which Central Asian countries are members. China designated 2006 as the “year of Russia” and prepared 207 joint projects, including five military collaborations.
Last November, China’s premier, Wen Jiabao, said that the relationship between the two countries had “never been better.”
Beijing and Moscow can be so close because they have shared interests. China wants to check the alliance between the United States and Japan and has its eye on economic interests in energy resources from the oil field developments in Russia as well as its weapons. Russia is tightening cooperation with China in order to secure its international status to prepare for the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
While the United States calls China a “strategic partner,” Washington is checking the emergence of China as a potential threat to the U.S. status as the world’s sole superpower since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
In the U.S. government’s Quadrennial Defense Review Report and the National Security Strategy Report published earlier this year, Washington expressed serious concerns about the military buildup of China.
If China continues to grow at the current rate, the reports estimated, the modernization of the Chinese military would pose a serious threat to the maintenance of the U.S. hegemony in international political and military power.
While Beijing insists that its “peaceful rise” and “peaceful development” doctrines have nothing to do with military expansion or hegemony, some specialists are already writing that discord between the United States and China in competing for oil from the Middle East is visible on the surface.
Korea cannot neglect the reinforcement of strategic cooperation between Beijing and Moscow, since they implicitly intend to check the U.S.-Japanese alliance.
Even more troubling, if North Korea joins the emerging partnership with Russia and China, a new tripartite alliance of Pyongyang, Beijing and Moscow would emerge involving the Korean Peninsula, creating, in effect, new Cold War tensions in the region.
We need to give serious additional thought to the intentions behind China’s Northeast Asian historical project and Beijing’s attempts to include the history of Korea into its vision of Chinese history.
Moreover, we also need to consider whether the current South Korean administration’s foreign policy, especially its decision to keep its distance from the United States and Japan, is beneficial to the interests of South Korea.

* The writer is a professor of international politics at the Graduate School of International Studies of Hallym University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Koo Bong-hak
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