[Viewpoint] Strength builds confidenceA recent event hosted by the Chinese ambassador to Korea was bustling with guests. On Feb. 8, a farewell reception for outgoing Chinese Ambassador Cheng Yonghua was held at the Crystal Ballroom in the Lotte Hotel, Sogong-dong. Some 500 guests attended.
The ambassador greeted guests at the door. Soon, a 30-meter-long line of guests formed to shake hands with the ambassador. The reception finally began 15 minutes later than scheduled. A diplomatic source said that public events at the Chinese Embassy are getting more and more crowded and energetic. They are often the biggest blockbusters on Korea’s embassy row. The events are as grand as those hosted by the U.S. Embassy.”
China’s foreign policy stance has changed. Beijing is no longer taking the low-profile attitude of the Deng Xiaoping’s “Taoguang Yanghui” policy, or “hiding one’s capabilities and bide one’s time.” The focus now is “Yousuo Zuowei,” or to speak up and accomplish something. The changed attitude was evident in Beijing’s discord with the United States over the weapons exports to Taiwan.
When Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao went to North Korea last October, there was a significant moment that illustrated the change. He visited the Cemetery for the Heroes of the Chinese People’s Volunteer’s Army in Hoichang County, South Pyongan Province, 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Pyongyang.
In the cemetery is a grave of Mao Anying, the eldest son of Mao Zedong, killed during the Korean War at age 28. In front of the grave, Wen bowed his head and said, “The motherland has become powerful and the people have become happy.”
The remark is an unprecedented expression of Beijing’s will to display China’s capability and presence. On Feb. 9, Wang Jiarui, director of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, returned to Beijing from his visit to Pyongyang and North Korean vice foreign minister Kim Gye-gwan accompanied him. Kim’s trip to China is a realistic illustration of China’s special influence on North Korea.
Weihai in Shandong Province is the closest Chinese port to Incheon. In the late 19th century, Liugong Island at the mouth of Weihai Bay was a base for the Beiyang Fleet, a modernized Chinese navy in the Qing Dynasty. The Sino-Japanese War Memorial Hall is located in the island, where a giant replica of the anchor of the sunken Dingyuan battleship can be found. Admiral Ding Ruchang’s statue and shrine are also at the war memorial.
The military strength of the Beiyang Fleet and the Imperial Japanese Navy were not much different. However, the Qing commanders greatly lacked strategy and the will to fight. In February 1895, about seven months into the fighting, the fleet suffered a humiliating defeat. The admiral did not surrender but chose to kill himself. The shrine was built to honor his patriotic death. Memorial services for Ding Ruchang are held in February and April.
The defeat of the Sino-Japanese War resulted in China’s withdrawal from the Korean Peninsula. For the first time in history, China lost influence over Korea. The war memorial was established in 1985, exhibiting the history of defeat. Chinese president Hu Jintao and former president Jiang Zemin visited the war memorial. Jiang Zemin presented calligraphy reading “National Youth Educational Center” for the memorial. It is a place for nurturing the awakening and enthusiasm for the marine hegemony of Northeast Asia.
China has made astonishing growth in naval capacity in the 21st century, encouraging an arms race in the region.
An unusual atmosphere surrounds the seas off the Korean Peninsula in February. On Feb. 9, the Russian Embassy in Korea held an annual memorial service in the sea off the Soweolmi Island in Incheon. Russian Ambassador Konstantin Vnukov paid silent tribute on the patrol boat provided by the Korean Navy. On the same day in 1904, the Japanese fleets made a surprise attack, and the Russo-Japanese War broke out. Two Russian vessels were surrounded by Japanese warships on the sea. The captain and the seamen did not surrender but chose to scuttle the ship. The Russian ambassador said, “The Russian soldiers displayed courage and waged a heroic fight in the unfair battle.” Russia refuses to forget the history of defeat suffered off the Korean Peninsula. Such an attitude is different from the Korean sentiment that tries to deny and ignore shameful legacies and memories.
Korea has come a long way from being a poor nation struggling among neighboring giants. Korea has attained national prosperity and military power. On Feb. 1, the Republic of Korea’s Navy established the Maneuver Fleet to accelerate the navy’s advancement on the ocean.
Korea needs to be friendly with neighboring powers. The geopolitical fate of the Korean Peninsula demands a good-neighbor policy. The circumstance refuses exclusive nationalism.
However, the good-neighbor policy works only when we have power. Without national strength, a good-neighbor policy is vulnerable.
Northeast Asian politics is always turbulent. The Korean Peninsula produces dynamic drama in world history.
*The writer is the executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Park Bo-gyoon