[Viewpoint] The black hole of China

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[Viewpoint] The black hole of China

China, which has been surreptitiously bulking up its muscle, has stepped out of the shadows to fl ash its new look. It ditched its humble mask and now exhibits a domineering facade and commanding voice tantamount to its newly accredited status as a superpower. We in Korea now have to ask ourselves whether we possess a state strategy to fend off Chinese egotistic, nationalistic hegemony.

A torpedo fired off the west coast has had a butterfly effect across the Pacific and Atlantic, generating a tsunami of tension between two superpowers, as the United States and China adopt polar opposite responses to North Korea’s attack on the Cheonan. The ghost of the Cold War has suddenly jumped out the closet, with South Korea, the U.S. and Japan on one end of the new ideological axis and North Korea, China, and Russia on the opposite.

South Korea and the U.S. embarked on one of their largest-ever post-war military drills in the East Sea, involving 20 warships (including a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier) and 200 aircraft. The naval war exercise was relocated from the Yellow Sea to the East after China squawked about the event taking place near its territorial waters. The U.S., in an apparent challenge to China’s vocal opposition to the military drills and to the UN Security Council’s attempt to condemn North Korea for the Cheonan attack, suggested it might take an aggressive role in helping settle disputes between Southeast Asian nations and China over ownership of the waters of the South China Sea. The U.S. also pledged it will attend the East Asian Summit and strengthen the role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to stave off China’s growing power in the region.

Given the intricate web of relations between the two countries, the Sino- American hegemony struggle is unlikely to blow up into an all-out confrontation. The problem for us is the smaller areas of confrontation. If the power struggle keeps up, the Korean Peninsula will once again turn into a conflict zone for two colossal economic and military powers. China, for the price of its patronage and protection, has been sucking up what’s left of the shambling North Korean economy. North Korea already relies on China for the lion’s share of its trade — 75 percent — and it will inevitably find itself demoted to the status of one of China’s northeastern regions.South Korea is in no better condition. Our trade with China tops shipment volumes to and from the U.S. and Japan combined. South Korea could be hit with a fever if China develops a cough. If China slaps a ban on several key imports from South Korea, our entire economy can be shaken. South Korea must actively stretch its economic boundaries if we want to avoid sinking into the Chinese economic black hole. Our future depends on creating an economic hub connecting Asia and Europe. The biggest stumbling block to our grand plan is North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. If North Korea does not relinquish its nuclear weapons, South Korea’s economic aspirations will just be wishful thinking. Nuclear weapons will further isolate the communist nation into extreme deprivation and keep South Korea far at bay. Nuclear development is the biggest folly of the Kim dynasty, but it’s too late to try to reel it back.

The new U.S. financial sanctions against North Korea as punishment for the Cheonan attack suggests Washington may have given up hope of solving the North Korean nuclear problem through a multilateral, diplomatic platform. Unless the U.S. chooses a war on the Korean Peninsula, the key to the impasse lies with China. Only China can force North Korea to surrender nuclear weapons by giving Pyongyang an ultimatum between the regime’s sustainability and its nuclear weapons.

China’s response to the Cheonan disaster clearly shows we cannot expect reason from the country. But it is still too early to give up all hope. What China fears is a nuclear arms race in the region. It would be a nightmare for China if both Koreas are armed with nuclear weapons. We must use the leverage of nuclear development against Beijing. We must make it clear that if China can’t make North Korea give up its nuclear weapons, we have no choice but to build our own.

In recent joint foreign and defense ministerial meetings, Seoul and Washington declared that they will rewrite the South Korea-U.S. nuclear agreement that expires in 2014. The military has revealed that it has been developing long-range 1,500-kilometer cruise missiles capable of reaching not only North Korea, but Shanghai and as far as Beijing. The Chinese media buzzed about the news of South Korea’s mass production of long-range missiles with meticulous navigation systems. But the success of our war game depends on whether Washington goes along with it. The U.S. can use the possibility of our nuclear development to pressure China.

Most importantly, we must make our nation a respectable member of the global community. We cannot win respect and support from the rest of the world if we maintain contemptuous policies and attitudes toward foreign workers and immigrants. We won’t again suffer the humiliation of receiving the cold shoulder from the international community when we sought help from Japan’s imperialistic designs if we have as many allies as possible on our side.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Bae Myung-bok
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