Prioritize national securityNortheast Asia is drifting toward an ominous turbulence. The ongoing conflict over territorial sovereignty and history issues is escalating because of heated leadership competition in the region between America and China. After Beijing declared airspace over the Senkaku, or Diaoyu, Islands in a territorial dispute with Japan as part of its air defense zone, Sino-Japanese tensions have reached a flashpoint where even a minor mistake or miscalculation could trigger an armed clash. After Washington perceived Beijing’s latest move as a grave issue related to its national interests, the Sino-U.S. conflict could quickly become a powder keg, as seen by Pentagon’s decision to send two B-52 bombers to the airspace Beijing declared as its zone.
On our part, tensions are raised over Ieodo, a submerged islet south of Jeju Island, which has been effectively controlled by Korea but excluded from our air defense zone. After China expanded its defense zone to the airspace over the islet, the trilateral conflict got more complex. Though our government expressed a will to expand our air zone to the space over the islet, frictions with Beijing and Tokyo were inevitable. A more serious concern will come if China expands its air zone to Korean airspace over the Yellow Sea. When volatile spaces overlap, it poses a serious security threat to us, not to mention a critical blow to relations with China.
It’s hard to yield on territorial issues. The best way would be to manage potential conflicts based on the status quo. Given the intricate mix of old grudges and nationalistic sentiments in Northeast Asia, however, cool-headed and skillful diplomacy is needed to protect all nations’ interests.
But the Park Geun-hye government’s response has been disappointing. As the extreme diplomatic standoff between Seoul and Tokyo drags on - with not even a summit meeting - Washington began to show subtle signs of a change in its attitude toward Seoul as seen by the rapid strengthening of U.S.-Japan ties over Tokyo’s demand for a right to “collective self-defense” and Washington’s approval of Japan’s bigger military role in the region. If weakened Seoul-Washington ties are coupled with Seoul-Beijing friction over Ieodo, Korea could fall into diplomatic isolation.
With nearly 10 months since the launch of the Park government, our politicians are still engrossed in a never-ending fight with retrogressive debates on pro-North Korean citizens. The president must prioritize the security of our nation above all. It’s time to stop an exhaustive political battle.