Peace crucial amid regional strife
The Park Geun-hye government launched the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative amid a difficult and complicated situation. Although it is merely conceptual at this point, the conditions for Korea’s unification cannot be fulfilled without a multilateral mechanism that will adjust the conflicts of interests and ambitions among neighboring countries. Germany’s reunification is proof of that.
And such a multilateral entity is vital not only for Korean unification, but also for the replacement of dangerous conflicts and confrontations within the Asia-Pacific region, stemming from competition among the United States, China and Japan, with peace and cooperation.
But what is hindering the initiative? The starting point is China’s rapid rise and its subsequent shift in its Pacific strategy. Admiral Liu Huaqing, known as the father of the Chinese Navy’s modernization, proposed to former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping as soon as he became the commander of the Chinese Navy and the deputy secretary of the Chinese Military Commission in 1982, that the country’s naval strategy must be shifted from coastal defense to the active defense of its neighboring waters.
The key to China’s Pacific strategy was cutting off U.S. reinforcement during Taiwan’s emergency. Based on this concept, China treated the first island chain, connecting Kyushu, Okinawa, Taiwan, the Philippines and the Borneo Island of Indonesia, as the main arena for its contest with the United States.
But with Liu’s new strategy, China moved beyond the line and shifted its main arena of naval confrontation to the second island chain, connecting the Izu Peninsula and the Ogasawara Islands of Japan, Guam, Saipan and Papua New Guinea - and Liu’s Anti-Access and Area Denial (A2) was introduced.
A2 is a strategy to stop U.S. intervention in a Chinese military operation inside the second island line. China’s main weapons are missiles and reinforced naval power. AD is a strategy to stop U.S. reinforcement inside the first island line, where fighter jets and missiles from bases in China are employed.
China modified the strategy in 1987 with its strategic border argument. The idea behind the argument is that China must move beyond its strategy of defending its territorial waters within 12 nautical miles and move more actively to the waters within 300 square kilometers (115.8 square miles) of the country to counter real and potential threats.
Korea’s Yellow Sea and the East and South China Seas are included in that 300 square kilometer area. The vast water, amounting to one-third of the Chinese mainland, is considered China’s sea, and that is the traditional thinking of China.
With its ambitious Pacific strategy, China has steadily developed short-, medium- and long-range missiles as main arsenals. The Dong Feng medium- and long-range missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. China’s Air Force also operationally deployed 147 units of J-family fighter jets that take off from ground bases.
China’s obsession with the East and South China Seas is not just because of security gains in the Pacific region. In 1969, the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East confirmed that there were 109.5 billion barrels of petroleum reserve under the waters near the East China Sea. China, through its independent exploration, however, said that the reserve is between 70 to 160 billion barrels.
Since then, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation has started to develop oil and gas in the waters near the China-Japan maritime border. China, refusing to recognize the border drawn by Japan, claims that its territorial waters reach the Okinawa Trough.
After the discovery of the 24.6 billion-ton oil reserve in the South China Sea, an amount similar to that in mainland China, the country has also been in competition with the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia over the Spratly Islands, located at the center of the South China Sea.
China already wrangled the Paracel Islands from Vietnam in 1974, building a runway and turning it into the hub of its control over the South China Sea.
The United States needs to protect the existing order in the Pacific, including maritime shipping routes, against China’s aggressive challenges. Obama’s “pivot to Asia” and the Trans-Pacific Partnership arose from such needs.
The United States and China are taking turns pressuring Korea over the possible U.S. deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) missile system because of that. And this puts Korea in a thorny situation.
When competition among the United States, China and Japan grows intense, realizing the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative becomes more difficult, but its reason for existing becomes even more important.
Unless China gives up its pipe dream of turning half the Pacific into Chinese waters, as well as regaining the land that the Qing Dynasty once controlled over East Asia from 1661 to 1976, the Pacific region will continue to be unstable - the aftermath of which will reach the Korean Peninsula.
It is unprecedented for a small country to be able to persuade a large country to change the regional order. But there is always a first time for everything. For Korea to make that first step, it needs highly dimensional diplomacy that can accurately discern the truth and the direction behind the confrontations among the United States, China and Japan, as well as their strategies, and then counter them.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 3, Page 31
*The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie