Preparing for geopolitical typhoon

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Preparing for geopolitical typhoon

Yeom Jae-ho

The author is an emeritus professor and former president of Korea University.

The Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592 was devastating. From the invasion 200 years after the Joseon Dynasty was founded, the population shrank by 30 percent, of which 1 percent, or 100,000 Koreans, were taken to Japan as prisoners to never return home.

The second calamity was the 1950-53 Korean War, in which 700,000 Korean, 40,000 American and 200,000 Chinese servicemen died. Including civilians, over two million died.

The Korean War on the face of it was a war between Korean. But it was actually a global war involving the United Nations allied troops from 16 countries behind South Korea — and China and the Soviet Union behind North Korea. The 1592 Japanese invasion also was a part of an imperialistic ambition to conquer the Ming Dynasty of China after Toyotomi Hideyoshi brought an end to the Sengoku Period, or Warring States Period, and united Japan.

The Korean Peninsula is destined for geopolitical risks involving the global powers of the United States, China, Japan and Russia. The U.S., which had supported China to become the world’s factory to help contain the former Soviet Union, is now warring with China. America’s stance has dramatically changed in the last 20 years when it backed China’s market opening and investment and invited Chinese students and skilled workers to the U.S. The U.S. has formed a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with Japan, Australia,and India and seeks the Chip 4 alliance with South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan to rein in China’s rise on the security and technology fronts.

Since a visit to Taiwan by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, China has been firing missiles towards Taiwan in mass-scale military drills in protest to America and Taiwan. China joined Russia’s Vostok (East) 2022 war games in waters off its Far East coastal regions. A new Cold War with South Korea, the U.S and Japan pitted against North Korea, China, and Russia is developing.
As warned in the book “Destined for War” by Harvard University Prof. Graham Allison, the U.S and China could be headed for a war under the Thucydides Trap where a rising power threatens to displace the ruling power. The battleground would likely be Taiwan, the South China Sea or the Korean Peninsula, not the U.S. or Chinese mainland. Even if a physical war will not take place, the U.S.-China contest over trade and technology will bring about greater pressure on South Korea. When Chinese President Xi Jinping’s third term is confirmed at the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) next month and he becomes the strongest and longest-lasting Chinese leader after Mao Zedong, he could pursue more nationalistic and hard-line policy to achieve the so-called Chinese dream. The conflict between the U.S. and China will surely deepen to cause more serious challenges to South Korea stuck in the middle.

In January last year, the Ukraine foreign minister strongly denied the possibility of a Russian invasion. But Ukraine has become devastated from a war since February. The postwar global order has been shaken to be guided by the rule of the muscle. But Korea’s political leaders only have thoughts on the next general and presidential elections. They merely chase populist politics and are uninterested in massive geopolitical challenges. The media reports daily on the never-ending political mud fights. Politicians do not ruminate on why films dealing with Japanese invasions — like the 2014 film “The Admiral: Roaring Currents” and recently-screened “Hansan: Rising Dragon” — became unprecedented box-office hits.

The geopolitical typhoon from a clash between America and China could be more deadly and devastating than the Typhoon Hinnamnor, which wreaked havoc on the southeastern coast this week. Strategist Yoolgok and Admiral Lee Sun-shin could not save the country from Japanese invaders because politicians were immersed in factional battles. The opposite report by two envoys of Joseon, who had visited Japan a year before the Japanese invasion, helped cause the internal division. Even the envoy from a rivaling faction admitted the possibility of Japanese invasion but did not dare to mouth it in fear of weakening the faction’s position in the royal court.

President Yoon Suk-yeol must shake the political slump to prepare the nation for geopolitical risks. The 10th largest trade power should not neglect diplomacy. The foreign minister should be elevated to the level of deputy prime minister. Experts on U.S. and Chinese affairs must advise the president. All national policies encompassing economy, security, science and technology, and culture should be reoriented to strengthen Korea’s readiness towards geopolitical risks. The disaster and tragedy originating with negligence of political leaders are not confined to the realm of history. The administration must put top priority on devising effective strategies to solve the North Korean nuclear threat and geopolitical risks.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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