Thursday, 25 February 2016

Korea: Frozen Conflict and the Forgotten Civil War.

As both the US and China come together to create a draft resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea for its continued obsession with developing its nuclear programme, differences between the Chinese and Us approach to how to go about preventing Pyongyang attaining nuclear weapons continues

As the Guardian reported,
China and the United States have had different views on how strong the response should be to North Korea since Pyongyang’s nuclear test in January, with Washington urging harsh punitive measures and Beijing emphasising dialogue and milder UN steps that are confined to non-proliferation.

US nationalists tend to blame China for being 'soft' on what is regarded as its 'communist' ally, even though China is only nominally communist and predominantly capitalist and steadily positioning itself to overtake the US as the world's predominant global economy, a great concern in America.

Us nationalists often maintain China is using North Korea as a 'buffer state' between it and US forces in South Korea. This is, of course, partially correct, though what actual purpose US forces have in being stationed in South Korea 60 years after the Korean War finished is not entirely clear.

China indeed fears having US military bases and forces and missile delivery systems running right up to its border. One answer is a withdrawal of US military forces from the ROK so as to lessen tensions. South Korea is more than capable of defending itself from North Korea as an advanced rich industrial society.

In the US , North Korea is either seen sensationally as a Hollywood evil regime or else a semi-comic farcical state. However, the idea that the US military presence is only about protecting the region from the evil of Kim Jong Un and not about maintaining bases to keep China in check is a myth.

Maintaining a military presence in South Korea is neither conducive to regional peace nor is it arguably even in the interests of the US, though as China rises and US imperial overstretch  becomes ever more a reality, the US is getting itself drawn in to potential conflicts. Anatol Lieven, noted this a few years ago.
'There is one region that the U.S. can and should bow out of now: Korea. North Korea's bomb test is obviously a very serious problem for the U.S., given its heavy military presence in South Korea. However, we should ask why, more than 50 years after the Korean War and 15 years after the end of the Cold War, the United States still has about 37,500 troops on the Korean peninsula.
In the long run, North Korea's nuclear weapons are an overwhelming problem only for its neighbours, and it should be their responsibility to sort this problem out. Of course, they may fail -- but then, the U.S. record in the region over the last decade has not exactly been one of success.
The U.S. is already reducing its troop levels on the Korean peninsula; it should accelerate the process and move rapidly toward ending its military presence. Moreover, it should negotiate a peace treaty with North Korea. This will remove Pyongyang's motive to attack U.S. interests, ensure that China could never again attack U.S. forces in a ground war and allow the U.S. to concentrate instead on maintaining its overwhelming lead over China in naval and air power.
We must be very clear, however, that this withdrawal would also mean ceding to China the dominant role in containing North Korea's nuclear ambitions -- along with Japan, South Korea and Russia -- and in managing the eventual collapse of the North Korean state and the appallingly difficult and expensive process of the reunification of the two Koreas'
The insistence on keeping a strong military presence in South Korea, notwithstanding the idea the South Korean government wants it for ideological and security purposes ( as opposed to offsetting the costs of defence to the US ) is based also on the ignorance in the US as to the reality of the Korean War.

One US nationalist blogger typically wrote in the Guardian,
'the issue is not the US military presence in South Korea, it's the blatant and outright ridiculous behaviour of North Korea (the US wasn't present when NK invaded SK in 1950). To somehow pin this on the US and the South Korean request for their assistance is not only ignorant of history but a delusion of reality'
It is simply not factual to maintain the US entered only in 1950. The US was present in South Korea after the defeat of Japan under a Military Government from 1945-48 It then set about shoring up a ROK regime that was undemocratic and consisted of collaborators with Japan after its occupation in 1910 and in the 1930s against China.

The US government imposed a government led by Syngman Rhee whose regime murdered some 100,000 Koreans in the south, lumping all those who resisted the regime as 'communists' despite the fact many were simply peasant rebels fighting landlords or trade unionists ( as in the Cholla rebellion of 1946 ).

Statistically, the ROK regime, which was not fully democratised until the 1980s, was responsible for more civilian deaths than even the North Korean communist guerrillas under Kim Il Sung managed.  The US ignored all this or turned a blind eye to it as part of its geopolitical strategy in East Asia.

The Truman administration arbitrarily set up the 38th parallel as a means to contain the communist threat and, in so doing, took direct sides in what was after 1945 a civil war within the entire Korean Peninsula between various Korean resistance forces against the Japanese and the elites who had collaborated.

Far from it only being aggression from Kim Il Sung, Syngman Rhee's regime was itching to invade the north and kill off as many in the resistance as possible and that only partially included the Korean communists who had fought along with Mao in China and has infiltrated south by 1949.

There were mutual skirmishes across the 38th parallel throughout the year preceding the outbreak of the Korean War that is remembered in the US as a discrete and time bound period of three years between 1950 and 1953. But it reflected the escalation of a civil war into a Great Superpower contest.

Moreover, though nothing justifies the conduct of the vile and repellant regime in Pyongyang, the arbitrary division of Korea, the failure to strike a peace treaty and the aggressive unilateralist policies of the George W Bush administration, with its 'Axis of Evil' and threats of bombing, retarded any political progress.

Indoctrination and having North Korea on a permanent war footing with its insane belligerence in part results from the collective trauma imposed on North Korea as MacArthur moved north in the war and the USAF blitzed dams and razed cities with incendiaries and napalm. Pyongyang was 75% destroyed.

ROK force atrocities against civilians in 1951 became so embarrassing to the US that it prevented newspaper correspondents reporting from the front. The atrocities carried out by the ROK police against civilians before 1950 occurred mostly in South Korea where the Jeju uprising was crushed with brutality in 1949.

The fact 30,000 South Koreans with no connection to North Korean communists were slaughtered as a the price for creating 'stability' also failed as Rhee's government agitated, against US wishes, to invade North Korea and it was this and North Korean antagonism that sparked off the war.

Apart from the environmental issues, this is why South Koreans have an ambiguous attitude towards US military presence and in the case of the Jeju naval base there has been resistance and criticism that has its origins partly in the historical memory and humiliation of 1949.

South Korea has a radical tradition and many oppose their government.  As the NY Times reported in 2011,
'anti-base activists from the Korean mainland suspect that the naval base will serve less as a shield against South Korea’s prime enemy, North Korea, than as an outpost for the United States Navy to project its power against China.
This is, of course, true as the US attempts, without expressly admitting it, that it is containing China: that is trying to dominate the East and South China seas, partly due to Chinese arrogance and resource grabs for oil and gas but also as the US wants to cut off oil tanker routes from the Middle East if China gets too uppity.

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