Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Chinese Food for Thought

Well . . . Chinese food rehashed by Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes, whom I quoted yesterday. I still haven't found time to read their article, but I've skimmed some parts. Here's something to chew on:

The prospect of Korean unification would introduce an additional complicating factor into China's political and strategic calculus. Allowing Taiwan to remain in unfriendly hands while Korea, the northern terminus of the first island chain, drifted toward the United States could well be an intolerable situation for Beijing. This would be especially true were American forces to remain on the peninsula after reunification, preventing China, in Lim's words, from reverting "to its historic role as suzerain of the peninsula." Chinese statesmen might well act to head off such an unpalatable state of affairs. (p. 139)

Unpalatable, eh? I like that -- it complements my food puns.

Anyway, to unpack this paragraph, I'll need to read the whole article, perhaps today, and report back. One possible implication is that China would give up North Korea if it could have Taiwan. But the part about American forces on the peninsula and China's historic suzerainty over Korea suggest a different implication, the one spelled out in the conclusion that I quoted yesterday:

It is even conceivable, if unlikely, that China would launch a limited military intervention in northern Korea in an effort to enhance its bargaining power over the future of the U.S. military presence. (p. 163)

This is conceivable if China thinks that it has the historical right of suzerainty over Korea.

I think that most Koreans have a presentiment of this Chinese attitude. Last night, I sat with my wife in our apartment's parking lot -- which had been transformed into a mini-carnival with food, drinks, kiosks, and even a 'Viking' ride -- drinking beer with several Korean couples who also live in this area. They discovered that I've been working on a project about Korean unification, and one of them discussed this with me:

"I think," he said, "that America does not want Korean unification."

"I've heard many Koreans say this," I replied, guiding the conversation toward a somewhat disingenuous question, "and it has always puzzled me. Why do Koreans think this?"

"America makes money from selling weapons," he explained, implying that we need a division of the Korean peninsula to keep our military-industrial complex running.

"Not that much money," I countered, without really having any idea how much it amounts to. "Besides, even if Korea becomes unified, the Korean and American alliance would continue because Korea needs it. Without America, who would be on Korea's side? China is a huge and rising power, and Korea will need a friend."

At this, the man nodded agreement. Koreans might not feel especially warm about the American alliance, but they're not as unrealistic as some commentators imply. Recall the many protests demanding revision of the SOFA rules? Note that -- as Norman Levin points out -- the protestors were "calling for treaty revision, rather than abrogation" (Yoshihara and Holmes, p. 158).

Not that there weren't some voices demanding abrogation . . .


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