United States “diplomacy” is in crisis over the Korean peninsula. The Trump administration is unlikely to achieve any realistic diplomatic success.
The election of President Moon Jae-in in the southern Republic of Korea (ROK) has confronted the US presidency with an administration pledged to prioritise Korean interests at the expense of unquestioning diplomatic compliance with Washington and the Pentagon.
Hostile US diplomacy toward the northern Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has raised the threat of nuclear war.
Behind the scenes the rise of China has continued to challenge traditional US hegemonic positions together with that of their regional allies.
The administration of President Moon Jae-in in the ROK has presented the US with a major challenge with policies which are 'keen to foster relations with both North Korea and China' as both countries are subject to US-imposed sanctions. (1) The US imperialists have historically used ROK military facilities for rapid deployment with their Defence of Japan doctrine. The Trump administration is now, however, confronted by President Moon Jae-in, a former Special Forces military official solidly backed by a centre-left administration elected on a pledge to re-open the Kaesong Trade Park. The park was a former joint ROK-DPRK venture largely financed by China. It was closed when further sanctions were imposed on the DPRK by the US.
The sanctions also included the closing of a joint ROK-DPRK 'hot-line' operating from Panmunjom with 'operators from both countries checking it twice a day' in the 'truce village'. (2) The hot-line has now re-opened. President Moon Jae-in has been noted for a position which has included 'long favoured engagement' with the DPRK while the US has imposed conditions upon all dialogue between the two countries. (3) Proposed dialogue between the ROK and DPRK, however, is re-commencing as of today, January 9, without pre-conditions.
Under such circumstances it is likely, therefore, diplomatic relations between the US and ROK will enter into a period of prolonged tension as the former attempts to influence the latter, with little success. The reasons are obvious. For over two decades, the ROK has been drawn closer to China through favourable trade relations. The election of President Moon Jae-in was the outcome of fundamental changes in the ROK political climate which would have been unthinkable in previous Cold War terms; Moon Jae-in, for example, was born in the DPRK.
The political situation has also played into the hands of those who oppose traditional US hegemonic positions on the Korean peninsula. The ROK National Intelligence Service (NIS) were long regarded as a major conduit for US involvement in South Korean politics. They have a murky past, based in state repression and corruption. Soon after the December, 2012 election of President Park Geun-hye allegations surfaced that 'the NIS played a part in Park's election'. (4) Several NIS agents were subsequently charged with posting thousands of tweets discrediting then opposition figure Moon Jae-in. He was not the US favoured candidate to win the presidential election.
Recent moves to charge Park Geun-hye 'with accepting millions of dollars’ worth of bribes from the state spy-agency' has further rebounded upon the US. (5) The fact that financial support from the NIS was apparently used 'to bankroll supporter groups' has revealed the nature of deep US-led intelligence penetration of ROK politics. (6) In true covert operation style, the illegal financing of a servile political support group was made possible by NIS agents delivering an estimated 50-200 million won every month 'in uncrowded car-parks or in back allies near the presidential Blue House'. (7) The election of President Moon Jae-in was, in part, a protest vote against traditional US diplomatic positions toward the ROK.
The US now has a tarnished image in the ROK, a position which will be useful for the Moon Jae-in administration as they pursue their own policies rather than the dictates of Washington.
It has been noted that the US imperialists are now worried about their 'economic and security interests' in the region due to the Moon Jae-in presidency seeking a 'more conciliatory leadership in South Korea that threatens to sideline the US'. (8)
A further problem confronting the Trump administration remains the anti-Japanese sentiment within the ROK, still running strong from the occupation of the peninsula during 1910-45. (9) Japan has become in recent years a major northern hub for US regional interests with Australia as a counterpart in the south. The triangular defence and security plan was designed to contain and encircle Chinese influence in the region and elsewhere. Recent increased Japanese defence budgets together with the re-interpretation of its pacifist constitution has been accompanied by a plan to move 'the Self Defence Forces closer to a conventional military' as part of US-led militarism across the region. (10)
China is also a major trading partner with the DPRK. The three-way relationship has also recently included an additional Russian Federation developing strong relations with the DPRK. Chinese diplomacy toward the Korean peninsula has shown no sign of drawing back; in fact it would appear to have been strengthened through time with favourable trade and the incompetence of the Trump administration. The US diplomatic position has shown no skill whatsoever at dealing with the complicated chessboard-like position of their adversaries. The failed US diplomatic position has also been accompanied by a similarly inept statement by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop that 'responsibility for tension and instability on the Korean peninsula lay solely with North Korea'. (11) Bishop made no reference to the changing balance of forces across the peninsula and wider region.
Threats, by Trump, to 'totally destroy' Pyongyang with a nuclear attack appear to have backfired upon the US. (12) In reality, Trump has been made to look foolish by not being able to deal with the DPRK and having no realistic options other than attempting to maintain the existing status quo.
The existing status quo, however, is slowing slipping from the grasp of Washington and the Pentagon with far-reaching implications for regional allies. Recent statements from retired General Jim Molan that the 'US is too weak to defend us', have raised serious questions about Australian defence and security planning. (13) While Molan has claimed 'the US remains the centre of our defence policy', he has also acknowledged 'we need to defend our national interests independently' together with 'the US desperately needs strong allies'. (14) Traditional US power has now been eclipsed.
With Molan now set to become a Senator in Canberra next month his views are likely to be taken seriously. Australia, as a result, will then be in a position where tax-payers will be expected to pay for a larger defence budget to police 'US interests' in the region with Japanese assistance. It does not take a great deal of political imagination to envisage a scenario where the US will sit in the Pentagon and plan wars for their lackeys to fight in the Asia-Pacific region.
With estimated GDP growth in China virtually tripling that of the US this year, the likelihood of US-led military hostilities in region is a very real danger.
We should be on our guard!
1. Arms Sales, The New Daily, 3 January 2018.
2. North Korea reopens hotline to the South, Australian, 4 January 2018.
4. Koreans voice discontents, The Guardian Weekly, (U.K.), 17 January 2014.
5. South Korean president 'took bribes from spies', Australian, 5 January 2018.
8. New Daily, op.cit., 3 January 2018.
10. Chinese alarm if Japan rearms, Australian, 28 December 2017.
11. Kim vow to mass produce warheads, Australian, 2 January 2018; and, New Daily, op.cit., 3 January 2018.
13. US too weak to defend us: Molan, Australian, 4 January 2018.
14. A stronger Australia can be a more useful U.S. ally, Australian, 4 January 2018.