Thursday, September 20, 2018

Korean Peninsula: US imperialism losing initiative as two Koreas move closer


The high-level diplomacy taking place between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Democratic People's Republic of Korean (DPRK) is an important development for the Korean people. The peninsula has been divided for decades while the Cold War has burned very hot; the ROK was, and remains, part of US-led military and security planning to serve 'US interests' in the Asia-Pacific region.

The recent diplomacy, however, has to be studied in a broader context: the aggressive position of the US toward China, the tipping of the balance of forces against the US across the wider region and the position of Australia.

In mid-September, ROK president Moon Jae-in travelled to Pyongyang to meet DPRK leader Kim Jong-un, following months of diplomatic statements and preparations. It was the third visit by Moon Jae-in to the DPRK since taking office. The high-level diplomacy was intended to reduce long-standing tensions between the two countries, which eventually led to a commitment by the DPRK to dismantle nuclear facilities, 'if the US takes reciprocal measures'. (1)  
There were, however, other items of the agenda of the high-level diplomatic visit which revealed far more about plans by both the ROK and DPRK for the future of the peninsula.
Carefully-worded media releases revealed intentions to 'the repair of their road and rail links, the building of pipelines through the North to send Russian gas to the South, and the revival of visits to the North by South Korean tourists', suggesting moves toward a growing unity across the divided peninsula. (2)
The media release also drew attention to negotiations to increase trade between the two countries by reopening the Kaesong Trade Park in the North, financed by the ROK and China, which is intended by President Moon Jae-in to, 'be a prelude to investment by ROK firms in economic zones throughout the DPRK'. (3) The high-level diplomacy can be regarded as an important achievement for President Moon Jae-in who pledged the plans as part of his successful election campaign last year, even though they ran counter to United States’ imposition of an embargo and blockade of the DPRK.
Behind the scenes the rise of China has altered the balance of forces on the Korean peninsula. China is now a major player in the ROK economy: investment from Beijing rose 374 per cent to US$631 m in 2014, from US$133m in 2013 and US$28m in 2010. (4) While the rapid increase in investment from China has now dropped, the ROK has been drawn increasingly into the Chinese sphere of influence. (5)

Despite a high-level diplomatic meeting between president Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong-un, in Singapore in June, the US, in reality, has little intention or ability to resolve the problems on the Korean peninsula. The US lacks the initiative and has been out-manoeuvred by developments; it have been forced out by an assertive ROK president, an DPRK leader eager to resolve problems and China as a major regional player with the Korean peninsula.
The Russian Federation has also become a player on the Korean peninsula: historically supportive of the DPRK, Moscow has recently pledged to also forge closer links with Beijing. (6) The recent joint military exercises with Russia and China have been accompanied with joint investment programs and official media releases from Beijing have stated that 'China and Russia could create a vital influence when the two countries worked together with a unified stance on global issues. (7)
Under such circumstances it is not difficult to understand the response from the US imperialists: they are faced with dilemmas and a presidential administration with a limited ability to deal with matters in a competent manner.
In fact, US foreign policy toward the DPRK and the wider region shows an inability to 'formulate a clear response' to the rise of China as 'America's leadership in Asia is rapidly dwindling'. (8) An official media release from Canberra recently acknowledged the problem with a statement from former Trade Minister Andrew Robb who said  'US attempts to contain China were futile and counter-productive'. (9)
The problem was clearly shown when Trump cancelled a visit to Pyongyang by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in August. There was nothing new to say as they invoked a trade war with China which will further isolate them across the Asia-Pacific region. Secondly, the DPRK has undergone some economic reforms which have included the opening of 436 officially-sanctioned marketplaces since the 1990s which have also assisted their ability to counter US-imposed sanctions. (10)
The ROK has subsequently seized upon new opportunities opened by the developments: the Moon Jae-in administration announced before their latest high-level diplomatic visit their intention to reopen a government office in the DPRK. It was not an idle gesture, but a carefully-planned diplomatic initiative with mutually beneficial economic considerations. The proposed 'joint liaison office' was situated inside the Kaesong Trade Park and composed of about twenty ROK citizens and an almost equal number of DPRK counterparts, 'organising joint projects agreed by Kim Jong-un and President Moon Jae-in in April'. (11)
While it has been noted that 'talks between Pyongyang and Washington have reached an impasse', the joint liaison office at Kaesong announced their role in providing, 'round-the-clock consultation and a communication channel for advancing inter-Korean relations, easing military tensions and establishing peace'. (12)
Following the historic signing of an agreement between the ROK and DPRK at the end of the high-level diplomatic talks which included the creation of 'a joint military commission aimed at reducing tensions', and a firm commitment to establishing the Korean peninsula as a 'land of peace', the notion of ROK serving the military needs and security of 'US interests' was pushed a very long way down the agenda. (13)
Enlightened commentary about the role of Australia and its sycophantic relationship with Washington and the Pentagon has already noted that developments in the region such as Korea have implications for leaving 'Australia's whole foreign policy, which depends completely on US strength, in tatters'. (14)
We require an independent foreign policy with the utmost urgency.
See also: Joint Declaration Signed by Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and President Moon Jae In here
1.     North Korea to dismantle nuclear facilities, The New Daily, 19 September 2018.
2.     Keeping hope alight: Moon out to shine at summit with Kim, Australian, 18 September 2018.
3.     Ibid.
4.     Chinese investment in SK, The Business Insider, 15 March 2015.
5.     Bloomberg Markets, 12 October 2017; and, China's South Korea Investment, South China Morning Post, 15 March 2015.
6.     China, Russia to strengthen ties, Australian, 13 September 2018.
7.     Ibid.
8.     Australia's weak leadership will carry foreign policy costs, The Straits Times, 24 May 2018.
9.     Bring US, Asia together or pay the price: Robb, Australian, 3 July 2018.
10.   Moneyed elite key to N Korea revival, Australian, 28 August 2018; and, Kim slips the sanctions knot as nuclear talks stall, Australian, 19 September 2018.
11.   S Korea to open first office in the North, Australian, 14 September 2018.
12.   Ibid.
13.   Kim agrees to nuclear monitoring, Australian, 20 September 2010; and, New Daily, op.cit., 19 September 2018.
14.   Straits Times, op.cit., 24 May 2018.

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