America’s Spirit Invincible; China’s Still Puzzling

America stages large military exercises with South Korea while China’s views on the North are unclear.

South Korea and the United States will launch a major, four-day naval exercise in the Sea of Japan this weekend, coinciding with the annual regional forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Hanoi, Vietnam. Tension in East Asia has remained high in recent months especially after North Korea’s sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan last March.

The Cheonan incident is likely to dominate the ASEAN summit which will be attended by all Southeast Asian states as well representatives from China, Europe, Russia and of State Secretary Hillary Clinton for the United States.

North Korea, which has denied attacking the Cheonan and threatened with “all out war” should the South respond militarily to its sinking, is expected to dispatch its top diplomat to the annual security meeting.

A draft declaration that was obtained by Agence France-Presse ahead of the forum expresses a “deep concern” with the sinking of the South Korean ship but doesn’t call for sanctions. The South would like the forum to condemn North Korea for the attack. Few analysts expect that it will. Rather the draft calls for the “utmost restraint” and reaffirms support for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

Judging from a joint statement released by defense secretaries Robert Gates of the United States and Kim Tae-young of South Korea on Tuesday, “restraint” is hardly an appropriate response according to these two countries. They announced military exercises “designed to send a clear message to North Korea that its aggressive behavior must stop, and that we are committed to together enhancing our combined defensive capabilities.”

The series of maritime and air readiness exercises, named Invincible Spirit, will involve some 8,000 military personnel from both countries and eighteen ships including the USS George Washington carrier strike group forward deployed at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Over a hundred aircraft will also partake in the exercise, including the new F-22 Raptor fighter plane.

Whether Invincible Spirit will manage to deter North Korea is doubtful. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell admitted as much, noting that “what makes North Korea so challenging and at times, so confounding” is that it “doesn’t care how it is viewed by the rest of world and doesn’t care how it treats its own people,” making it extremely difficult to gain leverage.

“At the same time,” said Morrell, “none of us wants to fight another war on the peninsula and clearly none of us — certainly the Chinese — are interested in instability on the peninsula.”

China favors stability before anything else yet as the North’s only friend in the region, its position is pivotal. In the wake of the Cheonan incident, it has become more difficult for Beijing not to accept the regime’s culpability. As The Economist opined last May, it no longer has an “excuse” to take Kim Jong-il’s claims of innocence at face value.

While its interest should compel China to side with ASEAN — having just signed a free-trade agreement in January — there are still hardliners within the Communist Party and the Chinese military who sympathize with their ideological counterparts in Korea. There is a chance for ASEAN and the United States to exploit the divide among China’s leaders over how to cope with North Korea’s mounting bellicosity however and have the internationalists prevail.

Foreign Ministry bureaucrats and politicians with ties to international trade want China to maintain a stable relation with the West. They understand that the country can’t simultaneously continue to support a rogue and desperate regime that will continue to invent crises to ensure its survival but undermine stability in all of East Asia in the process. China’s posturing at this weekend’s regional forum and, perhaps more telling, its reaction to the joint South Korea-US military exercise, may shed some light on whether the internationalists are gaining strength.

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Comments

  1. First thing first. There is no evidence at all that the Chenonan was sunk by North Korean. On the other hand there is plenty of evidence that the sinking is due to a unexploded mine, which thousand were left unaccounted for since the Korean War. The place of incident happened to be an area where South Korea and American will be conducting war exercise and were condone at the material time.
    2 Questions :-
    1. Were the North Korean so reckless that they wanted to breached this security zone knowing very well their sub (as contended by the Western and South Korean military) is obsolete compare to American or even South Korean one.
    2. Were North Korea so reckless that they did not even care for the safety of their own sailors in the sub, if what was contented by the US/S Korean were true?

    All this accusation against North Korea were in breach of principles of natural justice (ask President Obama, a Harvard graduate) in condemning North Korea without giving her a chance to be heard (in fact N Korea flatly reject the sinking had anything to do with them)

    In addition P Obama recklessly blame P Hu JIntao as “wilful blindness” in not condemning N Korea. “Get rid the logs from your eyes before you accuse another of having speck in their eyes” So says the Bible.

    Good day. God bless America.

  2. Joseph, there’s actually little doubt that the North sunk the Cheonan. Read this entry of mine.

    Were the North Korean so reckless that they wanted to breached this security zone knowing very well their sub (as contended by the Western and South Korean military) is obsolete compare to American or even South Korean one.

    Recklessness is North Korea’s middle again. I’m again going to refer you to another article about why North Korea will keep inventing crises.

    Were North Korea so reckless that they did not even care for the safety of their own sailors in the sub, if what was contented by the US/S Korean were true?

    Probably. Almost the entire North Korean population is slowly dying from starvation. The regime obviously doesn’t care about the health, let alone the safety, of its people. Why would that be any different for its sailors?

    All this accusation against North Korea were in breach of principles of natural justice […] in condemning North Korea without giving her a chance to be heard […]

    North Korea has had a chance to be heard. It’s flat out denied all accusations.

  3. Let’s look at the history and evidence of the usual suspects, US and NK

    1. No evidence exists that there was a NK sub nearby or that NK fired any weapon that sunk the Cheonan. SK investigation claims it wasa NK torpedo but a torpedo launch would surely have been heard and its run detected as it takes several minutes to explode.

    2. No practical motive exists for NK to attack SK which also invests in its territory.

    3. Obviously this looks like another covert and sophisticated naval attack on another country. Who has the capability AND history of doing this aside from NK? US – naval attacks on Vietnam, Libya, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq and the accidental sinking of a Japanese tourist boat off Hawaii
    Israel – sinking of USS Liberty in 1967. UK – the only known nuclear sub attack in history during the Falklands War.

    4. Who would stand to gain from this incident? USA, Israel. 2 of the largest arms dealers in the world who profit from war and chaos. Case in history: the 2 countries were co-conspirators in providing covert aid to the Mujahideen fighting the USSR in Afghanistan in the ’80’s. US needed the strategic location of Afghan as it borders its enemy Iran and USSR then. If the US can conquer NK, she will be able to put up bases and spy on China or directly threaten her in the future.

  4. LOL! That’s one ingenious plot, “concernedcitizen.” Except that it’s complete and utter bogus.

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