Let's Get Free

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“Let’s Get Free” is the name of the oppression-hating, Black people loving, revolutionary album by hip hop group Dead Prez. Its title refers to Black freedom from US racism and imperialism. After 70 years of division into opposing pawns at the service of our larger neighbors, the message also applies to Koreans. Let us diagnose our condition and find a way to get free.

The United States possesses the World Bank and IMF; China just got the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to build a New Silk Road integrating itself to markets and production across three continents. China and the US is each racing to capture the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific. The US is increasing its military prowess by strengthening military alliances and forming new ones with countries around China; China builds artificial islands on the South China Seas and long range missiles to keep US aerial and naval power at bay. In this game of chess, neither can defeat the other for their fates are interlocked: the US needs China’s loans; China needs US consumption. Amidst them stands North and South Korea: Birthed out of US Empire, and baptized into pawns for China and the US through war. If Koreans are to liberate themselves and realize self-determination, they must unite and help establish a peace regime that guarantees national sovereignty for all nations.

To understand the China-US relationship which Korea is enmeshed in, it is important to understand China’s limitations and its struggles to overcome them. In the words of Professor Hae Young Lee (Hanshin University International Relations), “China is big but not strong.” While its extraordinary GDP growth means it will surpass the US’s economy after 2020,[ref]http://www.forbes.com/sites/currentevents/2013/09/17/once-china-catches-up-what-then/[/ref] it lacks the technological and organizational ability to lead the global supply chains that drive the world’s economy. Until it achieves such ability, China will remain a big cog in global supply chains led by the US, Japan, and South Korea.

Nonetheless, China is working to lay the foundations for such a future. In September 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the New Silk Road Economic Belt in Astana, Kazakhstan, a small part of a New Silk Road connecting Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe through land and maritime routes. 58 countries joined the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) that will fund it. Present amongst them were most of Western Europe and, more importantly South Korea,[ref]According to Jeong, Chinese President Xi Jinping had invited Korea to participate in the AIIB when he met with Korean President Park Geun Hye in October 2014. Yet, a simple fax from the US kept South Korea from joining. It wasn’t until Germany, England, and France joined with their deep pockets, that the draw to join the AIIB overcame US protestations, and South Korea joined in March 2015.[/ref] Australia, and New Zealand – traditional US allies that joined despite US protestations. The overwhelming draw of this fund indicates its potential weight in connecting production and markets across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. In the process, China not only draws neighboring states (wary of China’s regional ambitions) closer, but through the AIIB, it creates financial alternatives to the Japan-dominated Asian Development Bank (a part of US financial architecture based on the World Bank and IMF). Furthermore, in November 2014, China announced it would race the US in bringing together countries in the Asia-Pacific region under one Free Trade Area of Asia Pacific (FTAAP).

The Pivot to Asia is a response to China’s rising. In November 2011, the United States declared it would refocus its military might from the Middle East to Asia. Economically, it would reassert its hegemony in Asia by integrating Asian countries into a Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) that would build an economic regime determined by the United States. Militarily, the US would check China’s expansion by shifting a majority of US aerial and naval power into the Asia-Pacific region[ref]As of 2014, the US has deployed 104 ships (of its 290-ship fleet) around the world, with 50 of them in the Asia-Pacific. By 2020, it will deploy 67 of them to the Asia-Pacific. http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-us-pivot-to-asia-the-china-specter-and-the-australian-american-alliance/5400406[/ref] supplemented by strengthening military alliances and forming new ones with countries around China. According to Jeong Yeon Wook (Chair of the Yongsan District Branch of the Justice Party), the US’s economic deficit limits its military spending. To overcome such limitations, the US is allowing Japan to remilitarize and abandon its peace constitution[ref]After its defeat in World War II, Japan was only allowed a military for defensive purposes.[/ref] in exchange for the latter sharing the burden of containing China.

Despite these rivalries, China and the US depend on each other. The US depends on China to keep funding its consumption through the latter’s purchase of US Treasury bonds; China needs US foreign direct investment and US consumers. As of December 2014, China funded 1.2 trillion dollars in loans of the $13 trillion US debt.[ref]https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS22331.pdf[/ref] China needs US multinational corporations to build and manage factories in China not only because of the investment but also because of the technology and management that are transferred and learnt in the process. Most importantly, China needs US consumers to keep buying its products.

Yet, co-dependence may not be enough to overcome US and China’s aggressive military postures and prevent war. US military dominance is based on its ability to project power (e.g. aircraft carriers, fighter jets, warships, drones, ground forces) anywhere in the world. China’s Anti-Access (A2) and Area Denial (AD) strategy seeks to deflect such power projection from maritime areas surrounding China. Anti-Access uses missiles to keep the US from approaching the area of conflict. Area Denial immobilizes US military through sea mines, submarines, warships, and missiles once they are present at the conflict area. For a superpower that depends on its ability to rain down destruction anywhere in the world, A2/AD is an affront and threat. The US counter-strategy is escalation. Its Air Sea Battle counterstrategy would first blind China by taking out its reconnaissance capabilities, then it would neutralize the missile systems in China’s mainland. A conflict between China and Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, could quickly escalate if the US joined to support Japan.

If the conflict escalated into a war between China on one side and the United States on the other, South Korea would become a target of Chinese A2 attack through the US bases in its territory. More recently, South Korea is being pressured from the US to buy[ref] Jeong explains, “Lockheed Martin came with the US government to urge South Korea to buy its THAAD system.”[/ref] and install a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). The US’s claims that THAAD’s purpose is to neutralize North Korea’s missile capabilities ring false since THAAD is aimed at high-altitude missiles (North Korea’s missiles, if launched, would be faster shorter-altitude ones). The more likely reality that THAAD would be used to neutralize China’s missile capability as part of the US’s ASB has irked China which pressured South Korea to not adopt THAAD. The Park Administration has remained vague and ambivalent in its answer. Jeong explains the government’s dilemma: while President Park’s conservative base fears upsetting its military ally the US, the owners of the chaebols fear upsetting its greatest consumer China. Furthermore, if a conflict broke out between China and the US, and their aggressive postures led to war, THAAD would make South Korea a Chinese target.

Professor Jeong Cheol Lee (Soongsil University Political Science and International Relations) lays out another possible scenario: Peace between China and the US. “I don’t want this scenario,” he exclaims, then explains: Such peace could mean that China and the US negotiate the fate of other countries in the region. In the past, such “gentleman’s agreements” served devastating blows to national sovereignty.[ref]The 1905 Taft-Katsura Agreement between US Secretary of War William Howard Taft and Japanese Prime Minister Katsura Taro allowed Korea to be colonized by Japan and the Philippines to be colonized by the US.[/ref] In fact, such a scenario might perpetuate Korean tragedy by maintaining division, with China taking North Korea and the US taking South Korea.

Getting Free is not easy. Acknowledging the daunting magnitude of such challenge, one of the songs in “Let’s Get Free” confidently re-assures, “You’ll Find a Way.” Faced with either war or enslavement, Koreans must find a path out of conflict and irrelevance and into freedom. To do so, we must build a peace regime in East Asia that respects national sovereignty. Such a peace regime must start by ending the Korean War. Yet, ending the Korean War won’t be easy because peace eliminates the pretext for US and Japan’s militarization, and inter-Korean cooperation/coordination (and possibly reunification) introduces a stronger unpredictable actor for China.[ref]Jeong explains, “China doesn’t want a reunified Korea because a reunified Korea would be unpredictable: whether it would go towards the US, or China, or Japan.”[/ref] These governments prefer managed tension over resolution. How then can South Korea reach out to a willing North Korea to establish peace in the Korean Peninsula and then the rest of East Asia, based on self-determination?

“The US can twist South Korea’s arm, but it can’t break it. Breaking it would greatly inconvenience the US,” explains Hanshin’s Professor Lee. While it would be difficult, South Korea nonetheless has the political wiggle room to connect with its more independently spirited Northern brethren. It just needs the political will to persevere through the pressure. “If right now we have 10% of political independence, then 100% is not possible, but we can go up to 30 or 40%,” continues Hanshin’s Professor Lee. To do this, South Korea needs to strengthen its political constitution.

As Hanshin’s Professor Lee explains it is possible for South Korea to persevere through US economic and political pressure. To do so requires a vision which a majority of people support. For a vision of peace, reconciliation, and self determination to take root in South Korea  requires not only a government with the courage and vision to break free from US military dependence and subjugation, but also a mandate from the people. To do so Koreas must remember our common history, identity, and humanity. As the slogan for the recent 6.15 declaration anniversary celebrations stated, “Reunification happens when we meet.” Meeting, reconciliation, and cooperation bring us together. The Park Administration must open the doors for improving inter-Korean relations. It must accept North Korea’s calls for a joint investigation into the sinking of the Cheonan Corvette[ref]The South Korean corvette sunk in the West/Yellow Sea during a US-South Korea war exercise in March 2010. A South Korean-led official investigation carried out by a team of experts from South Korea, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Sweden concluded that a North Korean torpedo had sunk the ship. North Korea has denied the results of the investigation and has offered to also conduct an international joint investigation with South Korea. The South Korean government has refused and imposed the 5.24 economic sanctions against North Korea cutting off exchange between the two.[/ref] and dismantle its 5.24 sanctions against North Korea. Only through peaceful reunification will we, Koreans, be able to set our course. Let’s get free!

Special Thanks to Professor Hae Yong Lee (Hanshin University International Relations, ISC Advisor), Professor Jeong Cheol Lee (Soongsil University Political Science and International Relations), and Jeong Yeon Wook (Yongsan District Chair of the Justice Party, ISC Advisor) for their time and insights.

written by Dae-Han Song (chief editor, World Current Report)