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South Korea in China’s Strategic Calculus Analysed

Paper No. 6265                               Dated 31-May-2017

By Dr Subhash Kapila

China’s strategic calculus imperatives dictate that South Korea never achieves reunification with North Korea and hence the futility of any of South Korea’s episodic “Sunshine Policies”.

Addedly, China’s destabilising forays in the South China Sea and in the East China Sea closer home to South Korea should provide future pointers to South Korea of Chines overall designs in North East Asia. Can South Korea ignore these danger signals?

Within a year of Communist China’s monolithic and authoritarian regime emerging in Beijing, China militarily intervened in the Korean War not only to ensure that its Communist buffer and proxy state of North Korea survives as a buffer state but also as a major  military offensive to bring the whole of the Korean Peninsula under a Communist regime. Hence Communist China’s military push all the way to the southern-most Pusan perimeter. The tide was turned by General MacArthur’s militarily historic and epic landings at Incheon completely outflanking the Communists drive to the Southern tip of South Korea.

This forced Communist Chinese forces to recoil and further pushed by General MacArthur-led UN Forces to virtually all the awry upto the Yalu River. General MacArthur‘s plans to cross Yalu River were negated by USPresident Truman who relieved General MacArthur of command. History would have been different today. Be  as it may, the fact still remains that South Korea figures even more critically in Chia’s strategic calculus today as China wishes to establish its hegemony.

South Korea is the sheet-anchor of the United States security architecture in the Western Pacific along with Japan. In fact South Korea scores over Japan in one sense that its hosting of US MilitaryForces both US Army and US Air Force of over 40,000 strong provides the United States with a strong foot-hold on Asian mainland proper. Further, that this nucleus of US Forces permanently in location in close proximity of North Korea and China also provides the opportunity of being reinforced by additional US military intervention forces should North Korea attempt military adventurism against South Korea.

South Korea should not forget that its stupendous economic growth was and is being made possible by the security cover being provided by its American security linkages against constant North Korean destabilising moves initiated against it. Notable is also the fact that China even at the height of South Korea’s “Sunshine Policies” of the past made no substantial moves to restrain its proxy state of North Korea from its disruptive acts against South Korea.

China resorted to clandestine build-up of North Korean nuclear weapons and missile forces so that its Communist proxy state not only achieves deterrence against the United States but also provides China with strategic bargaining leverages against the United States. In the process China has made possible a constant Damocles Sword hanging over South Korean security.

South Korea today stands as a shining bulwark of a military power in its own right and as a vibrant economy built in the initial stages with massive US and Japanese FDI. To this, when added, United States solid security commitments to South Korea, the picture becomes greatly militarily disadvantageous for China.

China’s strategic calculus on South Korea therefore has been driven by twin aims of either weaning away South Korea completely from the United States security orbit or at a very minimum weakening and diluting South Korea’s security linkages with the United States.

China’s welcoming therefore of the episodic “Sunshine Policies” by different South Korean Presidents is stimulated by the above strategic aims. South Korea’s “Sunshine Policies” essentially aim at peace and reconciliation with North Korea.

South Korea needs to ask a few questions to itself in this direction (1) Is North Korea amenable for peaceful reconciliation with South Korea without a Chinses approval (2) Will China ever concede a peaceful reconciliation of the Korean Peninsula where South Korea with its economic strengths and comparable military strengths with North Korea would be the dominating partner (3) Can South Korea by weakening its security ties with the United States be able to stand alone and tall against the combined might of North Korea and China, and (4) Is China ready to give primacy to South Korea’s security imperatives over Chines strategic calculus blueprint end-aims?

The resounding answer to all of the above questions is is in the negative given the contemporary geopolitical churning taking pace.

South Korea would be well-advised to forsake its episodic ‘Sunshine Policies’ initiated by different Presidents on assuming office. The last “Sunshine Policies” episode did not bring any political or strategic gains for South Korea and nor will a new one.

Concluding. It needs to be stressed that South Korea’s best political, strategic and economic interests and future are best served by its security linkages with  the United States and further a complete rapprochement with Japan to provide a strong counterweight to the menacing China Threat in the Region.

 

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