Liberty Expose: The Geopolitical Olympics
The Winter Olympics are developing a habit of hosting the games in the most contested regions of the world. The last winter games were hosted by Russia in 2014 – the same year Russian invaded and annexed Crimea, sparking fears of a greater invasion of Europe. This round of Olympics is no different. The Korean peninsula and the rest of Asia have been under the shadow of plummeting into a great power conflict for years. The main instigator of these fears has been China, which has seen a stark rise in power there last two decades.
Parallel to China’s rise was the increasingly unpredictable Kim regime, now led by the most volatile Kim, Kim Jung-un. The most powerful nation in the region remains the United States, but America must concentrate on a determined policy for the region, or risk another power conflict – the first since World War II. This can start with taming Chinese ambitions.
In recent years China has made no attempt to disguise their ambitions in the South China Sea. The main target of Chinese hegemony has been the uninhabited Senkaku islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines. China has attempted to execute their annexation by violating international law and building islands in the sea to serve has unsinkable aircraft carriers.
This has made the United States, along with other powers in the region nervous. Aside from China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and the United States, Malaysia, Japan, and Taiwan all claim interest in the South China Sea, and nations such as Singapore rely on the Sea has their instrument of economic prosperity.
The South China Sea is the most trafficked shipping lane in the world, which makes in the ultimate target for the powers influenced by Alfred Mahan’s theory that sea power is the perquisite to geopolitical dominance. The threat from China has drastically altered the dynamics of the region: Japan, which served as a symbol for pacifism after their defeat in World War II, has launched an arms build-up to counter the threat from China (and North Korea).
The Philippines, a traditionally American ally has cozied up to China due to the pandering of the Philippine populist president Rodrigo Duterte. Almost as much as an anomaly, the relationship between Vietnam and the United States has never been stronger. Strange what a common threat will do for diplomacy.
There is no region in the world riper with the great power politics of the 19th century than East and Southeast Asia. America must make it blatantly apparent to China that it is still the hegemon of the region, and it has no plans to leave. Towards the end of Barack Obama’s tenure in office, his administration made it a habit of not respecting the man-made islands in the South China Sea. This also presents America with a diplomatic opportunity.
American policy must capitalize on the bloody rivalry between China and Vietnam, and appeal to the later as an ally. Not only will it give both nations more advantages, the American influence could pull Vietnam’s government and society in a more liberal direction. There is even more opportunity of breaking bread between old enemies. America should also work to foster a closer relationship between Japan and South Korea.
The division between Japan and South Korea is almost completely cultural. The two nations do not serve as a threat to one another; on the contrary, both nations face the common enemy of North Korea, which has harmed the people of both Japan and South Korea. Despite this, polls of South Koreans continually find that Japan has a deplorable favorability rating amongst the South Korean public – even North Korea has a higher approval rating than Japan. The animosity is rooted in the Japanese colonialization in Japan that ran from 1910 to 1945. Like much of the people under Japanese occupation, the occupier proved to be brutal guest.
This legacy has compelled South Korea to cleanse itself for Japanese influence in almost every realm, despite the decades of harmony that has existed between the two nations. There is hope that this trend will surrender to the needs of rationality as Japan and South Korea have never faced a North Korean regime this hostile. North Korea has harmed both countries since he ends of open hostilities in 1953. Multiple Japanese civilians have been kidnapped by North Korean agents and forced to serve as language instructors in DPRK espionage centers. South Korea has been subjected by even more blatant attacks. South Korean border towns have by bombarded by North Korean mortars, and North Korean agents operate against South Koreans in South Korea. One incident included North Korean agents attempting to assassinate the Korean president.
Building cooperation against North Koreas has proven to be a disappointing task. As the Kim regime has become more volatile, it was hoped that China would be more cooperative in takin action against the regime. But much the efforts done have been superficial. China understands the improbability that the Kim regime would strike America or is allies. Such a scheme would be suicidal, and the Kim regime has proven to be component in self-preservation. Additionally, China does not want having the United States on their border, should North Korea fall.
A reasonable policy solution would be for China to remove the Kim regime yet still maintain North Korea as an independent state. Such a state would preferably give North Koreans a similar political existence as their Chinese counterparts. It will still be a dictatorship, but I will not be the oversized gulag that north Korea is today. Such a plan would also allow the Untied State to decrease power on the continent, as America would no longer have to worry about the use of nuclear weapons.
With the fatalism that dominates international news, Americans should take some comfort in that the U.S. maintains the most power force in the region. Through the adversity of geopolitics, America has the opportunity to expand free trade and the freedoms associated with it. There is an opportunity to help restore broken relations, and secure peace for our posterity. Failure to do so – to ignore America’s role in the world, and to look inward, will only lead to destabilization and the increased chance of war. Peace can be kept in Asia, but America must make it clear that it is willing to do whatever is necessary to keep it.