Asia Today

The Korea that can say “No”

 January 27, 2017

Emanuel Pastreich

 

Back in the 1989 the Japanese conservative politician Ishihara Shintaro wrote a best seller entitled The Japan that can say “No” in which he argued that Japan was punching beneath its weight. He imagined a self-confident Japan that was capable of refusing unreasonable demands from the United States and maintained a healthy equal relationship.

Ishihara is a cynical right-wing politician, but there is something of real relevance for the Republic of Korea today in his words.

The rise of the Trump administration means that Korea must be able to say “no.”

Members of Trump administration has made hostile statements about China that are so out of line with American policy, and so provocative, that Korea cannot have anything to do with its actions.

James Mattis, secretary of defense in the Donald Trump administration, will visit Seoul next week to make a series of demands for cooperation from a headless Korean government. It is clear that drawing Korea into an alliance with Japan to confront China militarily is at the top of his list. Moreover, Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson and the White House have demanded that China must leave the islands that it claims in the South China sea. They said explicitly that the United States will make China leave.

These statements are so extreme that many are wondering whether or not they are dreaming. But there is no doubt as to the meaning of those words:  They are the equivalent of a declaration of war.

If Korea values its future, it had better learn to say “no” very quickly.

Korea has a long relationship with China and there are numerous exchanges in business, academics, local government and NGOs that contribute to the well-being of Korea. Korea has deep economic ties with China that continue to deepen and mature. It is absolute necessity to maintain them.

The Trump administration is planning to confront China over its actions in the South China Seas on a set of islands to which the United States has no claim.

The conflicts in claims over the islands date back into the past and are similar to other conflicts over islands elsewhere in the world that are managed successfully.

The United States can play a positive role in the security of East Asia, and China is not opposed to such a role. But China does not dispute the United States possession of Hawaii and the United States should not dispute China’s claims in the South China Sea.

The very concept that China is an enemy that must be contained is an irrational policy promoted by cynical militarists and it must be opposed. China is not just a country; it is one sixth of the Earth’s population. Not only is China committed to most global institutions, it plays by the rules of international law far better than the United States.

As an American who studied Chinese at Yale College and Harvard University and who has taught Asian studies in the United States for ten years, I take pride in the long tradition of cooperation between the United States and China.

I was inspired as an undergraduate at Yale by the work of the Yale-China Association which has promoted educational exchanges with China since 1901. The United States defended China in the face of the imperialist powers in the early 20th century and supported China in the war against Japanese imperialism. The United States also insisted that China must be a founding member of the United Nations.

China is taking the lead in the response to climate change these days and has shown itself to be an active member of international efforts to promote peace as shown in Xi Jinping’s call for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

The position of the Trump administration is entirely out of line with the international community, with the American tradition. We must clearly voice our opposition.

Barack Obama and Xi Jinping signed a critical agreement for cooperation between China and the United States last year that included military-military exchanges and joint plans for the response to climate change. That agreement reflects the direction that US-China relations should move.

China and the United States must work together with Korea to assure stability and prosperity in East Asia. Three countries must respect each other’s concerns and put together a far-sighted plan for the future.

If anyone in the United States, or elsewhere, suggests otherwise, we must firmly and unambiguously disagree.

I have been a strong supporter of the US-Korea Alliance and I am a director at the Korean American Association. The future for the United States and for Korea is with Asia and close cooperation with China is essential for our future success.

 

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