Category Archives: Today in China

Labor and Slavery using Chinese (the case of the “coolies”)


Emanuel Pastreich

February 25, 2017

We are increasingly seeing a return to cruel and inhuman approach to human labor that produced industrial slavery in the 19th century. In effect, humans were used as a complement to the coal-driven engine for their physical strength at that time.We are seeing such actions taken regarding humans now tied to the computer-driven global economy.

The exploitation of Africans then is well known. That of Chinese, less so. This passage from the book “American Involvement in the Coolie Trade” is most revealing. Of course American companies are still involved in similar exploitation of Chinese workers today–even at the same time that China is presented as an enemy.

People seeking profit were able to do the most terrible things to other humans using the thinnest of arguments about how some humans where less equal than others, and they did it for centuries. I wanted to believe that humans have a strand of goodness in them that can be awakened when confronted with truth, but it turns out that such a process only works on rare occasions.

If we look at the slave trade, the British captured people and sent them over piled in boats knowing that half would die on the trip.But the profits were sufficient to do it for three hundred years.The move against slavery only emerged slowly and was only successful because the industrial revolution made slavery less profitable.

The passage below describes the guano caves where Chinese slave labor was forced to work. Guano is the piles of excrement of seabirds, seals or bats and has a high concentration of nitrogen and phosphates that make it a perfect fertilizer for intense farming. So also were Chinese drafted into the whaling industry which slaughtered whales to the edge of extinction in the pursuit of their oil which was used for lighting. That whale oil trade was the forerunner of the petroleum industry which continues to dominate our economy.

The irrational drive for profit at any cost, to the degree that it became obsessive, was the topic of Herman Meville’s novel Moby Dick. The captain of the boat Pequod in Moby Dick is the captain Ahab, who remarks,

“All my means are sane, my motive and my object mad.”

The point of Ahab’s comment is that his drive to catch the whale, as part of an increasingly crazed consumer culture, is completely insane, but each and every step along the way seems quite logical, even coldly rational. No doubt the coolie trade was quite similar.

American Involvement in the Coolie Trade


Shih-shan H. Tsai

page 54

The treatment of the Chinese coolies on board ship was even more inhuman. The transport ships were usually badly equipped and overcrowded. Food was poor and sanitary facilities lacking. Brutal Treatment of the coolies was often reported. The American ship “Waverly” bound from Sawtow to Callao, Peru, with 450 coolies on board, was a good example. On October 27, 1855, while preparations were being made to buy the body of Mr. F.O. Wellman, the captain of the ship, at Carito, Philippines, the coolies believed that they had arrived at their destination. They wished to go on shore and attempted. to take possession of the boats in order to do so. The new captain, to prevent this, fired into them. The crew, fearing a revolt, armed themselves. The Chinese were, after a struggle, driven below and the hatches closed up, and “on opening them soem twelve or fourteen hours afterwards it was found that nearly three hundred of the unfortunate beings had perished by suffocation.”

Many coolies could not endure the treatment they recieved. Some of them committed suicide while the militant ones instigated mutinies. Many of the coolies stabbed themselves with pieces of wood, or hung themselves to the masts of guano ships, “while three hundred, in 1856, drowned themselves in the ocean during a single day off hte Guano Islands near the coast of Peru.” Mutinies frequently erupted when the coolies discovered they had been tricked into contract bondage.

Angry and desperate coolies butchered crew and officers, and often set fires aboard their ships in mid-passage. One case of mutiny that attracted the attention of the United States government occured aboard the American ship “Robert Brown,” sailing from Amoy in 1852. “Four hundred Chinese emigrants had been enticed aboard the vessel normally bound for San Francisco. When they discovered that they had been deceived and were being carried into contract service in another country, they mutinied and killed the officers.”: Afterwards, they testified in court that they had been promised four dollars a month as hired laborers and not as contract laborers.


A Modern Romance of the Three Kingdoms

The great three-way battle after the end of the Han Dynasty for control of the realm under heaven in ancient China forms a  perfect parallel for the current geopolitical rivalry between the United States, Russia and China.

Back in the second century A.D. the states of  Wei, Shu and Wu competed with each other in an effort to unify China and establish their political authority.

In a previous age, there was some resistance to this analogy because the United States considered itself to be in a special class, but with the rise of Donald Trump, and the cultural degradation of the United States, the analogy is rather apt.

Here is my own analogy for the three states of ancient China. Tell me what you think.

Sun Quan (孫權) the King of the State of Wu (吴)


Is the equivalent of Donald Trump, Emperor of the United States


Liu Bei (劉備) King of the State of Shu ( 蜀)


Is the equivalent of Xi Jinping, Emperor of China


Cao Cao (曹操) King of the State of Wei 魏


Is the equivalent of Vladimir Putin, Emperor  of Russia



“Chinese Dream: Western Imitation or Radical Alternative?” (Foreign Policy in Focus August 12, 2016)

Foreign Policy in Focus

“Chinese Dream: Western Imitation or Radical Alternative?”

August 12, 2016



Emanuel Pastreich



When I arrived in Nanjing to attend a conference recently, I asked the student assigned to show me around whether he could take me to the famed Confucian temple Fuzimiao in the old city. It was my first visit to Nanjing, and I wanted to explore its back streets and perhaps stop at a traditional tea house.

I knew Nanjing — or Jinling as it was known before the Ming Dynasty —even though I had never visited before. I had read many poems set in Nanjing when studying Chinese literature at the University of Tokyo and at Harvard University. The landscape of the Qinghuai River was familiar to me from seventeenth-century miscellanies, and I had fantasized about the sprawling mansions of Nanjing in the eighteenth century when I read the novel Dream of the Red Chamber in college.

But my quest for traces of old Jinling in the frenetic streets of contemporary Nanjing was a failure. All traditional buildings around the Fuzimiao Confucian Temple have been torn down and replaced with bland concrete buildings housing fast food restaurants and shops selling t-shirts. Although some stores had fine teas, for the most part the food and the gear available was not much different from that found in Bangkok, or in Los Angeles for that matter. Nothing was manufactured in Nanjing. The city has lost its community of artisans and craftsmen, not to mention its poets and novelists.

The interior of the Fuzimiao Confucian Temple did not feel authentic. The walls were formed from poured concrete, not stone or plaster. The woodwork was cut by rough hands, and the corners where the floor met the walls were not carefully finished. The furniture was poorly crafted and the calligraphy hanging on the walls mediocre.

I found no grand history that afternoon in Nanjing, nothing like the relics of an inspiring past that you find at Notre Dame in Paris or around the Todaiji Temple in Nara. I got the impression from some explanations that I read that Nanjing’s past is something that Chinese are obligated to read about, but not much in that civilization is relevant to the present day.

My student guide was extremely helpful in the search for a traditional teahouse, but I came away with a feeling of deep sadness that so much of traditional China has been lost—not so much because of the Cultural Revolution but from the growth of a ruthless consumer culture. This sadness was most certainly not sentimentality.

The true tragedy is that China had at one time offered the world the most sophisticated system for supporting a complex bureaucracy and a large population entirely on the basis of fully sustainable organic agriculture. When the American agronomist F. H. King wrote the bookFarmers of Forty Centuries, or Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea, and Japan in 1911, he argued that East Asia offered a model for truly sustainable agriculture that the United States should adopt as soon as possible. Tragically, China has imported the lethal American mix of fertilizer and pesticides that makes nothing sustainable. The Chinese wisdom of agriculture has been lost on young people at exactly the moment it is most needed.

So also, the Chinese traditions of modesty and low consumption, respect for the elderly, and personal humility have tremendous appeal as an alternative to a ruthless consumer society. But if you come to China looking for these virtues, you will be disappointed.


The West Dreams of China

Many Westerners are seeking in China an alternative to the deep malaise that infects Western culture. It was a similar impetus that inspired me to study Chinese literature: a disillusionment with the materialism and militarism that were slowly eating away at the institutions that make up the United States. Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism offer Americans an alternative to a society in which the individual’s every action is calculated in monetary terms.

I was inspired by China as a student because of the appeal of frugality and the commitment to the unity of learning and ethical practice. Many of the great Confucian scholars made it a practice only to eat what they needed and to refrain from indulgence. Even well-off Chinese avoided waste and ostentation and considered literature and philosophy to be the highest calling. China represented a civilization dedicated to tranquility in which villages maintained a careful harmony with nature that assured their survival for centuries.

But when I visit China today, I find the same blind worship of the false gods that I wanted to leave behind in the United States. I am shocked to see the pointless waste of food at restaurants in China, and the impulsive, needless purchase of unnecessary products and accessories by Chinese. Such actions would have been seen as shameful by Chinese 100 years ago—and such consumption is shameful today in this age of radical climate change. Today most young Chinese throw away plastic bottles and bags like their American peers, without a thought for the consequences.

Most tragically, Chinese bureaucrats also evaluate success according to the same twisted economic theories and fetishisms that have done such damage in the West. Chinese are drawn to fancy department stores packed with disposable goods, and they view flashy fighter planes as symbols of national power. I am sensitive to this shift because as an American I have watched my own country lose its way, its citizens seeking shelter from the harsher realities of society in consumer fantasies.

America has failed miserably to set an ethical model for the world. Not only has my country engaged in a series of illegal wars for over almost two decades, Americans have become so narcissistic that they make no effort to set higher standards for the world to follow in terms of environmental policy or their concern for those who do not have the benefits of wealth.

China, meanwhile, is setting the pace for developing nations around the world today. The nations of Africa and Asia turn to China as a model of successful development and receive an increasing amount of aid from Beijing. China has an impact on the world unlike any other country because one out of five people live in China. China’s culture is impacting nations in Africa and South America directly, and many from developing nations are scrambling to learn Chinese.

China has the tremendous wisdom and depth in its culture, a long tradition of sustainable agriculture and low-consumption intellectual engagement that could provide an alternative for development. China is not offering a fundamental alternative to the consumption-based U.S. model.


The Chinese Dream

Many Chinese imagine a strong China that can stand up for its interests and leave behind forever the humiliations it suffered after the Opium Wars (1839-1842; 1856-1860). The desire on the part of Chinese to build up national strength to resist foreign powers is understandable. Unfortunately, the assertion of national power often takes the form of imitating the trappings of national power so loved by the United States, such as the building of aircraft carriers and tanks, rather than a commitment to addressing real security threats like climate change.

The debate in China has been whether China should further embrace neoliberalism, or revive its Maoist traditions. The return to traditional approaches to economics, ecology, and governance have not been considered as a third way. President Xi Jinping introduced the “Chinese Dream” in the midst of the debate on how far to take Chinese globalization.

Xi used the term “Chinese Dream” (Zhongguomeng) in November 2012 after the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, predicting a “rejuvenation of China” that would take the form of “a dream of the whole nation, as well as of every individual.” Although the dream was presented as a spiritual challenge to citizens to work together for a better country, and a better world, for many Chinese the “Chinese dream” means simply a rich China packed with big cars, long highways, soaring skyscrapers, and stores packed with consumer goods. They dream of a day that they can eat at expensive restaurants and order so much food that they leave piles of it behind. Many see Chinese see the Western good life as progress even as we observe all around us signs of impending doom.

We should not glorify traditional China, given the rigidity of Confucian teaching in the late imperial period and the severe limitations on the activities of women. At the same time, Chinese should see their past not as something to overcome but as an inspiration for the future. Chinese culture assumed that students were to be trained to read poetry from childhood and should study ethics and philosophy, rather than business administration and marketing. Intellectuals were expected to maintain a commitment to society and to good governance, and government officials were expected to be intellectuals who valued the humanities above all. What we need is something closer to what E. F. Schumacher referred to as the “middle way” between “materialist heedlessness” and “traditional immobility” in his book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered.

China did not grow economically by exploiting the peoples of the world and their natural resources in the way that Europeans and Americans did, and still do. Perhaps we can imagine a world in the future in which China, rather than joining the club of rapacious globalists, returns to its original roots in a sustainable economy that values the humanities and wisdom above all, and reinterpret this as a “Chinese dream” for all Chinese as well as for the developing world.

The Chinese must incorporate into their dream a focus on long-term economic and environmental justice — values that in many respects form the core of the Confucian and Daoist tradition. China should draw on its tradition of ecology and political ethics as the foundation for a new worldview that offers alternatives to “economic growth” metrics and “consumer indexes.” China has the philosophical foundations — the aesthetic — required to build such an intellectual institution. Chinese in the Ming and Qing dynasty were entirely capable of formulating and implementing agricultural and irrigation plans spanning centuries.

Perhaps the rediscovery of traditional Chinese concepts of sustainable agriculture will serve as the necessary stimulus to create a “synthesis that will fuse economics and environmentalism in a way that fundamentally reorients both disciplines,” as John Feffer suggested in his article “The New Marx.” The question is whether Chinese are ready to recognize the treasure that they already hold in their hands.

Whether China is equipped to play a lead role in the world is not relevant. China has been thrust to center stage by circumstances, ready or not. The deep decay of American culture over the last three decades, combined with the striking irresponsibility of American intellectuals, has left the United States embroiled in international and domestic problems that will prevent it from such central role in the international community, regardless of what American media may say.

China is the only country that has the financial assets, the expertise in the sciences, the scale and the depth in its institutions and culture to play such a global role. Moreover, because China was a hegemon in Asia, but not a colonial power in the sense that England, France, Spain, and Germany were, there is a chance that China will promote a level playing field around the world. But that last point is far from guaranteed. The critical question is whether China has the creativity and the moral authority to stand back from the excitement of wealth and power and critically assess how its traditional culture offers a viable alternative for both China and the world.

The majority of Chinese still have not grasped the fact that it is now China’s responsibility, and not merely its opportunity, to advocate for the rule of law, for a peaceful world, and for a better sustainable future around the world. Some countries choose to offer an alternative, and some countries have that responsibility thrust upon them. China finds itself in the latter position, and the world awaits China’s decision.


The Future of “One Belt One Road”

Exactly at this moment, when China is called upon to play a central role in the global economy, the country has launched its “One Belt One Road” project. China has invited nations from around the world to participate in this project to promote integration and cooperation among the nations of Eurasia.

The “One Belt One Road” has focused on infrastructure and resource development so far. These projects can sometimes be useful for developing a sustainable future, but in many cases are not. Emphasis has been placed on increasing the flow of oil, gas, and other raw materials into China to fuel further growth and investment. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the New Silk Road Fund (NSRF), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Silk Road Gold Fund, and the Mining Industry Development Fund have little to do with preserving the environment. This drive towards consumption as national strength does not bode well as Chinese consumption of food and fuel has such an impact on the entire world, as Lester Brown has demonstrated in his book Who will Feed China?

Still, the project is just beginning, and China may ultimately use this project to establish new institutions, policies, and habits that lead the Earth in the right direction.

“One Belt One Road” is an unprecedented opportunity for two reasons. It is an opportunity to establish a new international community that follows directly the prescriptions of the United Nations charter, a tradition that has been all but forgotten in Europe and the United States. But it also offers us the possibility of establishing institutions for global governance appropriate to a densely integrated Earth that are not dominated by private equity funds and multinational corporations in the manner that the World Bank is.

The “One Belt One Road” project requires global cooperation and cannot be dictated by China. That fact also offers a rare chance to create new institutions of consensus that are not run by superpowers, but that potential can only be realized if other nations take the project seriously as a plan for humanity, not just a chance to make money.

China should also think more profoundly about the common term for this project, the “new silk road.” The term “silk road” harkens back to the overland trade between China and the rest of Eurasia in the Tang Dynasty through trading centers such as Samarkand and Andijon and over the sea route connecting China with India, Persia, and Africa. But the silk road was not just about money and trade. The silk road also refers to the profound cultural exchanges between China, central Asia, India, and Persia that resulted in the flowering of Buddhist philosophy, the exquisite murals of the Dunhuang Caves, the delicate porcelain and sculpture of Changan, and the lyrical poetry of Li Bai and Du Fu in Tang Dynasty that set the course for the rest of Chinese literary history.

Might this new silk road avoid the well-worn path of Western-style economic development and put its sights on achieving the highest levels of cultural expression? Or could it put more emphasis on organic farming than on building dozens of new airports? Might joint projects to improve the production of sustainable energy replace the extraction of fuel and metals?

At the moment there are few indications of such a shift. But China has demonstrated such radical transformations in the past. China has the solution in its past, although many Chinese are unaware of it. Perhaps China’s past offers that last opportunity for our tortured world.

Read more of this post

“The poor Chinese book section” (JoongAng Daily June 8, 2016)

JoongAng Daily

“The poor Chinese book section”

June 8, 2016


Emanuel Pastreich



I visited a big bookstore in Gwanghwamun last week looking for some recent books written in Chinese about politics and economics.

Since May 16, the fiftieth anniversary of the launch of the Cultural Revolution in China, there has been a very heated debate within China about the legacy of Mao Zedong, which includes a diverse range of opinions. I have read a bit on the Internet about recent debates in China and I wanted to read in a bit more detail.

The foreign books section of the mammoth bookstore has been remodeled recently and I was told that there would be a Chinese book section a few months ago. That made sense. After all, there is a substantial population of Koreans who read Chinese and many Koreans take a strong interest in contemporary China. Moreover, the Chinese population of Seoul has increased not only in terms of tourists, but also in terms of exchange students and long-term residents.

But the Chinese book section that I found at the bookstore is one of the poorest collections of books I have ever seen. The Chinese books are hidden away in a corner of the Japanese book section without any signage indicating that the books are in the Chinese language. Unless you asked an employee, you would not know this section existed.

There are only seven shelves of Chinese language books, and Chinese language textbooks take up the top two shelves. The remaining shelves are filled with Chinese translations of foreign books by notable authors like Murakami Haruki and J. K. Rowling — and a biography of Barack Obama and a few Chinese translations of the Bible.  Read more of this post

Renminbi’s new status and its implications

The Chinese renminbi has been added to the basket of global currencies making up the International Monetary Fund’s special drawing rights (SDRs).

Stratfor notes in this article that this is the first time ever that a currency of a nation not allied with the US is included. Previously only

US dollar, the British pound, the Japanese yen & the euro were in SDR.

See article below:

The significance is tremendous and I would suggest that the US has no choice at this point but to come to an understanding at a high level with China concerning economic cooperation–and cooperation on the environment, security and many other fields as well.

“中国文化在公共外交中的角色” 贝一明 演讲于 上海国际问题研究院

China edited_1


贝一明 Emanuel Pastreich 亚洲研究所 所长 为主



2015年 6月 23日 (星期二) 10:30-11:30  AM Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS) 上海国际问题研究院 上海市徐汇区田林路195弄15号 邮编:200233











 AI logo small



Discussion Members:

Jingyu GAO  (China)

LeoYao LU  (China)

Myeongsu Ryu TODA  (ROK)

Sunny Chan Yiu LAM  (HK)

Shi Pong LEE  (HK)

Yumiko SHIMOGAKI  (Japan)



Emanuel Pastreich (United States)

(Director, The Asia Institute)


(Based on a series of discussions held on October 5, November 15, November 22, and December 6, 2014)



Opening Remarks by Emanuel Pastreich (United States)

This seminar presented us with a valuable opportunity to learn about each other, and also to learn about our own perspectives and our own biases. We came to the question of democracy, and specifically the case of Hong Kong, with a general impression the issue based on how we saw it presented in the media. But in fact that are many aspects of politics in Hong Kong and of democracy today that we do not understand all that well. The very term “democracy” is not a given like “tomato” or “oxygen” but rather a vague term subject to an infinite number of interpretations. The value of this effort by youth from many different countries to create a platform for an honest and non-political discussion about the important issues of our age is critical to our future and it is an honor to be here today for this event.

I was struck by the sincerity of the questions raised and the care of the responses given in the course of this discussion. There was a sincerity that was striking about the discussion and I was touched by the clear desire of the students to understand the problems in Hong Kong in a larger context. By extending their discussion to all of Asia, and avoiding a narrow definition of democracy, they have opened the way to a constructive dialog that will extend to the rest of Asia, and to the world.

Youth in Hong Kong are facing incredible pressures. They face economic pressures related to the breakdown of the economic system that supported their parents; political pressures related to the immense influence that other nations have on Hong Kong because of its links to global capital; social pressures related to an aging society and the profound alienation among young people today. Read more of this post

“Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China” (Council on Foreign Relations)

Here a link to the special report from Carnegie Endowment entitled

“Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China”


Council on Foreign Relations


(by Robert D. Blackwill & Ashley J. Tellis)


which has been much discussed recently.


I have not read it all, but it strikes me as a rather complex document. In parts it seems rather positive in direction:

“In this context, take into account the negative consequences for each
country’s formidable domestic challenges if the United States and
China seriously mismanage their relationship. Imagine the tumultuous
effects on the global economy. Consider the dramatic increase in tension
throughout Asia and the fact that no country in this vast region
wants to have to choose between China and the United States. Envision
the corrosive impact on U.S.-China collaboration on climate change.
Picture the fallout over attempts to deal with the nuclear weapons programs of North Korea and Iran.”

“With this in mind, the U.S.-China discourse should be more
candid, high level, and private than current practice—no rows of officials
principally trading sermons across the table in Washington or
Beijing. Bureaucracies wish to do today what they did yesterday, and
wish to do tomorrow what they did today. It is, therefore, inevitable
that representatives from Washington and Beijing routinely mount
bills of indictment regarding the other side. All are familiar with these
calcified and endlessly repeated talking points.”

But at the same time there are multiple sections in which a militaristic response, a modified containment policy, is proposed without any particular justification.

As I have said before, China is 1 in 5 people in the world. It is integrated into the global economy at every level. There is no containment possible. But don’t worry, there is plenty of work to do. Start with climate change. Climate change is mentioned only three times in the document, and there only as one of a list of areas for possible cooperation.

Read more of this post

“Under the Dome” Remarkable Chinese documentary released about the air pollution crisis

“Under the Dome”

Remarkable Chinese documentary released about the air pollution crisis

柴静 雾霾调查 “同呼吸共命运”

The journalist and filmmaker Chai Jing 柴静 left her position at CNTV in 2014 to devote herself to producing a detailed documentary about air pollution in China at her own expense. This remarkable film, “Under the Dome: We Breath together and share a common fate” (Qiongding zhi xia: Tong huxi gong mingyun  穹顶之下 同呼吸共命运) presents a blunt and brutal assessment of the tremendous impact of air pollution on China today and its far-reaching implications for health and for society and culture as a whole.

When I watched the documentary, I was struck by the careful explanation of scientific and geological aspects of air pollution and the discussion of the impact of coal and other pollutants on the atmosphere.

The comparisons with other nations were also striking, suggesting a truly new sense of China’s role in the world.

The film opens with Chai Jing showing an ultrasound picture of her daughter before she was born and relating her expectations. Her daughter was born with a lung tumor. The film closes with a view of the earth from outer space suggesting just how small this globe it. Chai Jing imagines that although she might die and leave this world, her child would still be there on earth. The implication being that we cannot assume that just because we may avoid climate change, that our children will. Or more importantly, that we share our earth with future generations we have not met.

Video Link:


My friend from YAP  (Young Ambassadors Program) Gao Jingyu has worked closely with the Asia Institute. He wrote from  Beijing:

“Yesterday the hottest news on Chinese media was an documentary on the environment made and sponsored independently by a well-known woman journalist. She conducted remarkable in-depth research about the smog that is engulfing China.

Some of the issues touched on such as governance and inefficiency in the energy industry were previously considered so sensitive that noone would dare to expose them. But with Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign in full swing these days the whole story has come out. The video has been re-tweeted over 30 million times, and more, and it is being discussed everywhere in the country. This is the first time I came to feel a strong civic common sense—such as I’ve never experienced before, at least in China. I expect this film can have as much impact as the Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” did for the United States now in my country.

All I can say is


 Hope the English translation of this documentary will be released shortly on YouTube.”

It is a very exciting moment to see such enthusiasm, but not a moment too soon. I have seen such devotion among the members of Future Forest 未来林 in the past and it has inspired me. For me it feels like this might be the first step towards China playing a true leadership role.

And in an odd sense, I think this marks the end of the Cultural Revolution legacy. Read more of this post

“동아시아 | 무기여, 잘 가거라!” (허핑턴포스트 2014년 10월 29일)




“동아시아 | 무기여, 잘 가거라!”


2014년 10월 29일


Emanuel Pastreich 

임마누엘 페스트라이쉬 · The Asia Institute 소장, 경희대 국제대 교수

John Feffer 

존 페퍼 · Foreign Policy in Focus 편집장


현재 동아시아 지역은 수많은 난관에 봉착해 있다. 동아시아 각국은 영토문제와 역사문제로 서로 반목하고, 자원 쟁탈에 혈안이 되어 있으며, 그리고 환태평양에 있어서의 세력균등 문제로 서로 충돌하고 있다. 이러한 모든 문제에 대응하기 위해 미국은 자유무역을 확대해 나갈 것을 제안해 왔다. 미국이 동아시아에서 추진하고 있는 TPP(환태평양경제동반자협정)이라 알려져 있는 자유무역협정의 비준은, 지금으로서는 성공할 전망이 보이질 않는다. 그러는 동안 워싱턴에서는 무기판매와 부담의 분담으로 회귀해 버렸다.

오바마 정권의 아시아 회귀전략은 지역 내 분쟁에 대한 미국의 군사적 대응조치의 최신판이라고밖에 볼 수 없다. 오랫동안 워싱턴은 동아시아의 동맹국에 고가의 미국산 무기시스템 도입과, GDP의 많은 부분을 방어에 소비하도록 강요해 왔다. 그러나 이것을 맹목적으로 믿고 따른 결말은 대참극이라고도 할 수 있는 분쟁으로 이어질 지도 모르고, 만약 그렇게 된다면 아이러니하게도 그때 가서 미국은 이 지역에서 영향력을 잃게 될 것이다.

오늘날 동아시아의 경제번영은 세계의 선망의 대상이 되었다. 그러나 최근 이 지역 내에서 증가하는 군사비 지출은 100년 전의 유럽의 상황과 비슷하다고 할 수 있는데 그 심각성은 훨씬 크다. 실제로 동아시아 각국은 세계에서 가장 많은 군사비를 지출하고 있다. 군사비 지출만 보면 중국은 세계 제2위, 일본은제8위, 그리고 한국은 제10위로, 그 순위를 높여 가고 있다. 또한 세계 제3위의 군사비 지출국인 러시아는 그 지형적 특색과 중국과 함께 북한과의 관계성을 염두에 둔다면 동아시아에 있어서도 중요한 국가라 할 수 있다. 게다가 세계 제13위의 군사비 지출국인 호주 또한 동아시아 지역에서의 중요성이 높아지고 있다.

그렇긴 하지만 미국을 제외한 상위 8개국의 군사비 지출 총액을 모두 더하더라도 미국이 지출하는 군사비에는 미치질 못한다는 것이 현실이다. 환태평양지역에서의 미국의 군사비 지출, 특히 해군력에 대한 할당은 미미한 증가에 그치고 있지만 그것이 중국을 향해 있다는 것은 자명할 뿐만 아니라 동맹국에게 군사비 지출의 증강을 강요하고 있다.

이런 가운데 미국의 정가에서는 이러한 국가들이 보다 강한 대항세력이 되어 주기를 바라는 목소리가 여전히 주류를 이루고 있다. 예를 들면 CSIS의 마이클 그린(Michael Green) 씨는 빅터 차(Victor Cha) 씨와 함께 괌 해역에서 핵을 중심으로 하는 해군 군비를 두 배로 증강하고, 하와이에서 육해군의 군비 증강과 더불어 한국에는 군함을 상주시키고, 괌에서는 반영구적으로 폭격부대를 배치해 동아시아에 대한 감시를 강화해 나가야 한다고 주장하고 있다. 이러한 도발적이라고도 할 수 있는 대응은 중국의 국경 주변에서 이미 분쟁의 불씨가 되고 있을 정도로 긴장감을 고조시키고 있다.

또한 이러한 문제와는 별도로 동아시아는 심각한 안보의 위기, 특히 기후변화와 확대되어 가는 소득격차에 대비하기 위한 대응책을 필요로 하고 있다. 그러나 실제로 무슨 일이 일어나고 있는가 하면 미국의 동아시아 지역 내의 개입은, 예를 들면 한국정부의 필요성이 없다고 하는 견해와는 반대로 THAAD(고고도미사일방어)라는 거액의 방어미사일프로그램을 구입하게 하는 확실한 힘으로 작용했다. 마찬가지로 이러한 군사시설을 상주시키는 것에 대한 중국의 당연한 우려에 대해서는 대화를 하려는 자세도 보이지 않은 채 무시되어 왔다.

동아시아에서 더 큰 문제는 핵무기의 등장이다. 예를 들면 과거에는 최소한의 군비밖에 보유하지 않았던 중국도 지금은 방위, 미사일방어프로그램의 증강을 목적으로 급속한 근대화 정책을 실시하고 있다. 규모와 사정거리가 여전히 미지수이긴 해도 최근 들어 북한은 핵무기 위력을 확대해 주변국을 위협하고 있는데, 이는 주변국들이 다시 핵무기에 관심을 갖게 하는 요인이 되고 있다. 그리고 서울과 도쿄에 있어 보면 핵무기 철폐를 외치는 목소리는 사라지고 자기방어라는 명목 하에 핵보유를 찬성하는 목소리가 점점 커지고 있음을 알 수가 있다. (미국에서 나온 몇 가지 견해는 그러한 목소리를 부추기고 있다)

게다가 오바마 정권은 핵무기 철폐를 찬성하고, 그 이용에 대해 러시아와 화해교섭을 진행하고 있음에도 불구하고 국내의 무기공장을 정비하며 수십억 달러나 되는 거액의 자금을 쏟아 붓고 있다.

미국의 정치가들은 동맹국과 긴밀한 협력을 강화하는 방법으로 나날이 힘을 키워가고 있는 중국을 견제할 수 있으리란 꿈을 꾸고 있는 것이 틀림없다. 그러나 발생 가능한 분쟁은 이러한 계획과 맞아 떨어지지는 않을 것이다. 예를 들면 한국과 일본은 영토와 역사에 관한 논쟁을 벌일 때는 독자적 입장을 견지한다. 표면적인 구실로 북한을 이용한다 하더라도 일본의 군사비 증강은 필연적으로 한국과 중국에게 있어서는 직접적인 위협으로 받아들여질 것이다. 마찬가지로 베트남에서의 군사력 강화는 중국과는 직접 관계가 없다 하더라도 충분히 동남아시아에서의 군사력 경쟁의 도화선이 될 수 있다.

유럽의 사례

1970년대, 유럽이 군비경쟁과 전쟁에서 벗어나 통합된 평화로운 지역으로 나아가기 위해 군비제한교섭을 시작한 것은 불가피한 일이었다. 데탕트 시기, 미국과 소련은 군사경쟁의 위험성을 깨닫고 군비제한교섭을 시작해 핵무기 통제 및 각종 재래무기에 대해 규제를 가하기로 했다.

1970년대 초, 미소 양국은 냉전에 의한 분열에 대처하기 위해 세 방향에서 접근했다. 첫 번째는 모스크바와 워싱턴의 핵무기에 관한 양자 간 협정이고, 두 번째는 유럽안전보장협력회의(CSCE)의 정치적・경제적 토의였다. 그리고 마지막으로 중부유럽상호병력군비삭감교섭(MBFR)의 협정에 따라 유럽의 군축을 실행하는 것이었다. MBFR는 결과적으로 1989년에 바르샤바조약기구와 북대서양조약기구(NATO) 간의 대화로 이어지며 실질적인 군비삭감을 이루어냈다. 또한 냉전 후에는 유럽통상전력조약이 NATO와 러시아 간의 진일보한 군비삭감 협의를 시작하는 플랫폼이 되었다.

1970년대부터 1980년대까지 유럽의 군비증강은 현재의 동아시아 상황보다 안전하지 않았다. 데탕트 시대 여러 군축회담이 성공했던 사례가 있었음에도 불구하고, 1979년 소련의 아프카니스탄 침공과 레이건 정부의 등장으로 냉전의 긴장은 다시 고조되었다. 그렇지만 핵무기와 재래무기에 관한 통제협정은1970년대 꾸준히 실시되었으며 안정적이고도 평화적인 유럽을 구축하기 위해 필요한 기반을 제공했다.

이와 같은 오랜 기간 동안의 군사규제협정의 경험으로 정치가, 정책결정자, 군사전문가은 군사예산을 확대해 긴장관계를 만드는 것이 아니라 어떻게 하면 긴장완화를 이룰 수 있는지에 대해 진지하게 생각하게 되었다. 군사적 차원의 삭감뿐만 아니라 신뢰구축을 위해 필요한 긴밀한 시스템을 고안해 나갔다. 그리고 민간, 정부 차원의 대화가 늘어나면서 보다 많은 관계자들이 긴장완화에 나설 수 있는 환경을 만들었으며, 정치적 리더십 변화에 관계없이 군비통제와 군축협정을 계속해 나갈 수 있게 만든 것이다.

한편, 아시아는 이와 비교할 수 있는 군비통제와 군축의 역사가 없다. 일본이 1922년 초 처음으로 워싱턴회의에 참가해 군사통제회의 및 전쟁을 제한하는 협의에 나서기는 했지만 결과적으로 1936년에 협의를 파기함으로써 끝이 났다.

전후 유일하게 아시아의 군사통제라 할 수 있는 것은 일본의 평화헌법 채택과 군사행동에 대한 국권의 포기였다. 그러나 다른 국가는 그와 같은 정책을 채택하지 않았다. 일본에 평화헌법의 채택을 강요했던 미국이 특히 그러했다. 1991년 미국은 냉전 후 군비를 축소하기 위해 한국의 전략적 핵무기를 제거했지만 그것은 상징적인 행위에 지나지 않아 이를 포괄적 군축정책이라 말하기 어려웠다.

재균형’을 넘어

현재 “재균형”이라 불리는 동아시아에 대한 미국의 전략은 완전한 재구성을 필요로 한다.

외교 정책의 기본은 값비싼 무기시스템 판매가 아니라 무엇보다 상호 안전보장이 되어야 할 것이다. 향후 5년 동안 미국과 그 동맹파트너인 일본, 한국, 호주는 이 지역의 군사 대국인 중국, 러시아와 아세안 회원국들과 함께 핵무기와 재래식 무기 규제 등 포괄적 계획의 준비 작업을 위해 만나야 할 것이다.

군비제한에 대한 합의는 이 지역의 안전을 위협하는 중요한 요소인 기후변화를 인식하면서 함께 이어져 나가야 한다.

이미 그러한 접근에 대한 중요한 지지, 즉 기후변화가 안보를 위협하는 중요한 문제라는 것은 미 태평양사령부의 지휘자인 사무엘 록클리어 3세(Samuel J. Locklear III) 제독의 성명에 의해 명시된 바 있다. 앤드류 드윗(DeWit)이 언급했듯이 미 태평양사령부는 아시아 전역의 미래 협력을 위한 새로운 전기가 될 기후문제에 대한 협의에 참여할 것을 약속했다. 기후변화는 군축으로 이어지는 안보상의 변혁에 기여해야 할 것이다.

중국과의 관계는 성공을 위한 필수조건이다. 중국은 미국을 지역에서 환영하지 못할 존재로 단정 짓고 있지는 않다. 워싱턴에도 강경파들이 있듯이 북경에도 물론 강경론자가 있기는 하지만, 중국은 일관되게 군사협력을 포함한 안보문제에 있어서 미국과 협력할 용의가 있음을 표명해왔다. 중국은 림팩( RIMPAC) 2014 등과 같이 미국이 주도하는 환태평양군사훈련에도 참가한 바가 있다. 그러나 중국 연안지역에서의 군사적 과시는 북경으로 하여금 미국이 조정자 역할보다는 중국의 잠재적 위협을 억압하려는 패권주의자라는 우려를 불러 일으켰다. 세계의 미래는 많은 부분 중국이 국제사회의 행동기준을 받아들이느냐와, 미국이 냉전시대의 외교와 안보의 사고방식에서 벗어나느냐에 달려 있다. 미국이 중국과 장기적 군축합의를 이룬다면 양국 관계는 변할 수 있다.

앞으로 나아가는 방법

미국은 세계에서 군사 장비에 가장 많은 돈을 지출하는 국가임과 동시에 가장 많은 무기를 판매하는 국가이다. 따라서 동아시아의 포괄적 군비축소 합의를 위한 첫 단계는 워싱턴에서 시작되어야 할 것이다. 워싱턴은 군비 경쟁의 고조보다 군축 및 신뢰 구축 조치에 대한 약속을 수용하는 리더십을 보여 주어야 한다.

어떤 군축합의도 양자 간이 아닌 다자간 협의로 이루어져야 한다. 현재 동아시아에 있어서 군비 증강은 모든 국가가 관련되어 있다는 사실과, 긴장 원인이 복잡하며 종래의 동맹과 일치하지 않는다는 것을 인식하는 것이 중요하다. 북한의 핵개발 계획에 과도한 초점을 맞추다 보니 더 큰 지역적 안보문제를 제대로 보지 못하고 있다.

이와 같은 합의에는 이를 담당할 기구가 필요하다. 아시아 태평양의 ASEAN지역포럼과 안보협력회의는 최초의 대화의 장이 될 수 있을 것이다. 성숙한 포괄적 군비통제 기구는 결국 새로운 계기를 필요로 한다.

6자회담은 군축에 대한 심도 있는 토의를 위한 최초의 출발기구로서의 역할을 할 수 있다. 북한의 핵개발 프로그램을 무조건 종료하라는 요구를 장황하게 되풀이하기보다는 오히려 회원국 – 미국, 중국, 일본, 러시아, 한국, 북한 – 은 핵무기를 제거하고 지역 내 재래무기를 대량으로 감축해 나가는 방법에 대한 협의를 시작해야 한다. 이와 같은 협의는 북한 당국의 행동에 의존하거나 제한되어서는 안 될 것이며, 오히려 북한 당국의 행동에 관계없이 실행할 수 있는 더 큰 안보기구 창출의 기초가 되어야 한다. 하지만 협의를 통해 북한이 중국, 일본, 한국과 동참하여 군비를 감축하는 것에 합의하는 대신 미군의 규모를 줄이는 것과 같은 혜택이 주어져야 한다.

북한을 이 합의에 참여하게 하는 분명한 인센티브는 미국이 1953년 한국전쟁을 종식하는 휴전협정을 평화협정으로 바꾸는 협상을 제안하는 것이다. 이러한 평화협정-북한은 이를 위해 로비를 벌여왔다-은 또한 이를 준수하기 위한 지역기구를 만드는 방법에 대한 규정을 포함해야 한다. 그리고 이 메커니즘은 새로운 지역안전보장 구조의 핵심이 될 수 있다.

6자 간의 최초의 합의는 1995년 존 엔디곳 John Endicott 교수가 제안한 ‘the Limited Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone in Northeast Asia‘에 대한 미국의 지지선언에 의해 힘을 얻었다. 이 제안은 북한을 제외한 6자회담의 모든 국가의 군사전문가들에 의해 만들어졌으며, 이 지역의 모든 핵무기가 최종적 폐기로 나아가는 첫걸음에 기여하였다. 이 때 제안된 NTFZ((비핵지대)는 남극 비핵지대 조약(1959), 동남아시아 비핵지대(1995) 등 이미 발효된 8개의 비핵지대의 전례에 기반하여 창설된다는 점에서 효과적이었다.

핵무기에 대한 협상은 MBFR회담의 전례에 따라 이 지역의 군비감축에 관한 일련의 협상과 나란히 이루어져야 한다. 이러한 논의는 군축 제안 및 예측 가능한 순서에 따라 실행하는 로드맵 등 지속적인 메커니즘으로 발전할 수 있었다. 특정 부분에 대한 협의에서는 해군함정, 전차, 그리고 대포, 항공기와 폭격기,미사일 방위 및 기타 운반 장치 등에 대한 논의를 진행할 수 있다. 이 협정에는 또한 군사훈련 감시에 대한 엄격한 규칙을 제시하고, 이를 준수하는지를 모니터링 할 수 있는 장치를 포함시켜야 한다. 결국 이러한 회담의 핵심 요소는 지역 내에서의 도발적 감시 프로그램의 중단과 더불어 주요한 군사훈련의 사후 관리이다.

게다가 기술 변화의 빠른 속도가 점차 재래식 무기를 현대식 무기로 바꾸어가고 있기 때문에 재래식 무기에 대한 협의 또한 계속해서 진화해야 한다. 무인 항공기(drone), 로봇, 3D 프린팅과 사이버전쟁과 같은 신기술에 대해서도 무기조약을 통해 해결해 나가야 한다. 지속성을 위해 기술 변화의 파괴적인 부분에 대해 모든 군축조약 내에 분명히 명시되어야 한다.

전역(戰域) 미사일 방위는 포괄적 무기조약의 한 부분으로 다루어야 한다. 미사일 방어시스템의 유효성을 둘러싼 기술적인 문제에도 불구하고, 한국과 일본에 시스템 확장을 적용하려 하는 미국의 제안은 이에 상응하는 중국의 탄도미사일 기술 개발을 촉진하며 불안정을 초래했다.

중국은 마사일 방위가 방어적인 것이라는 미국의 입장을 받아들이지 않고 있다. 그 결과 미국이 미사일 방위는 군축협의의 최종 단계에서 제거할 것이라고 주장하는 반면, 중국은 이를 제일 먼저 삭제해야 한다고 주장하고 있다. 이 문제는 진지한 협상을 통해서만 해결할 수 있을 것이다.

끝으로 기후변화의 완화와 적응에 대한 협의는 핵무기와 재래식 무기에 대한 협의와 병행하는 것이 중요하다. 기존의 핵 군비를 줄이는 것은 지금까지 군의 기능에 변화를 필요로 할 것이다. 수백만 명의 사람들을 고용하는 거대한 관료기구인 군대에 기후변화에 대응하는 중요한 역할을 맡겨야 된다.

지난 일 년 간 세계는 우크라이나, 이라크, 그리고 가자지구에서 일어난 충돌을 목격하며 곤혹스러워했다. 이들 분쟁지역에서는 모든 측면에서 군사적 대응을 선택했기 때문에 상황은 점점 악화되었다. 한편으로 동아시아의 위기는 지난 몇 개월 동안 잠잠해졌다. 이것은 지난 수년 간 이 지역을 괴롭혀왔던 수많은 분쟁을 해결하는 데 있어 다른 접근 방식의 가능성을 제공하는 이상적 시기였다. 만약 아시아가 분쟁을 해결하는 수단으로써 무력을 포기한다면 그것은 세계의 다른 지역에 강력한 메시지를 던지는 것이 될 것이다.

* 이 글은 허핑턴포스트 미국판 일본판에도 게재됐습니다.

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