Picture taken on March 6, 2017.
A US marine participates in a U.S. “Together with the announcement that the U.S. Special Naval Warfare Development Group (Seal Team Six) is involved in the exercises this year for the first time since the they started almost 40 years ago, one may be forgiven in assuming that one intended message for Kim Jong Un regime must be: Watch out”.
While the reasons for her impeachment were domestic – a massive corruption and influence-peddling scandal – China’s interest centres around her decision to allow the United States to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile shield.
The Chinese government is acutely concerned at the prospect of war on its doorstep involving its ally, North Korea. The early advent is meant as a deterrent message from Washington to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un that he can not keep on intimidating the South without incurring a cost. Last week, it called on North Korea to stop its weapons tests and for South Korea and the United States to stop their drills. The allies call the drills routine. Pyongyang has long denounced the wargames as a rehearsal for invasion.
Given the failure of sanctions, the Trump administration is reviewing other methods, including possible military options. In 1994, the Clinton administration was on the brink of attacking North Korea’s nuclear facilities but pulled back at the last minute after the Pentagon gave a sober assessment of the likely outcome-300,000 to 500,000 South Korean and American military casualties.
For now, there appears to be no desire to negotiate with North Korea – a holdover stance from the Obama administration, which demanded the North first commit to the goal of denuclearization. The argument among officials and many experts is that the ball is now back in the USA court to do something on the Korean peninsula. As in Tokyo, the secretary will need to stress the centrality of U.S.’ commitment to South Korea’s defense while at the same time recognizing that his country’s hard-line approach on North Korea complicates South Korea-China relations and potentially instigates more belligerence by the North. But since taking office, Trump has sought to allay those concerns. The media-averse Tillerson was traveling without the usual State Department press contingent aboard his plane. -China Initiative told VOA that Chinese officials “will be looking for indications of how seriously President Trump will pursue economic issues such as redressing the trade balance and seeking more opportunities for US firms to export goods and services to China”.
The third leg of Tillerson’s visit to East Asia will be to meet Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to start the process of arranging a bilateral meeting between Trump and Xi.
The bombshell disclosures, mass protests, and obstinacy from the president to the very end – the epic downfall of Park Geun-hye will reverberate in South Korea for years to come. Park had been in lockstep with Washington’s efforts to isolate Pyongyang. This policy lasted from 1998 to 2008, and it saw the South actively trying to engage the North and establish points of economic and political contact, but all within the two red lines of not tolerating military threats from the North and not making any attempt at integration.
The U.S. insists THAAD is aimed at stopping North Korean missiles, but the deployment infuriated China, which sees the system as part of a U.S. strategy to contain its rising power. Beijing claims the radar can range inside Chinese territory and weaken its nuclear deterrent. South Korea now finds itself stuck between a rock and a hard place and is forced to choose between its security and its economic interests.
Meanwhile, China’s role on the Korean Peninsula is becoming more complicated. He also is relying on the fact that, given the high prestige of China vis-à-vis the United States, and given that the PRC is perceived as capable of lowering North Korea’s apparent impetuosity, Kim is relying on China’s increased role in ensuring a de-escalation of the US-North Korea conflict.