I must be a dumb foreigner, because I just cannot understand Koreans’ continuing affinity for China over Japan or the US. I have repeatedly argued (here and here) that China is the single biggest obstacle to single most important aspiration in South Korean politics – unification. This week I feel justified. Once again the PRC threw NK a lifeline. Once again, China has violated the spirit of its publicly stated diplomatic commitment to Korean unification. Once again China set back Asian peace, prosperity, and stability by another 3 to 5 years. Now we must wait further for NK to collapse. *Sigh* How thoroughly unhelpful this visit was to just about everyone out here.
The new aid package will certainly help the regime stumble along for another few years. And it almost certainly includes unmentioned personal goodies for Kim Jong Il himself – whiskey, insulin, porn, cigars, home theater, and the rest. The Chinese should be downright embarrassed. Kim and his cronies are just gangsters now. Kim Il Sung probably believed in the socialist experiment, but the son clearly doesn’t care a wit for it or his people. This is larceny raised to an art form. Kim is just a governmental version of the Somali pirates.
So now more Chinese aid means we must go back to same merry-go-round of brinksmanship with North Korea. With this new dollop of aid and Kim’s improved health, it’s back to the six party talks for more haggling, more photo-ops that allow Kim to pretend he is a world leader, more goodies in exchange for vague promises, more wasted time and effort. As usual nothing will come of it; nothing has changed in NK. And we will all continue to wait, wait, and wait for NK to finally implode. We will all hope that this headline really is finally correct this time. When I first started blogging, I wrote that I was amazed how little NK matters in everyday life in SK; instead, South Koreans have just become used to it, bored by it, and frustrated by it. Now I understand. It took me about 15 months living here to get the same way.
The Chinese are just liars on this issue. All year, I have gone to conferences on Northeast Asian security where Chinese participants tell everybody all about how the want to help and be constructive. How they admire Korea’s economic miracle and want good relations. How they support unification. My foot. The photo above tells you the real story. The Chinese are using the North. They like that it boxes in the South, terrifies the Japanese, and distracts the US. The care not a wit for the Korean people.
If this analysis is right, then I just don’t understand why Koreans don’t more openly balance against China. Kang says this is evidence that Koreans implicitly accept a sinocentric/Confucian hierarchy. Maybe. Or maybe Koreans are just so scared of China’s size, that they shut up? Whatever the reason, my students and friends here are far more comfortable complaining about Japan’s past than China’s present, or that the US military should redeploy in Korea, pay for military environmental damage, and discipline its soldiers better. All this is true of course, but isn’t it overlooking the 800 pound gorilla in the room? China is subsidizing the DPRK! China carries a growing part of the blame that Seoul lies catastrophic nuclear jeopardy, NK populace is horrendously brutalized, and unification is unfulfilled. I just don’t get it…