If South Korea Wants a Cold War with Japan, Trump Won’t Stop It


shutterstock_1042795348This is a re-post of an essay I wrote a few weeks ago for the Lowy Institute. I am also happy to say that I was translated into Japanese, here.

So everyone knows that South Korea and Japan are having another spat – this time over compensation of Korean forced labor during the Imperial period. Korean courts have opened the door for lawsuits, while Japan continues to insist that all such claims were resolved at the time of normalization treaty. Korean officials I’ve talked with tell me that there is nothing the government can do. This is coming from the courts. I find that highly unlikely given the extreme presidentialization of the South Korean constitutional order and regular POTROK flouting of checks-and-balances.

But my concern here is that the  South Korean push on Japan on yet another issue will not lead to pushback. Trump doesn’t care about this stuff. He’s racist, dislikes allies, and gets most animated when telling them to pay more. SK conservatives, who have traditionally slowed the march to a precipice with Japan, are out of power. And Abe is burned out on this issue (‘Korea fatigue’).

So if the South Korean left genuinely wants a breach with Japan, and a slide into a cold war over Dokdo/Takeshima, Sea of Japan/East Sea, comfort women, labor reparations, and so on, then they’ll get it this time. This is very worrisome, but also a ‘useful’ social science natural experiment moment: we will learn just how far the South Korean left is willing to go on Japan, because the traditional brakes are not there this time.

The full essay follows the jump…

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My Review of ‘The Interview’: Dumb, but Mildly Subversive


theinterview-movieposter

I know this came out awhile back and almost everyone has seen it now. But my review just went up at the Lowy Institute, so here is my local mirror of that post.

I saw it twice and actually found it reasonably funny the second time, but for low-brow reasons that had nothing to so with N Korea. If you watch it over some beers with your drinking buddies, it’s reasonable Saturday night fare. But all its best jokes are Animal House-style, guys-behaving-badly stuff that has nothing to do with NK, and for which the NK backdrop is totally unnecessary. So why was the film even set there?

Finding humor in North Korea, while nonetheless respecting how awful the place is, is a tough task which would require good writing, something along the lines of The Great Dictator. But Seth Rogen scarcely tries that. Instead it’s all twenty-something American humor (lots of western movies and music references, and sex jokes). So why drag in all the moral weight that comes from engaging North Korea? I didn’t find that morally offensive, as some reviewers did, but rather just bizarre and incongruous. It’s as if a standard issue Hollywood ‘dudebro’ comedy just fell out of the sky into North Korea. Wait, what? Who thought that mix of elements would work?

Whatever. If you haven’t seen it once, you should. Review follows the jump.

A Little Korean Government Arm-Twisting of my Blog on the ‘Sea of Japan/East Sea’ Spat – How Unintentionally Flattering Actually


sea of japan

 

Did anyone else get this email below? Who wouldn’t be persuaded by some PR firm hack with no idea about East Asia giving suggestions she doesn’t understand by robo-email? Yuck. Maybe I’m reading it the wrong way – maybe getting yelled at by the Korean government about nomenclature means someone actually reads my blog. Hah!

 

“Dear Robert,

I came across your Asian Security Blog and read your post, “Why don’t Korea & Japan Align?”. Because of your interest in current affairs and issues in Asia, our communications firm is reaching out, on behalf of the Korean Consulate General, to inform you about an issue that you and your readers need to know about. 

The Republic of Korea is asking the US government and map publishers to use the name “East Sea” together with the “Sea of Japan” when referring to the body of water located between the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese Archipelago, over which both Japan and Korea have jurisdiction.  This body of water has been called East Sea for over 2,000 years – you can read the historical background here: http://bit.ly/EastSeaMaps

Why is this important and why should this issue matter to your readers?

* When dealing with matters of diplomacy, a name reflects how a country is viewed.

* Support for Korea’s position is gaining momentum among many internationally respected cartographers and the media. National Geographic, Rand McNally, The Economist, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and Le Monde have all begun using both names concurrently.

* Other evidence of growing support for Korea’s position includes a vox populi petition to the White House with more than 100,000 signatures, and a vote at an international organization’s recent conference that denied Japan’s proposal to use only the Sea of Japan name.

Will you consider posting about this on your blog? Links to videos can be found at the bottom of this message, plus you can find additional information here: http://bit.ly/EastSea Please feel free to use any of this information found here in your postings.

Thanks, Robert! If you have any questions or need additional information, please feel free to contact me.

Best,

K—————-
Parter International/Tuvel Communications Team
on behalf of Korean Consulate General in New York
——@tuvel.com
—————————-
Video: The Name, “East Sea” – http://bit.ly/Lu5puJ
Video: The World Map is Changing: Korea’s East Sea – http://bit.ly/JJSYIF

——————

I find this ridiculous. Has anyone noticed how non-descriptive ‘East Sea’ is? At least the ‘Sea of Japan’ actually provides some basic geographic information (ie, a sea near Japan), while the ‘East Sea’ could be any sea east of anything else. To demand that the world use that term insists that the rest of the planet view bodies of water from a Korean perspective, which is a preposterous request. The name itself implies absolutely nothing. This is the US Government’s position also.

Should Israel demand the Arabian Sea be changed? Should Pakistan lobby the world to change the name of the Indian Ocean?  I have no idea if I have used the name ‘East Sea’ or not on my blog, but using an internationally accepted name is standard. I find this faux-controversy a fatiguing Koreanism, just like when Koreans insist on telling foreigners how old they are by their ‘Korean age.’ The ensuing confusion does little but gratify Korean insistence on uniqueness. Please, can we just stick to international standards and avoid self-flattering particularisms no one else cares about? Finally, it’s worth noting that there’s also the ‘Korea Strait.’ Should that be re-named the South Strait or something?Because this whole conversation will inevitably provoke a Japanese move on that name in response. Can’t we just drop this?

My Website is blocked in China – Hah! I’m flattered


greatfirewallofchina

I was just in China for a work thing, when I checked the Duck of Minerva (the IR blog where I also write) for something. Turns out the Duck is screened out by the Great Firewall. Even if you go to Google Search Hong Kong, it’s still blocked.

Wow. Who knew even nerdy IR theory and pop culture references posed a threat to CCP rule? Lame. Even more lame – my own website, which gets way less traffic, is blocked too. For sites as small as mine, that’s almost a complement – hah. If only I had readers similarly interested enough to even bother…

Agree with Heinlein’s ‘Citizens vs. Civilians’? then this US Military History is for you: Book Review


Starship-Troopers-starship-troopers-13578603-1024-768

I was asked by a participating member of the H-Diplo/ISSF network to review The American Culture of War. Here is the original link to my review, but it’s off in some far corner of the internet, so I thought I’d repost it here. In brief, I found the book a pretty disturbing rehearsal of right-wing tropes about the military in a democracy, especially from an academic, and there’s no way I’d ever use it with undergrads as Routledge suggests. The underlying moral driver is the ‘chicken hawk’ principle – that those without military experience are not morally qualified to lead DoD and should otherwise defer to uniformed military. At one point the author actually says that, because the US Army ‘distrusts’ Congress, the Army should ‘guide’ Congress. Yikes. Do Americans (and the author) really need to be told civilian authority runs the other way, and that that’s in the Constitution? I find that sort of military elitism democratically terrifying and reflective of the post-9/11 militarization of America that is now the single most important reason, IMO, to end the war on terror.

I would just add the following update: Both the book and review were written before Petraeus’ resignation, but it should come as no surprise that the text lionizes Petraeus. It is therefore a pleasing schadenfreude for the frightening post-9/11 military hero-worship of the US right to be taken down a notch. Here we go:

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My ‘Korea Times’ Op-Ed on what Korea Needs from its New Prez: Liberalization


ParkBefore President Park’s inauguration, the Korea Times asked me to participate in a forum of ‘foreign experts’ (don’t laugh too hard) on her incipient presidency. We were asked to make one direct suggestion for the new president. Here is the section at the KT website. I know several of the authors, and some of the op-eds are pretty good (too many are shameless pandering though). Unfortunately, my accepted submission was not published in this section, published after the inauguration, and edited far too heavily. (They never told me why; maybe this.)

Anyway, below is the original version of the op-ed, where I basically argue that Korean democracy is becoming a Seoul-based oligarchy of wealthy, similarly-schooled, intermarrying business and political elites  – basically the dark side of Kangnam style. Someone in Korean politics needs to turn this around, or under-40s in this country are going to ‘drop out’ Timothy Leary-style. There’s a quiet crisis of youth alienation brewing, but no one in ‘Kangnam world’ seems to care.

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My ‘Newsweek Japan’ Cover Story on the post-1979 ‘Asian Peace’ & Economic Miracle


Newsweek 3rd coverNewsweek Japan asked me to write an introductory essay for its January 16 special issue on tension in Northeast Asia (cover story to the left). I should have put this up 4 months ago, but I forgot and the arguments are still valid. Anyway, here is the link in Japanese, but I thought it would be useful to publish the original, untranslated version as well. (If you actually want the Japanese language version, email me for it please.)

The essay argues that Northeast Asia has benefited enormously from an ‘Asian peace’ in the last 35 years. All the remarkable growth in China and South Korea (as well as India and Southeast Asia) would not have happened without it. So fighting over some empty rocks (Liancourt Rocks, Pinnacle Islands) is a terrible idea. And for political scientists, the current Sino-Japanese tension is a good test of the hypothesis that economic interdependence brings peace. It’s fascinating to watch China especially try to figure out just how much economic gain to forego in pushing Japan over the Pinnacle Islands.

This was intended for their print edition, so there are no hyperlinks included in the text. Here we go:

“1979 was an important year in modern East Asia. It captures two of the region’s most important trends. It was the year of both the last serious military conflict between two East Asian countries – a Sino-Vietnamese border war – and the start of China’s capitalist modernization under Deng Xiaoping. These moments usefully frame the following thirty-four years: much of Asia has gotten substantially wealthier, and no major conflicts have broken out to upset that upward economic swing. This magnificent regional achievement has catapulted Asia, particularly East Asia, into the center of world politics.

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