Northeast Asia 2015 Predictions: Another Year of the Repetitive, Uninspiring Status Quo


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This is another of my end of year prediction/look-back posts. The others, on 2014, are here and here. This time I want to look forward to 2015, and I’ve got to admit that I see little that inspires confidence. Every state in northeast Asia is run by nationalists and social conservatives who have little interest in overcoming regional foreign policy splits, or altering the bureaucratic, crony corporatist status quo.

So expect another year of the same: loud, angry, status-quo reinforcing foreign policy fights over empty rocks and events 80 years ago; corruption scandals; competitive devaluation and outrageously punitive consumer prices; a rough deal for working women; dirigisme instead of innovation; North Korean shenanigans; and so on. NE Asia really needs visionary leaders – an Adenauer or Mandela – someone to pull the region out of the blind alley of nationalism and crony statism that rewards nationalist elites and punishes everyone else.

The following predictions were originally made in the Diplomat here.

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Looking Back on What Predictions for East Asia 2014 I got Wrong…and a little Right


untitledI have always liked these end of the year prediction check-ups, and new year prediction-making exercises. It’s fun, but it also is an important check on irresponsibility in our punditry. Month after month we say this or that is important, or this or that will happen. But later when the current we thought was important turns out not to be, or the ‘revolutionary’ leader we thought would ‘change everything’ turns out to be a bust, we conveniently forget about that and say some other trend is actually what really matters.

This is intellectually pretty shoddy but understandable. No one likes to admit they are wrong. But identifying why causal mechanisms we thought important actually weren’t, is an important way for us to improve our thinking and explain ourselves to readers. The alternative is those neocons who got Iraq really, really wrong, but still come back on TV unchastened. Bleh.

So here is a run-down of the big things I got wrong in 2014 in Asia. In brief, I overestimated the importance of the Sewol in driving reform in Korea, and the depth of the freeze between North Korea and China; I underestimated the importance of the UN report on North Korean human rights, and China’s efforts to build parallel institutions in Asia particularly. This was originally posted at the Lowy Institute last week:

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My Top 5 List for 2104: 5 Biggest Foreign Policy Events in Korea


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This is a follow-up to my previous post – a top 5 list of events for US power in Asia in 2014.

South Korea had a good year. President Park’s cozying up to Beijing is starting to pay off. China-North Korea relations are frosty, which is important progress. Seoul also got OPCON delayed indefinitely, which is great for Southern security, as well as its defense budget (but not so great for the US). And the UN report on North Korea human rights has gotten a lot of traction – way more than I thought – and looks increasingly likely to show-up China and Russia for what they really are out here – shameless, cold-blooded supporters of the worst regime on earth. The more that point is made in public and Moscow and Beijing suffer the embarrassment costs of that support, the better.

The full post comes after the jump; it was originally written for the Lowy Institute:

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My Top 5 List for 2014: 5 Biggest Foreign Policy Events for the US in Asia


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I love these hoky, end-of-the-year lists. But I don’t know much about genuinely interesting or cool stuff, like the top 5 classical music pieces or architectural masterpieces of the year. So before you read another list about the Kardashians’ top 5 lip glosses, or the 5 most repetitive comic movies of the year, here is an uber-wonky one that’s basically about the sustainability of the pivot.

I am constantly wondering whether the US can carry through on the ‘rebalance,’ whether we can actually shift out of the Middle East and Europe and pay more attention to the Asia-Pacific. I am skeptical, in part because I tend to see US commitments as opportunity costs of one another. In other words, if we are tangling with Putin or ISIS, then we don’t have much time for China or Maduro. But if you’re a neocon, then the pivot is no trouble. Getting involved in Asia doesn’t mean lessening commitments elsewhere, because the US should be globocop anyway, and US domestic expenses should be cut to fund to all this intervention.

The following post was originally put up at the Diplomat:

The “Interview” Fits a Long Tradition of Really Stupid US Portrayals of North Korea (but SK Film is much Better)


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If you are looking to watch The Interview immediately, you can buy it on YouTube here. But the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes have been weak so far.

I am not quite sure what to make of all the hacking controversy yet, but in the run-up to the film, I wrote this quick comparison of North Korea in South Korean and US film. Not surprisingly, South Korea handles NK far more intelligently, whereas the US seems to have a weird, somewhat creepy obsession with North Korea invading America. Yes, really; read the review below: the US will have four ‘NK invades the US’ movies or video games in five years. I am still trying to figure out what that means.

Anyway, this was first written for Lowy Institute; the essay follows the jump.

My Lowy Essay on the Paranoid Anti-Americanism of South Korean Geopolitical Film


Take that English Teacher with Bad Hair!

So I watch way too many movies when I should be working, probably because I am pretty lazy. But a side benefit is noticing the various tropes and themes of movie genres. And one thing I’ve picked up watching movies in my field (international relations) in South Korea, is the regular use of stock American villains. Maybe I notice it just because I am an American, but it seems pretty pronounced to me.

It is well-known that westerners in Korean soaps are frequently used to introduce duplicity, sleaze, STDs, and so on. But in the film industry, the Americans are more nefarious, usually plotting to manipulate Korea  to serve neo-imperial goals or something preposterous like that. Amusingly, the plots are usually ludicrous to the point of laughable (Americans mass-bombing plague victims in downtown Seoul in broad daylight?! – hah!); the dialogue is risibly ridiculous as well (“Korea is independent and sovereign, and you Yankees can’t tell us what to do!” Yeah!!); and the ‘American’ characters almost always sound like Russians or non-American English teachers the movie producers just pulled off the street and stuck in a bad rip-off of a US Army uniform.

It is also noticeable that all this American manipulation of Korea is self-congratulation: if the Americans are going to great lengths to use Korea for their dastardly plots, then Korea must be pretty important to the world’s lone superpower. Better fanciful American flattery of Korea, in trying to manipulate it, than the reality of American ignorance of it.

So here is some nice holiday relaxation. Revel in the sheer laughable paranoia of left-wing Korean cinema. It’s a hoot:

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My 2014 Hate-Mail of the Year: ‘Kelly, You’re Wrong; North Korea’s Awesome!’


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For my 2013 hate-mail of the year award, go here.

So I get a lot of weird email and comments because of my blog, or in the comment sections of my op-eds for the Diplomat. A lot of it is fairly ridiculous (‘you want the terrorists to win!’) or ad hominem (‘you’re a tool of the IMF; you’re a Muslim’), but occasionally I get pretty unique stuff like this letter below. (The image above is a personal picture of a plaque on the Juche Tower in Pyongyang. Perhaps the correspondent comes from this study group.)

 

“Dear Robert Kelly,

I read your column in The Korea Times with great interest and would like to share my thoughts with you.

You may think that my opinion is weird and crazy from a point of American.

Most Americans think that North. Korea is vitally harmful, threatening the world peace by shooting the missile toward America.

America had fought with North. Korea at 1950 and kept a hostile relations with it since then.

I think North. Korea is a great country, because it has shown sophisticated diplomacy against a big country.

I claim that North. Korea is less westernized and less materialized. It keeps a strong defense for people.

I also argue that North. Korea has not tarnish tradition and nature unlike South. Korea.

I wonder that you can say that all the people in South. Korea and U.S. are happy, just because they live in a democratic and capitalistic society.

I also ask you that most people in North.Korea is unhappy, because their government infringes on its citizen’s individual freedom severely.

I am sure some people may have been successful in adapting to a totalitarian society and they may have made a fortune and achieved a solid social position.

If the U.S. is a perfect society for living, I wonder why so many American came to Korea to get a job.

I have met many Americans who blamed their country and they don’t want to go back to their country.

Some American has settled down in Korea, marrying a Korean woman.

Deciding which government is better is subjective.

In a nutshell, North. Korea never collapses.

Best regards,

———“