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Keeping Eyes on China

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Keeping Eyes on China

The geopolitical subtext of Japan’s apology to Korea’s “comfort women” January 7, 2016
Politics and law
The Social Order

While Europe is bogged down by internal bickering and a rather feeble war against radical Islamism, events are transpiring in Asia that could define the future of global politics. Naturally, they are going unnoticed in the West. However, we only need to look at a major recent concession made by Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe to the president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, to get a sense of how China’s hegemonic ambitions have Asia’s leaders on edge. The Japanese government has taken responsibility for the enslavement of several thousand Korean “comfort women” during World War II, and has granted $8 million to the 46 survivors who currently reside in a Gwangju shelter. These women are often met by journalists and visiting politicians in order to showcase Korean rights and highlight the abuses of Japanese imperialism.

The cause is valid, but South Korea has used it increasingly as a tool for propaganda over the last few years. President Park Geun-hye, whose father Park Chung-hee was the military dictator of South Korea from 1962 to 1979, has just outlawed the sale of a detailed, profound work by Korean academic Park Yu-ha. The study reveals that wartime prostitution was both highly complex and, for the most part, managed by Korean collaborators. Park Chung-hee was himself a junior officer in the Japanese army occupying China during the war. Perhaps his daughter is trying to conceal her father’s past through her anti-Japanese sentiment?

The Japanese government has nevertheless admitted its responsibility, though less in an act of contrition than to restore, if possible, healthy relations with South Korea. This willingness belies Japan’s greatest fear, and one which Europeans would share if they knew where to look. South Korea already has close economic ties to China, and Japan is worried Seoul will accept Chinese President Xi Jinping’s proposal to unite North and South Korea on the condition the two countries become neutral states.

This Chinese ploy is the Asian version of a 1970s Soviet strategy to unite Germany in exchange for its neutrality. At the time, this idea was known as “Finlandization,” and presupposed a neutral Europe supervised by the USSR. This notion appealed enormously to the Western far Left. Germany’s leaders didn’t fall into the trap, but President Park Geun-hye has hardly displayed a passion for democracy and transparency. Agreeing to China’s ploy would allow her a place in history as the woman who united her country.

How would the American military react to this scenario, given that it has 30,000 troops stationed in South Korea? With Barack Obama as president, the American military may not react at all. Japan, on the other hand, would probably equip itself with nuclear weapons—it wouldn’t take long—in preparation for an eventual war with China. Japanese public opinion is relatively pacifistic, but anti-Chinese sentiment is rising quickly. If the Finlandization scenario plays out, China would have managed to lock down the North Pacific Ocean. Even today, China is moving forward with its creation of artificial islands in the South Pacific Ocean around Vietnam and the Philippines. These “islands” could be easily transformed into naval bases, enabling China to control the southern maritime route from Asia to Europe and the United States—currently the main artery of globalization used to transport all of our electronic devices.

For now, the security of this vital trade route is ensured by the United States Seventh Fleet. China’s driving objective is to displace American naval power in the region. If successful, it would herald the end of free trade between West and East, most likely lead to the fall of Taiwan, and suffocate Japan—that is, if the Japanese failed to react, which they probably wouldn’t. It’s no secret that Chinese leaders are looking to divide the world, with the United States in the West and China in the East; China’s strategy can be consulted freely in a range of works published in Beijing.

A China that utterly dominates the East would impose a false symmetry in the international system, as the role of the United States in the West is accepted, in particular by NATO. On the other hand, Chinese ambition is resisted and feared by its neighbors, who are unwilling to accept China’s imperialist, Communist, and anti-democratic government. But the Chinese leaders do have a strategy and are rolling it out step by step. The West’s sole strategy is to preserve the status quo, but it is pursuing this strategy with remarkably little energy. Japan remains the West’s only ally in the East, but the Japanese people will not commit to fighting alone. Japan’s acceptance of responsibility for the fates of 46 unfortunate Korean women between the ages of 80 and 90 may seem minor. But in a match of the popular ancient Asian board game Go, each turn is decisive; players simply have to pay attention in order to predict the next move.

Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

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