Monday, July 26, 2010

[US Returns to Asia] Now, the Spratly Islands...

I have often said that the "Obama Doctrine" has finally brought the United States to a more, normal, say rational foreign policy. The previous administration was so preoccupied with Iraq that the country ignored some of the more pressing issues going on in the rest of the world and in particular to East Asia and China. However, the more I see of what the current administration is doing in East Asia, I am

In a New York Times article, "Offering to Aid Talks, U.S. Challenges China on Disputed Islands,Mark Landler writes:
Opening a new source of potential friction with China, the Obama administration said Friday that it would step into a tangled dispute between China and its smaller Asian neighbors over a string of strategically significant islands in the South China Sea.
The United States is again internationalizing an issue that is causing China discomfort. While China, as the article goes on to say, regards the South China Sea to be a "core interest" of sovereignty, so does the United States for a number of reasons. First, as a giant continental island nation, the United States also has a "core interest." The article continues:
“The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons and respect for international law in the South China Sea,” Mrs. Clinton said. 
Of course, at the same time, the United States provides protection to China's "[much, much] smaller Asian neighbors, it's another pressure point on China. And, while the article does not say this, it completes the encirclement of China's east coast from Okinawa down to Taiwan and, of course, through the South China Sea. I think for far too long China has given China a free pass even as the United States has shown good faith to China by wholeheartedly accepting Communist China into the international community, such as the WTO. It seems the administration's strategy is to support the position of China's smaller neighbors and internationalize the issue where ever and whenever possible. 
The announcement was a significant victory for the Vietnamese, who have had deadly clashes in past decades with China over some of the islands. Vietnam’s strategy has been to try to “internationalize” the disputes by bringing in other players for multilateral negotiations. 
Of course, there is no player other than the United States in East Asia that would be willing to take on China . (This does, however, need to be put in context of the US-China relationship now being about more than a single or a couple or even three issues.) Imagine if the U.S. wasn't around in East Asia. All of Asia would be swallowed whole by Chinese interests.

And, it seems that military exercises in Northeast Asia have also begun (more on this shortly).

Sunday, July 25, 2010

[The Los Angeles TImes Again...] I don't understand Barbara Demick...

In a piece, entitled, "Doubts surface on North Korea's role in ship sinking,"Barbara Demick and John M. Glionna write:
But challenges to the official version of events are coming from an unlikely place: within South Korea.

Armed with dossiers of their own scientific studies and bolstered by conspiracy theories, critics dispute the findings announced May 20 by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, which pointed a finger at Pyongyang.
Now, mind you, I haven't read any of Barbara Demick's award winning book, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, which I do plan to someday. But, I just don't understand her. Why on earth would someone who won multiple awards for writing about North Korean lives seemingly push forth the agenda of the South Korean left?

Is she doing this because at heart she really believes that reporting the "scientific evidence" -- that seemingly originate from only South Korea by the way -- that casts blame on sinking of the Cheonan elsewhere is fairer reporting? Or, simply, to spread misinformation? It's a news article and not an editorial. Or, as is more likely, is she doing this to deliberately to push forth the agenda of the South Korea left?

When I had earlier criticized an article she had written, I didn't know she was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. As someone suggested I write more of my personal experiences on this blog rather than on "dry and boring topics that would be best left for experts," I thought it would be a neat exercise to dissect an editorial by an award winning author. In the process, I thought it to be tantalizingly strange that a reporter for Los Angeles Times, who wrote an award winning book on the lives of ordinary North Koreans, would push forth the agenda of the South Korean left.

So, now, I am left puzzled by her reporting. If she writes a book that attracts attention to a topic that most people would like to avoid reading --lives of ordinary North Koreans than why would she push forth an agenda whose main aim is to prolong the current North Korean regime and in the process hurt the lives of ordinary North Koreans.

It really is puzzling. And, no, I do not believe that the reporting of deliberately false stories or articles with an agenda leads to a more open mind. For evidence of this look, one needs to look no further than at what the ballot initiative or direct democracy has brought to the otherwise golden state of California.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

[A Paradox or Mere Contradiction?] Korean Economic Dependence with China, but Security Reliance with the United States

I certainly do not suggest that Peter Lee speaks for Beijing, but I do suppose his writing probably reflects the way Beijing hopes to use this incident to advance its hegemonic ambitions and divert its suppressed domestic rage toward foreign demons.
But, in Peter Lee's lenghty article's, he goes on to write that the U.S. decision to support South Korea in the Cheonan incident was in part a response to Japanese efforts to move the U.S. base off of Okinawa. He goes on further to write that "it encouraged Lee's ambitions to boost South Korea's global profile, arranging for the Group of 20 Summit and 2011 Nuclear Security Summit to be held in Seoul." U.S. President Barak Obama also pledged to support the KORUS free trade pact that was signed during the last administration and which has yet to be ratified by the Senate -- both President Barak Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton had reservations against KORUS in the last presidential campaign race. 

Nonetheless, there's also another aspect of this article that I find to be interesting at least with respect to a certain state owned Chinese publication. 

I previously wrote about how the People's Daily Online -- a Chinese state owned newspaper -- fabricated claims about a fictitious South Korean Professor's research and a South Korean agenda to register Chinese script as a Korean cultural treasure. Well, interestingly enough, Peter Lee documents the several "other" times this publication has lapsed into questionable journalistic practices.
In an indication of the convoluted path of content across the Chinese Internet, the People's Daily English-language post was an uncredited cut-and-paste of an EastSouthWestNorth (ESWN) post.

Apparently, the publication also published pictures of a bombed U.S. aircraft carrier before it retracted it. 

However, with respect to the main aspect of Peter Lee's article, he suggests that increasing South Korean economic dependence on China makes it difficult for South Korea to remain dependent on the United States for security. And, I believe this is what Joshua Stanton was addressing when he writes that he "suppose[s] his writing probably reflects the way Beijing hopes to use this incident [...]" 

However, it hasn't really yet been shown whether China can effectively transfer economic ties into political leverage-- I'd say consider Scott Snyder's book, China's Rise and the Two Koreas: Politics, Economics, Security. This seems to be true for both halves of the peninsula, but it remains to be seen if this will continue to hold, even as South Korean trade with China now is greater than combined trade figures with the United States and Japan and North Korea is kept on life support by China. 

Still, even as China keeps North Korea afloat, China doesn't really have that much leverage with North Korea. 

A senior South Korean diplomat described this problem in a private conversation by a good allegory: "China does not have leverage when it comes to dealing with the North. What China has is a hammer."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

[From a few years back] Baby Vox in North Korea

So, I was watching the old South Korean girl band, Baby VOX's performance in North Korea a few years back. It still cracks me up so I thought I'd share. It's pretty funny watching the North Korean audience considering the song they are singing (우연/Coincidence/By Chance)...

Sunshine Policy

Monday, July 19, 2010

[US Department of Defense Press Release] So it's official...

USS George Washington, the U.S. Navy's only permanently forward-deployed aircraft carrier will visit the Korean port of Busan July 21 to 25, U.S. Forces Korea officials announced today.

In addition to USS George Washington, three destroyers from its strike group will also visit
Korean ports. USS McCampbell and USS John S. McCain will visit Busan, and USS Lassen will visit Chinhae.

"The U.S. Navy maintains a robust forward presence in the Asia-Pacific region and the people of the Republic of Korea are our good friends and allies," said George Washington commanding officer Capt. David Lausman. "Our presence here is a testament to the strength of our alliance and our constant readiness to defend the Republic of Korea."

I wonder if the USS George Washington will end up really deploying for exercises in the Yellow Sea or if they will bow to Chinese pressure and deploy in the East Sea(Sea Of Japan). Anyways, it's a nice way for South Koreans to see what a true friend does when attacked -- unlike the dithering on the part of the Chinese...

Who says the U.S. presence in Northeast Asia is destabilizing?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

[Japan & Korea Missing Another Generation?] What does Apple's iOS and Google's Android OS mean for Japan and Korea?

edit: for clarity, 07/18

It seems every other day or so, there's some article that compares the sales of Apple iPhones with Apple's iOS to that of smart phones powered by Google's Android.

However, in phones, Google seems to have a winner on its hands. It will be hard for Apple to catch Android's numbers if the company can't even surpass their competitor's running weekly total at its yearly iPhone launch.
Anyways, I just ordered an iPhone 4 for my mother this past weekend and I'm sure in due time I'll have my hands one of my own as well -- preferably a white iPhone 4. And, no, white isn't a girl's color; it does require more maintenance though. But, anyways, as these articles continually compare sales, for some reason it reminds me of the original operating system war between Microsoft and Apple (and IBM among others) for personal computers. It seems Google is the Microsoft for phones this time around by commoditizing phones, whereas the Apple iOS is only on products with the Apple logo on it. (The best example here would be the Samsung Galaxy-S phone. The phone has the very same processoras that inside Apple's iPhone 4.)

But, unlike personal computers though, it seems the nice thing is that the apps for mobile platforms don't require all that much money to develop. So, regardless of which platform sells more the concern that my phone will become obsolete just isn't there. I guess this is something that is clearly in Apple's advantage as whereas Mac computer owners are stuck -- less so now than in years and decades before and particularly as Microsoft sells its Office productivity suite on Macs now -- with a much smaller choice of software, I doubt that the difference will be as noticeable if at all when Android powered phones inevitably leap frog Apple iPhone's in sales. So, as long as iPhones do keep selling, stories such as which phones powered by which platform really aren't that important with exception to the general trend that Microsoft's mobile platform seems to be dying.

What is interesting though is that once again it seems that Asian manufacturers are once again stuck manufacturing commodities again for another generation perhaps for perpetuity. Even if Microsoft's phone platform dies, Apple and Google seem to be marginalizing East Asian companies once again as chips, memory, LCD screens, flash memory, etc seem to just be nothing more than high tech commodities... I believe even Softbank -- the Japanese company that made a great deal of money by investing in Yahoo -- is profitting by selling iPhones in Japan. Of course, Research in Motion is Canadian and there's Symbian by Finland's Nokia.  

Japan and South Korea both had protected cell phone markets with super fast networks for quite some time now, but it seems the only types of companies that emerged to compete globally were hardware manufacturers. With exception to companies that catered to making cheap games and the like, where is the Japanese or Korean Apple or Google? Why isn't there one? It's all the more remarkable when considering that the United States has by far probably the most fragmented network -- competing CDMA and GSM networks -- deployed over an area that is very lightly populated compared with eitehr Europe or East Asia. With all the boasting about how consumers in Northeast Asia have for years been able to watch television or video chat on their phones, what has come of it?

Friday, July 16, 2010

An Update to the Cheonan Saga

It seems everything that I was advocating has happened and I'm delighted.

South Korean President Lee Myung Bak internationalized the issue to the point, where North Korea is now talking to the UN -- rather than South Korea -- about the Cheonan incident, a token UN resolution has been passed (more token it could not be), and it appears U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is again headed over to Seoul -- this time before heading to the ASEAN gathering.

This was almost exactly what I had been advocating since the beginning of the Cheonan incident. With a token slap of sanctions against North Korea, an opportunistic United States can take advantage of this situation -- I personally see a strong US-ROK alliance to be in the long term best interests of South Korea -- to strengthen US-ROK ties (again, here, there is the recent announcement by U.S. President Barak Obama in Toronto to look into the stalled KORUS FTA -- the only substantive policy change I had hoped this Cheonan incident would help foster -- and to agree to extend the deadline of wartime leadership of South Korean forces to South Korea to until 2015), use this incident by South Korean President Lee Myung Bak to marginalize Chinese regional leadership in front of at least the eyes of South Koreans, and, of course, to not really take any real punitive measures against North Korea -- which, hopefully, will crumble on her own accord shortly.

Pretty much, thanks to a foolish North Korean excursion and Chinese indecisiveness, the United States position has strengthened considerably in the region with no cost to the United States whatsoever. There is even continued talk of a U.S. aircraft carrier heading to the Yellow Sea, which while I have stated to be quite amusing, I find to be an amazing event in and of itself and shows exactly to what extent South Korea's internationalizing of the issue has brought about. China wants six party talks again...

This should put China on notice: it seems incredibly ironic that rather than China unleashing North Korea on South Korea/U.S., this incident has been more of the United States unleashing South Korea against North Korea. (Consider the rare nervous press release given by the North Korean military).

So, what now?

The narrative of the Cheonan is not quite yet over. Now, I think we wait until the U.S.S. George Washington arrives in the Yellow Sea/East Sea (of China) and read Chinese state run editorials stammering away helplessly -- while understanding that they must be privately fuming at North Korea. We watch to see what will come of the KORUS FTA and, of course, the joint press release that will be given when the U.S. Secretary of State pays a visit to one of the United States allies in the region.

And, of course, we should give credit where credit is due -- to South Korean President Lee Myung Bak and U.S. President Barak Obama for capitalizing perfectly on very poor decisions on the part of North Korea and the lack of any decision on the part of China. It seems China is quick to ask the rest of the world to recognize the changing economic balance of power in Asia, but China is even slower to to recognize the tectonic shift in not only the military and economic, but political balance of power on the Korean Peninsula.

Note: On a side note, is anybody else following how amazing the South Korean economy seems to performing? It appears the highly export dependent economy has grown over 7% in the first half of this year -- which makes it look as if South Korean President has fulfilled his election campaign promises (kind of).

Disclaimer: I write this posting comfortably thousands of miles away from the DMZ or the Korean Peninsula in California.

Friday, July 2, 2010

[A Rising South Korea] The Cheonan Saga Continues...

I've been following this Cheonan story for quite some time now and I wrote about how funny I thought it would be that a U.S. aircraft carrier would be going to the Yellow Sea. Well, the story seems to be quite true and just keeps getting more and more interesting.

"The U.S. is directly threatening China by sailing an aircraft carrier into the Yellow Sea," wrote defense blogger Brother Guangdong on the Western Military Affairs site. "China must respond firmly and show the American imperialists we won't be pushed around."
I think this Chinese Blogger is a bit confused. China should respond firmly and show the Americans by taming North Korea rather than attempting to slug it out with a giant nuclear powered U.S. aircraft carrier, a nuclear submarine, and destroyer off the Chinese coast. But, there's more...
China's Foreign Ministry this week registered its concerns that the drills could prompt further rash behavior from North Korea's isolated and erratic communist regime.
North Korea will -- as a direct result -- of the U.S. naval deployment be essentially tamed by Communist China for the forseeable future. This is not because North Korea is scared of a U.S. military attack, but because North Koreans do not want to further upset the -- already furious -- Chinese by attracting another aircraft carrier to the coast of China. Beijing is a lot closer from North Korean than Taiwan -- just consider the Korean War. So, this essentially negates the arguments of blind Chinese nationalists as well as the South Korean left.

By the way, why is it that those on the South Korean left label themselves as "progressive." It is a ridiculously Korean English term, not unlike, say, "Netizens" which really hasn't caught on in the rest of the world. It would be best to label South Korean liberals as well liberals -- though the term Socialists is a good fit for those on the left in the South Korean political spectrum. Progressive in a way implies that, well, those that are not progressive thinkers haven't learned something yet.  It seems so condescending to those that might disagree with these "progressive" thinkers. To me though, the word, progressive reminds me of an insurance company or Teddy Roosevelt a century ago.  

Anyways, back to how the Chinese are directy anger at U.S. "imperialists..."

No one would allow its competitor with guns in hand to wander in front of their home or keep a close watch staring through their windows, and the American would not too.


The United States should make people feel that the U.S. military presence in this region is peaceful and necessary, not vice versa.

I'm pretty sure that it was Chinese inaction that led to this military exercise and I'm quite sure the South Korean and Japanese governments feel a lot more comfortable that there is a friend that can stand up to China.
Furthermore, the United States needs to take into account these countries' moods if it wants to become a peacemaker, not a troublemaker. Otherwise, the United States will have difficulties in staying in the region for a long time and its interests here will be difficult to effectively protect.

China never considers the United States an enemy, but the United States should show necessary respect to China. The provocative military drill will only lead to the accumulation of resentment against the United States in the hearts of Chinese people and the United States will inevitably be regarded as a threat.
Again, China seems to only respect force or strength. If South Korea had nuclear weapons and a dozen aircraft carriers, then I'm sure the Chinese would've respected the lives of the South Korean sailors.

Anyways, not too long ago, the rest of the world believed China had some leverage over North Korea and could control the "isolated" and "erratic" regime. Specially appointed diplomats from the United States, South Korea, and Japan among other nations would even go to Beijing and play along in this facade by paying tribute -- attending the Six Party Talks. In exchange, it was believed that China would and could control North Korea -- or if the United States was upsetting the Chinese -- unleash North Korea on South Korea. But, this is no longer the case...

The Cheonan incident -- along with a very nicely played hand by both South Korean President Lee Myung Bak and U.S. President Barak Obama, has single-handledly demonstrated how incapable the Chinese were of controlling North Korea. The incident as mentioned in earlier postings has strengthened the U.S-South Korea alliance, US-Japan alliance, and encouraged better bilateral ties between Japan and South Korea. Furthermore and perhaps most importantly, it has shown the world how little leverage Communist China has over a country that she is basically keeping on life support -- not to mention how much resentment this must breed amongst North Koreans.

Moreover, the United States has also -- finally -- agreed to extend the handover of wartime control to South Korea from 2012 to 2015. (This was first negotiated out of a misguided belief on the part of the late South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun, who believed South Korea might be able to become a regional power or -- the more nonsensical idea of a playing a "balancing" role in Northeast Asia --  before unification had even taken place.) Of course, what Roh Moo Hyun did not understand is that the "balancing" role is precisely what the United States is doing right now by sending none other than a U.S.S. George Washington to waters off the coast of China. The United States is sending China a crystal clear message to China that this is what exactly could occur if the Chinese are incapable of controlling North Korea. And, thanks to North Korea, there seems there will once again be fireworks on July 4th -- no longer North Korean missiles as twice before -- but a nice exercise by the Chinese navy.

(Plus, of course, it's also a nice way to send back a reply to the Chinese military snubbing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates when about a two hundred strong U.S. delegation visited China.)

Nonetheless, I find the ongoing Cheonan saga quite comical as it's gone from an incident that wasn't first highly publicized to one that has led to a U.S. aircraft carrier that will soon kiss the coasts of China in an exercise that is -- of course -- aimed at North Korea, and, which if you really think about, it really is.