Thursday, January 10, 2013

U.S. policy, ICT and Korean reunification: an alarming new Senate report

The world has changed a great deal since Korea was divided at the 38th parallel after World War II, in no small part because of the revolutionary developments in semiconductors and telecommunications that fuel the information revolution. This is an underlying message of the recent visit to Pyongyang by Bill Richardson and Google's chairman, Eric Schmidt. As I have argued in numerous earlier posts (for example this June 2011 post) and in Chapter 8 of my Kindle book, Telecommunications and Transformation in Korea, communication  has always been a central reality in Korea's tragic national division, but the digital information revolution that started late in the 20th century has changed the game as the web, social and mobile media proliferate.
While the information revolution and economic development in China and other nations of the Asia Pacific region have changed the world, one thing remains unchanged and unfortunately stuck back in the Cold War era:  U.S. foreign policy vis-a-vis the Northeast Asia region.  A core aspect of the problem is the failure of the United States, at the presidential level, to articulate a foreign policy that clearly addresses the question of Korean reunification, while publicly making it clear that the United States favors unification and will work with the Korean people toward that goal.  This is a policy failure not just of the Obama administration, but successive Republic and Democratic administrations. (President Obama and President Lee Myung Bak did issue a joint declaration several years ago advocating a united Korea that was at peace, but this was not the sort of message that captured the attention of mainstream media around the world.)  In foreign policy perceptions matter a great deal and it seems dangerous to allow even the slightest chance that people in Korea or other nations of this region will misunderstand U.S. intentions.   After all, Dean Rusk who played a critical role in the choice of the 38th parallel as a line to divide Korea between the advancing Soviet forces who entered the country from the North and the U.S. forces in the south, has publicly stated that, had he known more about Korea's history, the U.S. would never have proposed that dividing line.   Furthermore, U.S. representatives over the years have made it clear that there was never any intention to permanently divide Korea.
In this context, a report published last month for the U.S. Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations is alarming. (downloadable here in pdf format) Entitled "China's Impact on Korean Peninsula Unification and Questions for the Senate," the report explores China's historical claims to territory on the Korean peninsula and examines the possibility that China might actively oppose Korean reunification.  One possible reason for such opposition might be the presence of U.S. military forces in Korea. To me and I'm sure to many others, the prospect of Chinese opposition to peaceful reunification of Korea is alarming.  All the more reason, I would suggest, for the U.S. administration to articulate its policy on the main political problem here in Northeast Asia, Korea's national division.

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