The two Koreas: new approach needed

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The United States and its ally the Republic of Korea (South Korea) are holding naval exercises in the Yellow Sea, on the west side of the Korean Peninsula, Nov. 28-Dec.1. These maneuvers, long planned but for which a date had supposedly not been set, come after the shelling by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) of Yeonpyeong Island, resulting in the death of two South Korean military personnel and two civilians.

Yeonpyeong Island is only 7.5 miles from the North Korean coast, and is also close to the border between the two Koreas and the South Korean capital, Seoul. The North Korean government says it opened fire in response to South Korean artillery practice.

This situation is dangerous to the peace and stability of the whole region. Things could quickly escalate. The U.S. government needs to pull back from the brink of a possible disaster, and for all parties to seek a peaceful settlement.

There is no justification for the unnecessary deaths on Yeonpyeong Island. The loss of life is tragic and wrong. It's the first time North Korea's actions have resulted in civilian deaths since the war, a dangerous precedent.

The U.S.-South Korean maneuvers are billed as a "response" to the shelling incident, but such responses are not new. Last week, similar maneuvers took place on the other side of the Korean peninsula. They had been scheduled to take place in the Yellow Sea, but were moved to the other side as a response to a Chinese demand. As recently as this past summer, similar maneuvers took place.

Since a 1953 truce ended the active fighting in the Korean War, there have been other episodes, on land and sea, of shelling and hostilities. In the spring of this year, there was an incident involving the sinking of a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, in which 46 sailors were killed. South Korea blames the North for the sinking and the North denies it.

However, this latest series of incidents seems to constitute an escalation of the danger of a full scale clash.

U.S. corporate media spin on these events is unhelpful, to put it mildly. North Korea is portrayed as a rogue state whose leaders are crazy and whose behavior is aggressively irrational. But the bizarre fact is the Korean War has never been formally ended. So North Korea on the one side, and South Korea, plus the United States and the United Nations are on the other. And technically all are at war with each other still.

Americans tend to forget this, but in the two Koreas it is not forgotten, and adds to the tension in the area. Military maneuvers near a country's borders and coasts are one thing in peacetime; quite another when there is a suspended war.

Nevertheless, up to two years ago, there had been progress at least in normalizing relations between the two Koreas. During the presidency in South Korea of Roh Moo-hyun, a treaty was signed with the North in which the Yellow Sea was to be demilitarized and made into a joint fishing area. There was progress on trade and other matters also.

But with the election of Lee Myung-bak to the presidency of South Korea in 2008, things took a turn for the worse. Lee, the former mayor of Seoul, had initially promised to continue Roh's détente policy, but, with the instigation and support of the Bush administration, turned to a sharply confrontational approach.

Bloodcurdling rhetoric and saber-rattling on any side does not help, either. For example, the head of the South Korean armed forces is quoted as swearing "a thousand fold revenge" for the people killed in the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. North Korea issued a statement guaranteeing a "merciless counter-attack" that would "wipe out all enemies."

The United States is sending a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, USS George Washington, into the Yellow Sea, which is also a form of saber rattling if there ever was one.

This saber-rattling may play well with respective domestic audiences, but it only serves to escalate the conflict, and runs the danger of it getting out of hand.

China opposes the maneuvers in the Yellow Sea (which also is partly in Chinese coastal waters) and is constructively trying to cool tempers and belligerent rhetoric in Pyongyang and Seoul. Chinese diplomats have been shuttling back and forth between the two Korean capitals in a search to find a way of deflating the high level of tension. China has called for a resumption of the six-party talks (among the two Koreas, China, Russia, the U.S. and Japan), which had until recently been dealing with the issue of North Korea's development of nuclear capacity.

However, at writing, Japan, U.S., South Korea and North Korea have shown reluctance to go this route of negotiations, and the U.S. corporate controlled press is blasting China for not having taken action to suppress the North Koreans, a role China is simply not going to play.

Key to de-escalation is putting pressure for a negotiated settlement, in the context of the talks and any other format that shows a promise of defusing the present crisis.

More intermediate and longer-term demands should include the demilitarization of the waters around the Korean Peninsula, the denuclearization of both Koreas, and normalization of relations between the two Koreas and between North Korea and the U.S. A formal end to the Korean War is needed to achieve these aims.

The sanctions regime against North Korea is politically and morally wrong, and experience shows nothing good comes from such sanctions. Material assistance to North Koreans would do far more to defuse tensions than the present policy of sanctions.

Finally, the U.S. policy - that it has a right to "project power" and exercise military pressure in the China-Korea area - is as outdated as it is dangerous and wrong. It's a Cold War relic. The Obama administration and Congress need to hear from all concerned that the U.S. needs a new policy of peace, mutual respect and denuclearization. The war hawks and others will be pushing, cajoling and lobbying for more and more belligerent responses. It's critical for the government to hear strong voices for a peaceful resolution.

Photo: Map of Korean Peninsula and disputed name of sea. (CC)

 

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  • It should also be noted that the island in issue lies within the territory of the Democratic Republic of Korea under the international law. Even Kissinger has noted this issue sometime ago. That is, he said that if judged according to the international law, these islands are in the territory of the DRK.
    The acts of the US, South Korea and Japan are nothing other than pure provocation, with a purpose of starting another war in Aisia.

    Posted by kotoko tateishi, 12/21/2010 5:39pm (4 years ago)

  • The invasion of the sister Korean people’s nation by US imperialism in 1950 was categorically unjust, and it must end. The people of Korea just like any other nation deserve self-determination and independence on their own accord. The only reason why US imperialism is in that area is to control the people’s natural resources.
    The invasion of Korea between 1950 and 1953 which resulted in over 50,000 Korean deaths as well as the deaths of thousands of American soldiers is a manifestation that imperialist aggression is totally unjust. For the last 60 years the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) (North Korea) has faced the unrelenting onslaught of eleven US regimes. It shows that the people of North Korea are not backing down on self-determination. Since 1953 North Korea has been opting for peace. Since 1953 North Korea has been asking for a comprehensive discussion on the issues of the north and south borders. The US imposed Korean war has not ended for the last 60 years because the South has consistently had puppet regimes and has had US nuclear weapons, hence the reason why the North is very anxious and doesn’t trust the South.

    At the same time, in the last 15 years, there have been progressive movements in the South such as the trade union movement and the student movement, comprehensively calling for talks between the North and the South as well as for unification of the peoples of North and South Korea. And who is opposed to that agreement? The puppet regimes and US imperialism. Nevertheless, the movements in the South continue to plug away, seeking a peaceful solution instead of the one imposed on them.

    The South and the North should have comprehensive discussions on the situation in the Korean peninsula because since 1950 the imposition of US imperialism has prevented the Korean people from discussing their internal affairs. It is only the Korean people who must discuss their internal affairs—no one else. Those who assume that the US has a role to play in those internal discussions reject Lenin’s profound principle and position on self-determination.
    Lenin argued that the people’s problems must be handled internally among the people themselves.

    The recent trip by President Obama to Indonesia, South Korea and Afghanistan is a manifestation that the Obama administration is shoring up these three reactionary regimes. This is not an indication of promoting peace in SE Asia. Moreover, the Obama visit does very little to ease tension between the North and South. His government has not even hinted a reduction of tensions which could be done by pulling back US forces.

    More working class Americans need to join with their Korean brothers and sisters in demanding US imperialism out of Korea and everywhere else.
    Kuya Kemet

    Posted by Kuya Kemet, 12/11/2010 5:56pm (4 years ago)

  • Reply to Daniel Kenney[in brackets]


    •North Korea always threatens war, and that's no good. Should every country the U.S. annoys - and that's it, basically, no one really thinks that the U.S. is going to invade North Korea or anything of that sort, probably not even the Korean leadership - should respond by killing areas populated by innocent civilians?

    [Tell that to the North koreans who were forcibly kept apart from their southern brethren after World War 2, by the United States military. That same US, already a fearsome regional force by virtue of being the first to use the atomic bomb on Japan, went on to carpet bomb out of existence every standing building in the north of Korea. There are even accusations of the US use of biological warfare, and only massive Chinese military intervention forced the US to take use of the atomic bomb off the table of decision making. As for "innocent civilians", if the island was that vulnerable, then why did South Korea allow it to be populated in the first place?]

    The U.S. has been provoking China by threatening to do the same kind of exercises near their waters. Perhaps China would be heroic and revolutionary, and defeating the "war-mongering capitalists" by send a few nukes against New York, Boston, Philadelphia, LA, Chicago and elsewhere?
    [ China is at this moment trying to prevent such a ridiculous but real scenario from happening. In fact, diplomatically and militarily, they've been the only sane force of reason in the area..not only now, but for at least the past ten years if not longer.]

    And don't get me wrong: capitalism has killed millions. But so has the bizarre feudal system in North Korea that masquerades as "socialist."
    [The curse- on-both-your-houses ploy doesn't work here. Not when the United States and its European allies have surviving coteries of royalty, barony, aristocracy that would be restored, given half a chance. Besides, we've had a dynasty over the past twenty years[interlude:Clinton, 1993-2000] that has killed millions in the name of international law, combatting terror, and just about every other excuse that can be drummed up.]



    Posted by gary hicks, 12/02/2010 9:22pm (4 years ago)

  • I had heard from two different sources that South Korea fired the first shot.

    Posted by Nick Brisini, 12/02/2010 12:38pm (4 years ago)

  • North Korea always threatens war, and that's no good. Should every country the U.S. annoys - and that's it, basically, no one really thinks that the U.S. is going to invade North Korea or anything of that sort, probably not even the Korean leadership - should respond by killing areas populated by innocent civilians?

    The U.S. has been provoking China by threatening to do the same kind of exercises near their waters. Perhaps China would be heroic and revolutionary, and defeating the "war-mongering capitalists" by send a few nukes against New York, Boston, Philadelphia, LA, Chicago and elsewhere?

    And don't get me wrong: capitalism has killed millions. But so has the bizarre feudal system in North Korea that masquerades as "socialist."

    Posted by Daniel Kenney, 11/30/2010 10:46am (4 years ago)

  • The crisis in Korea is the result of imperialist provocation and aggression by the puppets of international capital, the US and south Korea. While all progressive people want peace, the Democratic Korea (DPRK) has an absolute right to self-defense. south Korea had just conducted a week of military maneuvers just off the border of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea simulating an invasion of the DPRK and fired shells just off their coast, before Democratic Korea was forced to respond. We need to strengthen our commitment to clearly explaining to the people of the US and the world, the need to combat imperialism and take sides against warmongering capitalists who have killed untold millions in their quest for hegemony and profits.

    Posted by Michael Z. Ladson, 11/30/2010 9:20am (4 years ago)

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