Northeast Asia — Readings from the Bunker

The American state of Ohio has more libraries and colleges than pre-war Iraq had suspected chemical weapons facilities.  There, on the cusp of the American northeast, young analysts of East Asia hammer out academic credentials in the secret stacks and labs of the Buckeye State, protected in huge concrete bibliotek-bunkers from the prying eyes of unmanned aerial drones which President Bush warned of one mushroom-cloud-dreaming night in Cincinnati.  One of the men who emerged from that formidable network of bunkers, Robert Kelly, now runs the Asian Security & US Foreign Relations blog from a position in South Korea at Pusan National University.  I found his essay “China is Feeling Its New Strength – and It will Structure Korean Unification” to be particularly useful, as it puts China’s Korea policy into the broadest possible context — within the framework of China’s (ostensibly peaceful) rise:

I have been to four conferences on East Asian (EA) security this year. All have had Chinese colleagues. This has been hugely helpful in my thinking on Asian security. In the US, I rarely met Chinese scholars. Studying Asia from a distance reduced it to a pool of cases to rummage through for evidence of this or that theory. Living here has given me a much greater sense of sharpness of the local disagreements, and especially of the punchy, rising strength of China.

David Kang has argued repeatedly that China’s rise is not spurring counter-balancing behavior in EA and that predictions that Europe’s past (nationalism, sharp territorial disputes, war) will be Asia’s future are overblown. I am certainly not the Asia expert he is, and in the US, I agreed with him. But after living here 15 months and going to these conferences and teaching Chinese (and Korean) students on these issues, I am really starting to think he is wrong.

Instead, I think this op-ed by Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times really nails it. (Rachman is excellent. You should read him regularly.) I think he really catches how much more assertive the Chinese are becoming, including toward the US (which we deserve, of course, because we can’t get our house in order). I certainly see the ‘rising China’ vibe here when I listen to the Chinese scholars at the conferences. At the last one, three Chinese participants all stressed how the US was becoming dependent on China and that China was becoming “rich and strong.” I should say that the scholars I meet are usually polite and pleasant in personal conversation over a beer or dinner, but in the presentations, they talk with new found, newly enjoyable strength given US troubles and China’s continuing growth through even this Great Recession. In August I attended a panel entitled ‘China is Back!: East Asia after the Beijing Olympics.’ That sums up the vibe quite well.

And how could I mention bunkers without dropping a nice 37-page Congressional Research pdf. on detecting North Korea’s May 25, 2009 nuclear test?  Like celebrated DPRK defector Kim Jong-Ryul, perhaps one can indeed survive and emerge into the light after years of hammering, in the underground.

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