firmly in place has been confirmed through an abundance of historical evidence.
What is China for Korea?
The rise of China and the relative fall of the U.S.
An empire naturally acts like an empire. China will try to establish a Sino-central order with more imperialist ideas. This will pit it against the world's current dominant power, the U.S.
The rise of China means the relative fall of the U.S. It is part of universal trends. Over the past half century, many economies in the world have grown at a surprisingly fast pace. "The rise of the rest" termed by Zacharia suggests a falling share of the U.S in the world economy.
The U.S. is still the most powerful nation in the world. History shows its greatness as it has kept a large and steady share in the world economy over the last century. It may lose some of its weight as other countries grow fast but there is no ground to predict its rapid decline. The U.S. would rather stay vigorous and vibrant as it is the most open society.
It is true that in recent years, the U.S. power has weakened in international politics. In particular, it suffered a backlash from the political and economic troubles in Iraq and Afghanistan after its invasion.
The rise of China and the relative fall of the U.S. is not good news for the entire world. The U.S. has exercised the least imperialistic power in our history. The world has benefited from the benevolent hegemonic power under Pax Americana, enjoying the greatest prosperity and fastest development in history.
Meanwhile, China has been traditionally an empire. Its name in Chinese means "the center of the world," showing its ethno-centric ideology. It used to call itself as the world, believing that it represents the entire civilization.
Chinese imperialism based on nationalism
China will pursue imperialism in a more aggressive manner as the communist regime tries to justify its rule with nationalism. The nationalism of a great power usually ends up with imperialistic policy. China abandoned the command economy and adopted the market economy in the 1970s under the rule of Deng Xiaoping. The communist regime entirely lost the legitimacy of its totalitarian rule after giving up the command economy. It is now trying hard to reclaim the legitimacy through nationalism. As Thomas Christensen pointed out, the Chinese communist party should try to become more and more Chinese as it is no longer communist.
The attempt to regain the legitimacy with nationalism has been successful, which makes the people more nationalistic. When the Chinese citizens want more freedom along with the economic development, the communist regime would have no choices but to promote the nationalism further. The people's nationalistic zeal will force the Chinese government to pursue an aggressive imperialism.
We need to better understand what the Chinese think and feel about Korea. The knowledge will help us better understand their psychology and handle with them more wisely.
The Chinese showed unfriendly attitudes towards Korea during the Beijing Olympic Games. They supported not only the Chinese teams but also all other rivals to Korea. Unfortunately, this was not an exceptional case. After the exchanges between the two countries have become more active, a majority of the Chinese people have come to hate and criticize Korea.
The hostile attitudes have a number of roots. One of the direct causes is the fear that Korea is to take over the Chinese cultural assets. The perception has started from the misunderstanding that "Kangreung Tano Festival" designated as the UNESCO world heritage in 2005 followed the Chinese festival. The controversy has expanded into other cultural heritages. False and ungrounded rumors have spread out via internet, worsening the negative perception about Korea.
The triple issues themselves can be explosive as cultural heritage is the source of the Chinese nationalistic passion. Since the recent Chinese history was a shame, their identity and self-pride is based on the long history and marvelous cultural heritage. The self-centered view easily translates into derogation of other Asian countries.
The way the Chinese see Japan can be a good reference. Chinese human rights activist Wei Jinsheng once told British historian Ian Buruman: "The Orient is China. Japan is just an appendage." The remarks represent the general perception of Chinese intellectuals. They claim that Japan cannot follow China although they use Chinese characters and benefit from the Chinese civilization. Given the tendency that the Chinese intellectuals look down Japan who has never been subjugated to China and is now a global superpower with more advanced society, how would they see South Korea and the Korean Peninsula?
China believes that it has historical entitlement to any issues over the Korean Peninsula, given the history and geography. Since the Chinese Han Dynasty conquered the ancient Korean kingdom Old Chosun, the northern land has belonged to China. The following Korean kingdoms have been subordinate and paid tributes to the Chinese rulers. After the Chinese Won Dynasty defeated the Korean Goryeo Dynasty, Goryeo became a part of the Won`s territory. The historical background would apparently influence the Chinese perception at a time when the nationalistic sentiment is rising high. Don`t we Koreans still miss Manchuria, the old land of the Balhae Kingdom taken away to China more than one thousand years ago?
Unfortunately, the historical backgrounds have transformed the Chinese nationalistic zeal into a hatred of Korea. China has almost constantly enjoyed dominant position in the East with its great civilization. As the word of China-centrism connotes, China has always regarded itself as the center of the world. Whenever conquered by outsiders, China took them into its history to maintain its weight in the world. The China-centric view collapsed in the conflict with the European civilization in the 19th century.
Since China was defeated at the Opium War in 1942 and transferred Hong Kong to the United Kingdom and until Japan retreated from the main land after the end of the World War II, China suffered humiliations from the Western powers and Japan who adopted the Western civilization first. The experience that they call "national humiliation of one hundred years" has defined China`s attitudes in talking with outside. The recent strong nationalistic sentiment is the vent of their desire to wash out the historic disgrace.
The national humiliation officially ended in 1945 when Japan withdrew from China. But it was the U.S., not China, who defeated Japan at the war. Furthermore, China was led by Jiang Jieshi`s Nationalist Party or Kuo-min-tang. The only achievement for the Chinese communist party was its fighting against the U.S. during the Korean Civil War. Therefore, the communist regime declared its "victory" over the U.S. as the end of the national humiliation. China emerged as strong power after attacking the world`s most powerful nation and ending the war in truce. After the ceasefire, Mao Zedong announced with great pride that China achieved a big victory over the war against the U.S.
The recent Chinese literature on the Korean War depicts China as a benevolent winner. To many Chinese people, the Korean War means the end of the national humiliation and the birth of a new China. The victory in the Korean War has become the center of the nationalists` self-esteem. [Peter Hays Gries,
China believes that the regained pride has offset the huge costs it paid for the war - about 150,000 deaths, more than 200,000 injured, and tremendous military spending.
Advanced Korea is an annoyance to China
The problem is that an advanced Korea is an annoyance to China whose national pride is based on the "victory" at the Korean War. If it really won the war, North Korea backed by China should have seized the entire Korean Peninsula. It is embarrassment that the capitalist South Korea, regarded as a mere proxy of the U.S., has achieved remarkable economic development whereas the communist North Korea has been in a desperate poverty.
We can understand the Chinese only when considering their desire to take off the shameful memory. We can also understand why China has constantly protected North Korea and tried not to blame North Korea even after evidence showed Pyongyang sank a South Korean warship in a torpedo attack last March. In order to build a strong ground for the relationship with China, the Korean government must consider their psychological landscape when drawing up a policy.
Since the Korean Peninsula has a long border line with China, it is hit the first and the most by China`s aggressive imperialistic push. It has rarely been independent of China in its long history. China`s clout over North Korea is such that Pyongyang has become a vassal to Beijing in reality. South Korea is also within the influence of China.
Korea becoming a Finland with acquiescent policy
A small country siding with a strong power has to try to read the neighbor`s mind all the time. It should concede everything to the powerful neighbor. It ends up with Finlandization, a way for a small country to adjust itself to a bigger nation. Under the asymmetric power structure, a strong country chooses a policy of dominance while a small country opts for a policy of acquiescence.
A small country with acquiescent policy can cope with the influence of the big power. One is no reaction, which comes when the small country is not well organized.
Second strategy is for an elite group to identify itself with the strong power and impose its own value system on the entire people. The imposed domination usually produces a puppet regime.
Last strategy is that the elite group tries to keep its own core value such as independence or autonomy with an appeasement policy towards the bigger neighbor. When the identity of a small country`s regime is different from that of the strong power, this strategy is quite common. They`re trying to find the best way while admitting its reliance on the big power. That`s why it is called adaptive acquiescence. The Finlandization is a typical form of adaptive acquiescence.
The strategic concept in the adaptive acquiescence is concessions and counterweight. Imbalanced power structure always leads to asymmetric relationship, where the stronger gains on the concessions from the weaker in every issue. The weaker in turn enjoys the status quo with a minimum of damage. As such, the weaker yielding to the stronger becomes a natural order.
But such a concession carries meaning only when it has counterweight. Without counterweight, the weaker will be eventually absorbed by the stronger and the acquiescent policy can no longer be acquiescent. Therefore, the weaker tends to pursue both the strategy of concessions and counterweight strategy.
It seems we don`t have other choice but to admit the Chinese clout, not only in geopolitical terms but more importantly in economic area. China is now the most important economy for us. Therefore, South Korea should follow an appeasement policy towards China in every aspect.
Appeasement policy is welcomed in any country. It`s tough and risky to stand against a strong and aggressive foreign country. Diplomats, religious community, media, and academia are usually in favor of appeasement policy. The "China experts" who can keep their status with an easy access to the Chinese society and regime are likely to have a strong bias tilted towards China. Enterprisers will be the most friendly group to China as political tension does harm to trade and investment.
Many South Korean companies have entered the Chinese market. They will try hard to prevent the bilateral relationship from worsening for their own stake and thus they will actively lobby for China in Korea. As such, the likelihood of the Finlandization is pretty high in Korea.
The rise of China and Korea`s response
How can we respond to the rise of China that will affect our future fate significantly? To answer the question, we first need moral courage to look at our reality and admit our uncomfortable situation. We are already under the considerable influence of China and hardly find a way out of it. Therefore, our reasonable response is adaptive acquiescence to minimize our concessions while improving counterweight. Korea has already followed the approach implicitly or explicitly.
The U.S. and Japan can help us improve our diplomatic and military counterweight against China. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) can lend us some support as they are significantly powerful in geopolitical terms and also wary of China`s rise.
Diplomatic or military counterweight can work only when the society is mobilized and actively responds to external threats. No one can help those who do not help themselves. The driving force is the citizens` counterweight.
Korea has very weak citizens` counterweight as the society is split in many ways. The ideological divide is especially serious. The root cause is of course the presence of North Korea. It started the civil war in order to get hold of the South. But it was defeated due to the U.S. intervention and barely survived on the back of China. Since the war, Pyongyang has made several attempts to overthrow the regimes in Seoul and acquired a group of considerable supporters. They have used propaganda effectively to provoke social confusion and division in the South. They have also stirred up negative sentiment among South Koreans towards Washington and Tokyo in a bid to cut Seoul`s counterweight.
China is well aware of the situation more than anyone else. It has always understood that a divided Korea is favorable to itself. That is why China has tried to keep the Korean Peninsula divided at huge costs and will try to keep North Korea from collapsing. China paid huge costs to fight against the U.S. during the Korea Civil War and more recently, it left the six-party talks over the North`s nuclear programs stalled to help Pyongyang buy more time. The more powerful China becomes, the more challenging the reunification of Korea is.
It is important to let the world know the situation. The first step to counter the rise of China should be telling the people around the world that spreading anti-U.S. and anti-Japan sentiment and supporting the North will lead to the Korean Peninsula being put under the control of China. Strong supporters of the North Korean regime would not want to see China ruling over Korea.
By Bok Geoil, novelist