Measuring Washington

The Washington Free Beacon reports that “the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recently increased its military posture  [along the Korean border]. ” The buildup has been going on since mid-March, and include both troop movements and warplane activity.


The conventional wisdom is that China is acting to restrain North Korea, an idea which gives the Western press much comfort. But at sea Chinese forces are actually deployed to confront or disperse the USN. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported a ‘surprise’ Chinese naval exercise in the South China. “Half a world away, Russian President Vladmir Putin ordered a surprise military exercise from his presidential jet on a flight home from a United Nations conference in South Africa. The exercise in the Black Sea involved 30 navy ships, dozens of combat aircraft and hundreds of armored vehicles.”

If Russia and China are supportive of the United States that is strange way to show it.

China has always wanted to see North and South Korea reunited. Chinese President Xi Jinping used the word ‘reconciliation’ — but on whose terms?  Russia and China have gone on record as opposing “foreign” intervention in North Korea so the obvious construction is that any force destined to play a part in the “reconciliation” process  must be Chinese, not American.

The last time China tried to help reunify the Korean Peninsula it used its troops to support a North Korean takeover of the South.

The difference this time is that the South Korean military is vastly more powerful in comparative terms than in 1950. President Park Geun-hye, whose mother was killed by North Korean agents said, “if there is any provocation against South Korea and its people, there should be a strong response in initial combat without any political considerations”.


Stung by criticism that its response to the shelling of a South Korean island in 2010 was tardy and weak, Seoul has also threatened to target North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and to destroy statues of the ruling Kim dynasty in the event of any new attack, a plan that has outraged Pyongyang.

Seoul and its ally the United States played down Saturday’s statement from the official KCNA news agency as the latest in a stream of tough talk from Pyongyang.

North Korea stepped up its rhetoric in early March, when U.S. and South Korean forces began annual military drills that involved the flights of U.S. B-2 stealth bombers in a practice run, prompting the North to puts its missile units on standby to fire at U.S. military bases in the South and in the Pacific.

Given the strength of South Korea not even China can steamroller it swiftly. But the ultimate guarantor of the Republic of Korea is Washington. How far Washington is willing to go to support Seoul has always been the $ 64 trillion question. As the Korean War (whose ceasefire has now been unilaterally ended by Kim) shows, hostilities can begin via miscalculation. In 1950, China and Russia believed Truman would not oppose a forceful attack on South Korea and decided to take a chance and go for it. All they needed was a little daylight.


On 12 January 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave his famous Aleutians speech at the National Press Club, Washington, DC. Acheson said that United States would adhere to the principle of non-interference with respect to the Chinese question and that the American defense line in the Pacific was one that connected Alaska, the Japanese archipelago, Okinawa, and the Philippines. He said the US Pacific “defense line” or “defensive perimeter” “runs along the Aleutians to Japan and then goes back to the Ryukyus…. We hold important positions in the Ryukyu Islands, and these we will continue to hold… The defensive perimeter runs from the Ryukyus to the Philippine Islands,” he said. This — Acheson tried to explain much later — was no more than what the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and Gen. Douglas McArthur held at the time, “that the U.S. line of defense starts from the Philippines and continues through the Ryukyu Archipelago, which includes its main bastion, Okinawa. Then it bends back through Japan and the Aleutian Island chain to Alaska.” But just because he did not include South Korea as part of his “defensive perimeter,” it was said later on that such omission had served to give the communists “the green light” to try to overrun Korea.

Emboldened by the exclusion of South Korea from the American defense line in the Pacific zone in the so-called Acheson Declaration, Kim Il-sung decided to launch an outright invasion of the South. The 3,000 Soviet military advisors assigned to help train the North Korean forces were withdrawn as a smokescreen to cover the impending invasion. Information uncovered in 1992 confirmed that both the Soviet Union and China were aware and supportive of North Korea’s invasion plans in 1949. Yu Song Cho, deputy chief of staff of the KPA at the time of the invasion, revealed that Soviet military advisers went so far as to rewrite his initial invasion order. Russian statements in 1992 revealed that Soviet air defense and fighter units totalling 26,000 men participated in the Korean War.

In the predawn hours of Sunday, June 25, 1950, the North Korean forces, spearheaded by tanks and self-propelled guns, unleashed all-out attacks across the 38th parallel.


Even after Mao’s intervention, “there were never more Chinese in Korea than there were Americans,” Frank Holeman, who was Washington correspondent of New York Daily News observed at the time. Korea is not exclusively been about the military calculus. It was fundamentally a process of discovery of where precisely America’s real line in the sand is.  Does the American defense perimeter still run through the Philippines? What about Korea? The tensions in the area have always  been a test of wills between the two Pacific Powers. The Chinese want to know just how far Obama will stand up to them. Do they think he can be hustled off the Asian perimeter? That more than anything may determine what happens next.

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

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