his first trip to the region after becoming US Secretary of
State and after a whistle stop in South Korea John Kerry flew
into Beijing to meet with China's State Councilor Yang Jiechi
and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday. If one reads the BBC
report about this meeting, it appears written in a manner to
make us believe that China is sympathetic to the US version of
events and condemning "any provocative acts" from North
However this is a quote from John Kerry himself, rather than any
official statement from the Chinese Government. In fact Yang
Jiechi stated that China is "firmly committed to upholding
peace and stability and advancing the denuclearization process
on the Korean Peninsula.......peaceful through dialogue",
(also reported later in the article) without any further
The only agreement the US got with China was that both sides
agreed to further discussions.
So what was the purpose of Kerry's trip to China?
The chronology of events on the Korean Peninsula are well known.
However in the "western media", events have been
portrayed in a manner where anything that North Korea says is a
provocation and anything the US does is a necessary defensive
response. This is hardly objective when North Korea is well
known for its "aggressive statements" especially around
the time of the joint US-South Korean Foal Eagle joint military
exercises each year. In addition, North Korea's statements have
not been followed with any specific actions, except the closing
of the Kaesong Industrial Zone, and the US is not just talking
but moving some of its most sophisticated military hardware
right onto the doorstep of North Korea. North Korea may be
guilty of verbal escalation, but the US is the only party that
has actually escalated anything militarily, although the
"western" media is continually warning of possible North
Korean Military action, which until today has not happened or
even looks like happening.
Every BBC online article publishes a map of the supposed range
of North Korean missiles and warheads, that have not even been
tested by North Korean to validate these claims. No articles
have asked the question whether North Korea actually has the
capacity to produce nuclear weapons that are capable of being
put on missiles as warheads? From the test of a crude bomb
to miniaturizing bombs that actually work is a major step in
technology, which is unlikely Korea possesses at present.
Some very brief historical context may shed some light on this
show of force not witnessed for decades.
The Clinton Administration signed an accord with North Korea's
then leader Kim Il-sung where Japan agreed to build a light
water reactor for electricity generation and supply oil until
the reactor was ready to go online. The then South Korean
President Kim Dae-jung also initiated the "Sunshine policy"
with the North in an effort to build up trust and cooperation
which would lead to an eventual form of unification, a deep
aspiration of most Koreans. It was out of this agreement with
Kim Dae-jung's successor Roh Moo-jung that a further agreement
was made to build the Kaesong Industrial Zone, something that
gave a symbolic connection between the North and South.
This eventually led to an exchange of visits in 2000 between the
US and North Korea where then US Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright went to Pyongyang and Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok, the
second in command in North Korea visited Washington. At this
point the US and North Korea were on the verge of official
diplomatic recognition and the North agreeing to end its missile
However upon the incoming of George W. Bush as President the
pending missile agreement didn't precede as the new
administration did not believe North Korea could be trusted.
Then came 9/11 and President Bush labeled North Korea as one of
the "axis of evil" in the forerunning rhetoric to the
wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
US accusations in 2002 that North Korea was operating a uranium
enrichment plant saw application of further sanctions on North
Korea. The North seeing the US invasion of Iraq would have
easily contributed to Pyongyang believing that this could happen
to the them.
In 2006 North Korea exploded its first small nuclear bomb. This
at the time led to some skepticism where some believed the
explosion was faked with an extremely large amount of TNT.
President Bush under Condoleezza Rice's advice urged US
participation in six party talks with North Korea involving
China, Japan, Russia, and both North, and South Korea. These
talks led to North Korea blowing up the Yongbyon cooling tower
as proof that no uranium enrichment would take place.
Then in 2008 when Barak Obama was running for US President and
promised that his administration would talk to both Iran and
North Korea, there was some hope in Pyongyang that the steady
peace process may continue. However upon Obama taking office
this hope was quickly dashed with the new Secretary of State
Hilary Clinton adopting the doctrine of "strategic patience"
waiting for Kim Jong-Il to die and see a regime collapse through
internal power struggles. Both Obama and Clinton made it clear
to North Korea that there would be no more talks until the North
would denounce nuclear weapons and open up the country. Kim
Jong-Il soon died passing on leadership to his son Kim Jong-un,
without any change in policy or outlook.
In addition South Korea's then President Lee Myung-bak also took
a harder line on North Korea, dismantling the "sunshine
policies" of his predecessors.
In 2010 the Obama Administration sent a delegation of former
high ranking officials to Pyongyang who met with senior
officials of Kim Jong-Il's Government. It was reported that even
though North Korea was willing to ship out all nuclear fuel rods
to a third country in exchange for a US pledge that it has no
hostile intent towards North Korea, the Obama Administration
Then in March 2010, North South relations deteriorated with the
torpedoing of the ROKS Cheonan, a South Korean Warship, killing
46 South Korean sailors. Although the North has denied
responsibility for this act, an investigation in the South put
the blame on the North. However China,
and the United Nations Security Council all did not concur with
the conclusion of that report.
Then the North warned the South if any shells during a South
Korean military exercise landed across the disputed border, they
would retaliate with shelling of their own, which they did,
killing seven civilians on the Island of Yeonpyeong. South Korea
appalled with the North's retaliation continued the exercises
scaling up tensions in the area. These tensions only subsided
when the South stopped the exercises upon US warnings.
These current tensions were started by the North launching a
satellite into orbit, which many countries have done before.
Then in February, the North carried out another nuclear test and
the UN placed further sanctions upon North Korea. Tensions
continued to rise with escalations of talk and "sabre
rattling" as the world has been watching over the last
From the North's perspective, the United States literally bombed
North Korean into the ground during the Korean War, and they
showed again during the Iraq war that they are fully capable of
doing it again. Kaesong Industrial Zone is something that is
very symbolic of Korean unity and its closure could be viewed as
a display of the North's anger towards the South's rhetoric.
Finally, with China's change in direction over the last few
years, Pyongyang could be a little uncertain about China's
support if a war with the US eventuated.
The North talks of annihilating the US, while the US talks about
bringing down the current regime in Pyongyang.
Administration rhetoric and media reporting about this
"reckless regime bent on nuclear war" according to US
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel presents what he called "a real
and clear danger and threat". The build-up of US defensive
missile systems on Guam, Alaska and on the West Coast of the
United States to counter this "grave threat" will require
funding. One wonders how much did the issue of future military
funding come into the administration's calculations? Media
reports indicate a change in many congress members attitudes to
funding cuts sine these tensions started.
Then last Thursday President Obama and his spokespeople sort to
calm down the situation through winding back the military
exercises with South Korea to lower tensions. Then came
Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to the region on Friday.
The United States cannot really afford military action against
Korea, it's not in their interest. North Korea is a "good
enemy" to have, and can be "managed" through upping
and downing tensions on the peninsula. Korea is a good excuse to
place military hardware close to China in the East Asian region.
A collapsing North would be a disaster for the US, which would
result either in a united Korea where there would no longer be
any excuse for a strong military presence, or there could be
some conflict between China and the US to install some other
form of order in the vacuum.
So the Author is postulating the Secretary Kerry's trip to China
was the result of a miscalculation by the administration in
heightening the tensions on the Korean Peninsula where any
further escalation could lead to irrational responses in
defense. From a North perspective an attack could be seen as the
best defense in these tensions.
In realizing this miscalculation John Kerry had to visit China
to seek some form of "face saving" measure where the US
could unilaterally de-escalate the rhetoric and action without
being seen to back down.
This points to very poor policy handling on the part of the
Obama Administration in this episode on the Korean Peninsula.
Unfortunately the Clinton approach of the 1990s was dropped in
favor of the Bush-Cheney "strategic competition and
aggression" doctrine. This escalation was aimed at
both "enhancing North Korea's image as an enemy", and
making an excuse for more military activity in the region. By
doing so the Obama Administration is the first to trigger a
Chinese Level One military mobilization in many years since the
With the US putting conditions on North Korea before the six
party talks can be resumed, the Administration is playing
tactical military games with North Korea without any ability to
communicate which is extremely dangerous. Maybe Kim Jong-un's
message through Dennis Rodman "Obama should call me" did
have more significance to it than was given credence at the
For the citizens of the region, it appears the media has also
through its manner of reporting played some role in heightening
the tensions. In fact the playing up of tensions by the media,
may have put the Obama Administration in the corner in need to
"save face" and deescalate tensions. There has been very
little reporting from the North Korean perspective where most
media has chosen to report only what the US Administration is
saying. Even the London School of Economics has put in a formal
complaint to the BBC because BBC officials didn't disclose their
true intentions of making a derogatory documentary about North
Korea during a student visit there.
If there is to be a long term solution to the Korean Peninsula
the Obama Administration needs to think very hard about what
they need to do, as what they are currently doing is not
working. Secondly, the media through skewed reporting has
actually become one of the tools of the US Administration during
this Korean escalation. The memories of weapons of mass
destruction and the Iraqi war are still fresh and that makes one
worry if the truth has been the greatest casualty of this
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