October 13, 2005

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It's easy these days to feel despondent about US-ROK relations. Although the Roh administration cooled with ordinary tap water rhetoric surfacing from a left-right confrontation over MacArthur's statue at Incheon, it has returned to form with a request for operational command of ROK military forces from the USFK. It's not the idea, but the timing I find suspect. So soon after the 60th Anniversary of the DPRK, this looks like the Blue House is trying to give Pyongyang an appeasing gift. South Korean conservatives, too, appear particularly lame in rebuttal:

Taking back operational command may sound splendid, but the price we would pay is a fatal security risk. If the defense reform budget of W289 trillion (US$289 billion), is premised on the retrieval of operational control, the country will shoulder far greater costs than it needs, to pay for the phrase "independent armed force." If not, we have to be prepared for huge additional costs for the sake of retrieving operational control. Does the government feel that our national security and public finances are capacious enough to permit us to get drunk on a phrase?

According to Richard Halloran, USFK's relationship with South Korea is changing regardless of Seoul's perspective.

In addition, the headquarters of the Army in the Pacific is preparing to assume command of Army forces in South Korea, which are gradually being reduced and may eventually be largely withdrawn. Plans call for dismantling or shrinking the United Nations Command in Seoul that dates back to the Korean War that ended in 1953.

The Army also plans to transfer the Eighth Army headquarters from Seoul to Hawaii and to turn back to the South Koreans control of their forces commanded today by a joint U.S.-South Korea headquarters. The four-star American general's post in Seoul would move to Hawaii.

Military officers say this could happen by 2008 or any time after. The official line is that the threat from North Korea must lessen and stability come to the peninsula first. The unofficial betting is that rising anti-Americanism in Seoul will cause that move to be made more sooner than later.

Proving why economics is not the exact science it purports to be (and, shouldn't be), OFK scoops the Scoop Jackson Bill, a year-old US House relic having more to do with protectionist backlash against Beijing than sincere wishes for the human rights situation in North Korea. It will probably be folded into another trade bill.

Amid all this seriousness, is a cumulative accretion of shoulder-shrugging, head-shaking weirdness.

1. The Unification Baby

2. The Unification Minister NK Refugees Hate

But some leftists realize South Korea's human rights stance is wrong.

3. The 2005 Chinese Kimchi Scare

4. The Traitor (both Marmot and Lost Nomad express their disbelief)

Joshua at OFK also reports on the US House International Relations Committee hearings featuring Amabassador Christopher Hill. Aside from what is purported to be his stand on verification, the US Congress' perceptions of South Korea could lead to a collision with the White House. KJ also chimes in, about the Democrats:

If you start out with a discussion of key issues by saying simply the "depth of NK commitment" to denuclearization rather than concrete tangible far reaching steps toward such a denuclearization, you have so lowered the bar North Korea has to jump over to get significant amounts of what it wants, you are actually making future progress more difficult.

Fortunately, the House does not approve treaties. But, as with the afore-mentioned trade bill, it can cause problems elsewhere.

Finally, though, a slice of good news with the huge dollop of bile. Without reading (via Lost Nomad) the JoongAng Ilbo and the East Asia Institute poll questions, these results seem to indicate, that there are significant numbers of far-sighted South Koreans, even if elite opinion is pro-unification.

Views on North Korea have changed significantly, the survey said. In the past, South Koreans considered the North as temporarily off-limits national territory that should be reintegrated as soon as possible, the group studying the poll results said, and considered reunification the nation's major task. But this poll said that longing for unification is weakening; 78 percent of those surveyed said that the two Koreas are separate countries.

Two things leap to mind here. First, with ROK President Roh Moo-hyun's approval ratings so low, and North Korea such a prominent crutch in the progressives' dismal ruling performance, the poll could indicate support for other parties. Second, the Bush administration, as it has done admirably on the recent Islamic radicalism speech, needs to reframe the debate over North Korea, for South Koreans' benefit.

Cross-Posted at Barbarian Envoy

posted by Infidel on 10.13.05 at 07:48 PM in the Koreas category.


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