Korean crisis: the view from South Korea

December 1, 2017
An anti-war protest against US President Donald Trump, in Seoul on November 7.

Will a verbal war between a senile dotard and a little rocket man result in an actual war? Probably not, but at the moment, the risk is unprecedented.

The reason it remains unlikely is simply because the consequences of any actions are so catastrophic. Right now, this is the only deterrent to war.

In South Korean society, there are few visible signs of a coming war. Al Jazeera even questioned why South Koreans do not seem worried about an impending war given the risky escalation of military threats. The answer is, for almost 70 years, Koreans have faced the threat of war on a daily basis.

Paradoxical peace

The peace sustained for more than half a century on the Korean Peninsula is paradoxical. It is a peace sustained only by the fact that any potential of war is tantamount to an apocalyptic annihilation.

The present South Korean government’s policies are aimed at resolving the crisis, as well as improving the North-South relationship. However, those in charge in the US and Japan — allies of South Korea — are the worst warmongers in recent history in relation to the region. This weakens the autonomous capacity of the new South Korean government.

South Korean civil society is supportive of the government’s approach, but critical of both the US and North Korean governments. However, with respect to North Korea, the issues involved are rather delicate.

The pro-North Korean groups in South Korea are mainly cautious. They were ideologically isolated under the previous two governments and were repressed. They are aware that any further implication of connections with North Korea would threaten their existence.

Regardless, their perception is that they have to support North Korea’s approach towards the US and South Korea as one of self-defence against external threats.

North Korea’s gamble

The Kim Jung-Un regime’s choice is suicidal. The main victims of such an insane, reckless confrontation strategy are the North Korean people. At this conjuncture, the only resistance shown by North Koreans is desertion from their homeland.

The North Korean regime’s actions are a very dangerous gamble. Paradoxically, this gamble saved Japan’s ultra-nationalist Shinzo Abe government from a political crisis and gave Japan a valuable chance to rearm. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s overwhelming victory in the general election in October was a gift from Kim Jung-Un.

Everyone knows the solution. To stop the spiralling tensions and initiate a dialogue, the US must stop its threats and military exercises, and North Korea must suspend nuclear tests and missile launches.

Reports of bilateral dialogue surface occasionally, but no one is sure of the prospect asides from back-door dealers. Besides these ambiguous moves, the key players in the conflict ignore this simple solution completely.

So if the South Korean government’s intentions are not enough to secure such a path, then what might?

In the context of the present crisis, civil and social movements in Korea, Japan and China need to form an alliance for peace on the Korean peninsula.

This would aim at reviving a shared historical memory of vibrant international solidarity and cooperation between Korean, Japanese and Chinese lefts in the first half of the 20th century.

Peace movements

However, the reality is gloomy. China and North Korea lack a civil society capable of such autonomous actions. Despite some exchanges, South Korean and Japanese social movements have had few experiences of solidarity and collaboration.

In South Korea, the peace movement is weak and lacking an internationalist perspective. When Donald Trump visited South Korea on November 7 and 8, his visit was met by competing demonstrations protesting him and welcoming him simultaneously.

However, anti-Trump protests failed to overwhelm those waving Korean flags and the Stars and Stripes. The anti-war protests involved only part of the recent candlelight movement that brought down the previous, right-wing prime minister — even though an absolute majority of Korean people are angry with Trump’s senseless provocations.

Thus the anti-Trump mobilisations were limited in scope, although the anti-Trump coalition said it involved, on paper at least, more than 200 social and civic movements. South Korea’s peace movement has a long way to go.

The only force capable of blocking an escalation of the crisis is the East Asian peace movement acting from below, along with a global anti-militarist, anti-imperialist peace movement.

The United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of a treaty banning nuclear weapons at the initiative of 122 countries was a meaningful achievement. But this is not enough. Without huge mobilisations, a UN treaty is just a piece of paper.

International social movements and the radical left need to build a global peace movement now — in conjunction with a global environmental movement against climate change for the survival of human kind.

[Abridged from Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. Youngsu Won is coordinator of the International Forum in Korea.]

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