The diplomatic courtship of South Korea’s president.Sep 29, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 03 • By DENNIS P. HALPIN
America’s “pivot” to Asia is rapidly going nowhere, but diplomatic challenges in the most economically vibrant region of the world still cry out for attention. These include the brash assertiveness of a rising China, the emergence of an erratic, nuclear-armed young North Korean leader, and the embrace of neo-nationalism in an aging and insecure Japan. One nation stands out as a source of balance—South Korea, personified by its astute and pragmatic president, the first woman to hold the job.
The diplomatic courtship of Park Geun-hye drew worldwide attention in March when President Obama arranged a three-way meeting with her and Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, during a summit at The Hague. One could almost hear a chorus singing “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” in the background as the Western press gushed over the “breakthrough meeting.”
Most Koreans knew better. They were aware that Park Geun-hye normally would not be caught anywhere near the nationalistic Japanese leader, who had just three months before visited Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni war shrine. The stilted meeting required the American president to assume the Yente role at the behest of a worried State Department. In an official photo of the event, a barely smiling Park stares straight ahead, while a rather befuddled looking Abe watches as Obama does most of the talking.
In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye’s intelligent, strong-willed eldest daughter resists her father’s promotion of the wealthy but boorish butcher in favor of a more dashing suitor. Park Geun-hye also apparently has a mind of her own, despite pressure from the elders of Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon. The Washington gurus reportedly told Seoul’s diplomats that South Korea is “not a team player” in the alliance for not embracing Abe. They seemed to imply, like Tevye, that she should defer to “The Papa!” i.e., Uncle Sam.
But The Papa in Washington could do little when a more dashing suitor came courting in Seoul in July. There was nervousness in Washington as Chinese president Xi Jinping received the red carpet treatment from America’s South Korean ally. The sting is potentially even greater; Korean friends have said that any announced South Korean trip by Japan’s Abe would see the streets of Seoul flooded with so many protesters that the visit would have to be canceled (rather like President Eisenhower’s aborted visit to Tokyo in 1960 in the midst of contentious security treaty negotiations being handled by Prime Minister Abe’s own grandfather). Korean government officials, for the record, have asserted that bilateral relations with Tokyo are not as strained as claimed on the Seoul street and that, given the right circumstances, Abe would be welcomed.
Still, Washington should be concerned given President Park’s reported affection for Chinese culture and her noted fluency in Mandarin Chinese. And, as with any earnest suitor, Xi brought gifts guaranteed to dazzle. He had already approved earlier in the year the opening of a memorial hall in northeast China dedicated to the Korean independence fighter Ahn Jung-geun, who assassinated Japanese statesman Ito Hirobumi at Harbin train station in 1909. Xi has further plans for memorial sites in China dedicated to the Comfort Women, a key concern of the South Korean public, and to the Korean Provisional Government-in-exile, which was established in China during the period of Japanese colonial rule over Korea.
And soon after his Seoul visit, Xi Jinping, in a direct snub to his disrespectful and impulsive North Korean ally, allegedly allowed a group of North Korean refugees caught on China’s southern border, including a child, to be turned over to South Korean diplomats. They reportedly gained safe passage to Seoul rather than being sent back to the North Korean gulag. If true, this represents a clear triumph for Park Geun-hye’s quiet diplomacy on the refugee issue. Xi also holds the key to the ultimate prize for Seoul—Chinese acquiescence in a unified Korean peninsula one day under Seoul’s administration. While still a pipe dream, this possibility remains the holy grail of emerging Sino-South Korean friendly relations.
So will a bilateral Park-Abe summit ever take place? If Park Geun-hye were a descendant of independence fighter Ahn Jung-geun, she could be on a flight to Tokyo tomorrow, just as Richard Nixon, with his impeccable anti-Communist credentials, was the only American president who could go to China. But the uncomfortable fact is that President Park’s father, former president Park Chung-hee, was a graduate of the Imperial Japanese Army Academy and served as a lieutenant with Japan’s Kwantung Army in Manchuria—the same region where Prime Minister Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, headed industrial development and stood accused of exploiting Chinese slave labor.
Sep 1, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 47 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
A foolish optimism about human nature can’t withstand even a nodding acquaintance with history. If you’re of a certain age you may well remember seeing this photo. It was published years ago in Life magazine, among other places. And once seen, it is not easily forgotten. The Scrapbook retrieved the copy reproduced here from the endlessly fascinating World War II Today website, maintained and curated since 2008 by Martin Cherrett (ww2today.com). Here is Mr. Cherrett’s description:
5:14 PM, Jul 1, 2014 • By DENNIS P. HALPIN
In 2007, during his first term as Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe penned a work titled Toward a Beautiful Country, My Vision for Japan. The recent re-examination of the 1993 Kono Statement on the Imperial Japanese military’s use of “comfort women” during World War II (a euphemism for sex slaves), which was presented to the Japanese Diet on June 20, is the antithesis of the actions of “a beautiful country.” It represents a backward step, reopening a dark chapter in 20th-century history, which most of the world woul
Tiananmen Square and truth-telling. Jun 9, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 37 • By DENNIS P. HALPIN
In a March 28 speech at the Körber Foundation in Berlin, China’s president, Xi Jinping, called for historical truth-telling. He had in mind the Rape of Nanking, the massacre carried out by Imperial Japan’s forces in 1937-38 during their occupation of the then-capital of the Chinese Nationalists (the city is now called Nanjing).
11:51 AM, Apr 28, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
President Obama spent only one night in Japan last week on his current swing through Asia, but the State Department estimated total "lodging nights" required by the president and his entourage could run around 2,172, and the use of "functional rooms" (presumably conference rooms and the like) could last up to 29 days.
8:09 AM, Apr 24, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
President Obama met some Japanese robots and didn't like it. "I have to say that the robots were a little scary, they were too lifelike.
9:20 PM, Apr 23, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
President Obama is in Japan meeting with the emperor -- and talking about his gray hair.
"I hope you and your family are well," Obama told the emperor, according to the pool report. "I have very fond memories of our last meeting four years ago."
The emperor responded, "We are pleased to welcome you."
According to the White House pool report, "The president told the Emperor that the last time they met, he did not have any gray hairs."
To which the emperor reportedly responded, "You have a very hard job."
Here's the entire pool report:
Is South Korea slipping away?Mar 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 24 • By DENNIS P. HALPIN
In 1916 London faced a dilemma. The British were hoping to bring American reinforcements to assist them and their beleaguered French allies in the trenches of the First World War. Woodrow Wilson, however, seeking to become the first Democratic president to win reelection since before the Civil War, was campaigning under the slogan “He kept us out of war.”
America’s Pacific ally displays confidence – and makes a needless slip.11:33 AM, Jan 21, 2014 • By JOSEPH A. BOSCO
Much good news is emanating from Japan, one of America's most important allies, though some of it comes with an unnecessary taint. After decades of economic stagnation and foreign policy reticence stemming from its postwar legacy of pacifism, Japan is back as a strong and confident alliance partner.
7:44 AM, Jan 20, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
In recent days, the new U.S. ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, took to Twitter to express deep concern about the practice of a local Japanese tradition.
"Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing. USG opposes drive hunt fisheries," Kennedy tweeted.
Jan 20, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 18 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
You would guess that an agreement between the United States and Japan to move a Marine air base from one location to another on Okinawa would be good news. And it is, for three reasons. First, because there has been opposition to relocating the base on the island, and negotiations had stalemated. And second, because the move is endorsed by Okinawa’s governor, who had initially opposed it.
7:26 AM, Dec 3, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
Vice President Joe Biden says that women are not "kinder and gentler" in the work place than men.
"I've never found that to be the case," Biden told a Japanese audience. "They're as tough, they're as strong, they're as everything as a man is - and vice-versa."
Via the Associated Press:
Dec 9, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 13 • By GARY SCHMITT
While Washington and the world have been focused on the nuclear agreement reached with Iran last week in Geneva, on the other side of the globe, one of the parties to that deal, China, was at the very same time making the peaceful resolution of its dispute with Japan over a group of small islands in the East China Sea even less likely.
Sep 16, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 02 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
'Japan PM Abe shakes hands with China’s Xi at G20” (Reuters, September 5, 2013).