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Fateful Alliances of the Past
When the Chinese troops crossed the Yalu River into Korea and dramatically altered the fortunes on the battlefieldâ"repelling their foes southward and confining them largely to the southern half of the peninsulaâ"not a single decisionmaker in Beijing could have predicted the vicissitudes of national fortune to befall all the combatant nations and the consequent collapse of their own state a mere half century later. It was early 1593.
The Imjin Waeran of 1592â"98, commonly referred to in English as âHideoyoshiâs invasions,â is the most spectacular manifestation of Korea-China-Japan triangular tensions in history. The Japanese warlordâs ambition of conquering Ming China first called for an invasion of Joseon Korea, the natural pathway for advancing into the Celestial Empire. The conquest of Korea was achieved handily, but the unexpecte d Chinese intervention and subsequent reinforcement of troops by both sides vastly complicated Japanâs campaign. In 1598, after years of feral fighting and drawn out peace negotiations, the Japanese troops withdrew. The war ended in an unsatisfactory draw; sans surrender, sans indemnity, sans ceded territory, sans victory parades, and Korea devastated.
A Sino-Korean âallianceâ forged in blood was born. Yet, it died a mere thirty years later in the wake of two devastating Manchu invasions of Korea, the first in 1627 and the second in 1636. Joseon, caught between a declining Ming, to which it owed allegiance and a major debt, and a rising semi-nomadic power in Manchuria that Confucian Korea regarded as barbarian, chose to side with the fading Ming while alienating the ascendant Manchus, the would-be founder of Qing China. The result of Koreaâs âmisreadingâ of the strategic environment was the two punitive Manchu invasions and thereafter a protracted period of dec line, even as the dynasty endured for more than three hundred years. The Korean monarchy closed itself off from most foreign intercourse except for that with the Qing dynasty and intermittent contact with the isolationist Tokugawa Japan.
Like Tokugawa Japan, Korea became self-contained, choosing to remain indifferent to the sea and the world beyond the Pacific. But unlike Japan, Korea would pay a dear price for its solipsistic national policy once it was pulled into an entirely new world order in the mid-nineteenth century, marked by gunboat diplomacy, unequal treaties, and a life-and-death race for colonies. Unable to adjust to the radically new environment and unable to secure any ally, Joseon Korea, abandoned by all, fell to Japanese control in 1905 and colonial rule five years later. The humiliating historical memory of state collapse, colonization, and Japanese atrocities still cloud the U.S.-South Korea-Japan quasi-alliance today.
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When the Chinese troops crossed the Yalu River into North Korea in 1950, few, if any, decisionmakers in Beijing could have foreseen with certainty the vicissitudes of national fortune to befall the major combatantsâ"in particular, that the war would presage the vastly enhanced stature of the Peopleâs Republic of China, not quite one year old at the time, from a backward agrarian revolutionary state to the worldâs third most powerful state. That the nascent PRC had fought the United States, the preeminent military power in the world, to a draw would transform Beijingâs stature in the eyes of the region, the Third World, and, pointedly, the United States. Despite t he enormous casualties, China, by proving its mettle in war, had resurrected itself as a major world power.
And so had the Democratic Peopleâs Republic of Korea, unbeknownst to Americans at the time, resurrected itself from the brink of state collapse to become in due course a major regional player. North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, even in failing to achieve his ultimate goalâ"liberate the South and unify the peninsula under his ruleâ"profoundly ârevisedâ the geostrategic importance of the Korean Peninsula from a minor, forgotten outpost on the tip of the Asian mainland to a major powder keg on a key strategic strip of land in Northeast Asia. For the next forty years, generous aid poured into Pyongyang from China and the Soviet Union in seeming competition, in spite of, or because of, Kim Il-sungâs aggressive purges of pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese officials in the 1950s and limited-but-lethal provocations against South Korean and the U.S. troops in the South in the 19 60s. The more âunhingedâ Kim acted, threatening war and killing South Korean and U.S. troops in premeditated lethal attacks, the more prone were his patron states to placate him with bigger blandishments.
It was in this new peninsular environment of the wholly dependent client state, by virtue of threatening to entrap the bigger patron state in a new or prolonged war, that the United States-Republic of Korea alliance was born. Without doubt, had it not been for South Korean President Syngman Rheeâs âstrategicâ antics during the Korean War, for example, threatening to withdraw from the UN Command and resume hostilities on his own once a ceasefire was reached, and backing up his intention to prolong the war by unilaterally releasing in June 1953, a month before the armistice was reached and much to the ire of the Chinese, Chinese and North Korean prisoners of war who opposed being sent home, the Eisenhower administration would not have agreed to a mutual security pact that so one-sidedly favored the ROK.
View the discussion thread.Source: Google News South Korea | Netizen 24 South Korea