South Korea Dancing a Fine Line Between China and the U.S.A.

By Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryWhat most Americans, even those U.S. military personnel stationed in South Korea, do not know is that South Korea has a close connection to China. Having dealt with a lot of ethnic Chinese who live in Seoul and whose ancestors came to Korea in the 1880’s (plus the growing number of Chinese who have migrated to South Korea for the past 20 years), I have personally learned there is very much a China connection that is normally not seen in other parts of Asia. The Bank of China has many branches in South Korea, ethnic Chinese have set up businesses ranging from tea cafes to import-export companies, and even now some South Korean corporations have stayed in China where most multinational corporations are leaving that country. Despite all of the problems China is going through now, there are still many South Koreans who are living in China.

For all of these reasons and more, the South Korean government is reluctant to try and antagonize the Communist Party of China. Even though there are far fewer Chinese students than before, there are still some attending South Korean universities. China and South Korea had worked out an agreement where South Korean students in China and Chinese students in South Korea can stay where they are studying. As China begins to lose influence in a lot of Asia, South Korea is one of the places it still has some. Because the South Korean government does not want to “offend” China, current South Korean President Yoon Seok-yul was the only head-of-state who did not meet directly with U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. This all may sound strange for a formal ally of the United States. But, as I learned from being in South Korea, South Korea has a special relationship with China.

It is a relationship borne of centuries of history, shared cultural and social values, and being in close proximity of each other. Hence, it is possible to find American soldiers traveling through Seoul and then seeing Chinese businessmen at the same time. Strangely enough, this arrangement has prevented China from trying to pursue a dangerously aggressive policy on the Korean peninsula (its eyes are elsewhere), and why North Korea has been sort-of quiet lately. Of course, the next question that has to be asked is if there is a conflict between China and the United States, will South Korea allow its territory to be used against China? Maybe, maybe not. The way the South Korean government understands it, U.S. troops stationed in South Korea are there for its defense, and not to be used elsewhere for war. Is it possible that South Korea might declare itself neutral to avoid a war with China? Possible, because it does not want such a war to spread to the Korean peninsula. Based on this logic, South Korea is dancing a fine line between China and the United States and its allies. More too often, there are too many shades of gray to a conflict.

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