Saturday, November 27, 2010
News from The China Post
Korean crisis serves as warning of our own risk
Saturday, November 27, 2010
The China Post news staff
As the American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington headed for Korean waters yesterday, a day after North Korea fired artillery shells at a South Korean island, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians, and wounding 15 others, the tensions on the Korean Peninsula have become the focus of the world governments and the media.
Although Pyongyang claimed that the two Koreas are at the "brink of war," the general opinion is that the shelling was not a precursor to war but an act of provocation either to boost the status of North Korean's heir apparent, the 25-year-old Kim Jong-un, or to force the U.S. back to the negotiating table.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was credited by both international press and domestic opinion for the calm and restraint he showed in the handling of the crisis. Although known as a hardliner on the North Korea issue, Lee's first directive after the shelling was to stop the situation from escalating.
"The question for South Korea is how much more serious can these attacks get before the risk of doing nothing and showing there's no cost is worse than the risk of prompting an overreaction by North Korea," an analyst from the Beijing-based risk consultancy Control Risks was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying. "My own view is we're still not at that level."
Overreaction by South and North Korea could result in catastrophe. With Seoul only 33 miles from the demarcation line and with North Korean missiles' capable of reaching any point in the South, an all-out war, or even escalated clashes, could cause devastation in one of Asia's key economies.
Taiwan also has a stake in the situation. While cross-strait relations have improved in the past two years after President Ma Ying-jeou took office, mainland China and Taiwan are still far from agreeing to denounce the use of force to settle the "One China" issue. In many simulated military scenarios, strategists regard the Korean conflict and the involvement of U.S. forces in East Asia as a possible trigger of cross-strait military escalation.
The government took the laudable steps of emphasizing its continual alert on the situation while posing a calm stance by not raising advisory levels for trips to South Korea. However, while there are reasons to hope for the best, Taiwan should also be ready if things take an unexpected turn.
As tension at the Korean Peninsula builds, Taiwan should prepare its plans to show the people and investors that the government is ready and that cross-strait relations remain stable in order to protect the nation and its still recovering economy.
First of all, Taiwan should show that while remaining vigilant of the Korean situation, there will be no sudden unexpected escalation of military action on Taiwan's part. Restraint and dialogue are key at a time when the region is virtually held hostage by what Matthew Lee (李世明), director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, characterized as the "manic depressive" North Korea.
On the other hand, Taiwan should also actively establish the channel of dialogue with mainland China. The government could begin by continuing cross-strait interactions on all levels. At the same time it should also be explicit in its status as part of the global community by joining the international call for China to condemn North Korea's actions.
The key to such plans lies not only in handling the current situation but also in establishing a paradigm of cross-strait communication to cope with future extraordinary situations. Cross-strait ties are all the more important at difficult, or strange, times.
Last but not least, the government and the opposition should come to an understanding, even if it is unwritten, that the nation should have a united voice on the Korean conflict, that domestic political grandstanding in Taiwan would not be another unexpected factor in an already tricky situation.