Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki in The Trump Administration’s First 100 Days: What should Asia do?
Trump and Japanese-Korean relations: managing the train wreck
On 8 March China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, speaking at a press conference in Beijing, described the situation on the Korean Peninsula as being “like two accelerating trains coming towards each other with neither side willing to give way” and warned of the dangers of a massive collision. Wang is right, but his similie can be expanded. Several trains are heading at dangerous speed towards the junction that is East Asia. It will require both a clear bird’s eye view of the situation and some skilled hands on the points levers to ensure they pass one another by without disaster.
The advent of the Trump presidency is only one reason for escalating levels of instability in the region. A major problem lies in the fact that this untested and unsettling US regime has come to power at a time when other forces were already shaking the foundations of a precariously balanced regional system. From a historical perspective, shifting power balances between China and Japan have repeatedly created moments of heightened tension in East Asia, and the Korean Peninsula has always found itself uncomfortably placed at the centre of these tensions.
This pattern was evident in the final decades of the nineteenth century and in the decade immediately after the end of the Asia-Pacific War. The same pattern is being played out again in the second decade of the twenty-first century, as the rise of China stirs old antagonisms in Japan, and as the region struggles to deal with the intractable problems of the world’s one remaining Cold War divide: the division of the Korean Peninsula.