East Asia Summary: August 4-8, 2021

ASEAN’s role in the Indo-Pacific is on the minds of writers in Japan, China, and North Korea. While the DPRK’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs praises ASEAN’s aspiration to non-interference, The Japan Times argues that ASEAN’s principle of non-interference is failing to achieve results in Myanmar, and thus, the world should be putting greater pressure on both Myanmar and ASEAN.

China, meanwhile, sees threats from US engagement with ASEAN. According to The People’s Daily, the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, “urged maintaining the centrality of ASEAN to jointly counter geopolitical confrontation. He also urged preventing certain major powers outside the region from promoting new regional strategies….[I]nterference by countries outside the region constituted the biggest threat to peace and stability in the South China Sea.” The Global Times argued that ASEAN constitutes the frontline of the US-China rivalry and that US involvement in meetings with ASEAN about the Mekong were made “with an obvious intention to target China.” Nevertheless, ASEAN countries are unlikely to be seduced by US rhetoric about values and the centrality of ASEAN in the Indo-Pacific without tangible contributions by the US in economic development and the procurement of vaccines.

China also expressed its opposition to recently announced US weapons sales to Taiwan. Biden should “think twice”, said China Military, as selling weapons to Taiwan “may…accelerate the process of reunification”. The People’s Daily argued that selling weapons to Taiwan is just American politicians greasing the wheels of the industrial military complex. The Global Times kicked the rhetoric up another notch by insisting that were the People’s Liberation Army to attack Taiwan, it would “definitely carry out saturation attacks” which “will instantly destroy morale of the entire [Taiwanese] armed forces”. Japan would meet the same fate if it attempted to interfere; the “PLA will…vent Chinese people’s anger since the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895”. Japan would do better to focus on doing business with China.

The People’s Daily complained that China was a victim of “origin-tracing terrorism”, which China Military suggested WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom was in danger of becoming an accomplice to under pressure by the US administration, despite the Chinese government’s forthrightness from the very beginning of the outbreak and evidence of the coronavirus having been later found in samples predating the outbreak in Wuhan. The People’s Daily suggested that Fort Detrick could be the ultimate source of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

In addition to complaining of American interference in Taiwan and ASEAN, China expressed disapproval of joint military exercises with South Korea and US hegemony more generally. China Military detected a broader desire for peace and “non-alliance” among the great powers of Asia (Russia, India, and China), as evidenced in Russian joint military exercises with India and China, respectively. Although Russia and China have no intention of challenging US naval supremacy globally, in response to the US’s Large Scale Exercise 2021 (LSE 2021), China would conduct its own naval exercises in the South China Sea. While the US squanders money and resources to no effect, as it did in its failed response to the COVID crisis, China will expand its military-industrial capacity and build up its nuclear deterrent to force the US into a war of attrition it cannot win.

The Global Times also offered a program to isolate the US. China could separate the US from its Western allies, most notably Germany and France, by emphasizing the inexorable rise of “globalization” above and beyond the West’s “de facto alliance based on ideology and values”. China can also create space between the US and its European allies by emphasizing “cultural diversity” and “harmony without uniformity”. By constantly expanding economic cooperation with Western Europe, Russia, and developing countries, the US would be isolated.

An editorial in The Taipei Times argued that former prime minister of Australia Tony Abbott was correct in arguing that the anti-China alliance hinged on a successful defense of Taiwan. Drawing on analogies from the Chinese Warring States period, Lionel Te-Chen Chiou argued that the Indo-Pacific alliance would have to succeed in containing China where the Vertical Alliance failed to stop Qin nearly 2500 years ago.

The Olympic Games in Tokyo have also brought the question of Taiwanese identity to the fore in recent days. A piece in The Taipei Times asks why NHK’s announcers dare to refer to the Chinese Taipei team as “Taiwan” when neither private or public media organizations in Taiwan do. Since Taiwan is still officially ruled by the “Republic of China” (ROC), it has been difficult to prosecute former ROC general Kao Ankuo for treason after he called on Taiwanese soldiers to surrender in the event of a Chinese invasion on his YouTube channel.

The Taipei Times has also called on the Taiwanese government to level with the Taiwanese people about the risk of a Chinese invasion in as soon as six years. Now is the time to get ready, it argues, but there are “no votes in defense”. Nevertheless, it is time for Taiwan to build “a serious volunteer civilian defense force”.

Meanwhile, South Koreans are asking themselves what North Korea will want for reopening communication lines after a year’s pause. In The Korea Joong Ang Daily, Nam Jeong Ho points out that in four out of the last five such occasions, North Korea has demanded concessions for the privilege of restored communications. Nam speculates that President Moon will be eager to comply with such requests and that South Korea should at least be able to get cross-border family reunions if the government is going to cancel upcoming US-ROK military exercises and give the North food aid. Another editorial in The Korea Joong Ang Daily bemoans how eager the South Korean government has been to signal its willingness to acquiesce to Kim Yo-jong’s demands and that the Moon government should not jeopardize national security just for the sake of “talking”.

North Korea, for its part, has expressed dissatisfaction with Japanese plans for an allegedly offensive deployment of airpower (F-35s deployed south and east of the Korean peninsula, as well as aircraft carriers). Such ‘provocative’ actions will threaten the regional situation and betray Japan’s desire to reinvade the Korean peninsula.

On a more domestic note, The Japan Times is anticipating the outcome of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership race. Currently led by Prime Minister Suga, the party is due to vote for the next party president at the end of September, but internal elections could be delayed until after national lower house elections in later October. Although Suga remains the presumed favorite, no LDP faction leaders have publicly expressed their backing of his candidacy.

And in South Korea, Lee Jae-myung, governor of Gyeonggi (the large province that surrounds Seoul) and contender for the ruling Democrat Party of Korea’s (DPK) presidential nomination, has been making waves. Writers from The Korea Times and The Korea Joong Ang Daily have complained of Lee’s announcement that the Gyeonggi provincial government would provide COVID relief to all citizens rather than the poorest 88% as set by President Moon at the national level. The Korea Herald also notes that Lee wants to increase the amount of compensation that media companies would have to pay for publishing “false and manipulative information” under the ruling DPK’s controversial proposed “media arbitration bill” beyond the five times already stipulated in the bill.

Related Posts