China as peacemaker

By Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman
March 27, 2013

Nuclear escalation on the Korean Peninsula demands creative solutions. With a 2,200-year history of non-aggression, China is in the best position to take the lead — and relieve the United States of a burden it has shouldered for too long.

In fact, no other nation  has had as stable a pattern of world citizenship. Over two millennia, China has not attempted to conquer its neighbors or spread its system of government on any scale remotely comparable to the Romans, Mongols, British, Germans, French, Spanish, Russians, Japanese or even Americans. China does brutally resist the secession of Tibet, which it considers part of its ancient patrimony. But it has not grasped for lands beyond its historical borders.

There is no reason to think the Middle Kingdom has merely been biding its time. Indeed, if any nation can be said to have a long-term strategy, it is China. Premier Zhou Enlai, when asked what he thought of the French Revolution of 1789, allegedly replied, “It’s too soon to tell.”

China also has a 2,200-year record of authoritarian rule. Even so, it has become steadily more open — at its own glacial pace. China’s government is more responsive to its people now than it was under the Han, Ming or Qing dynasties, ending in 1911. After a long period of civil war in the first half of the 20th century, worsened by a brutal Japanese occupation, the dictator Mao Zedong restored order.

Since 1979, the repressive government has slowly provided more freedoms to its 1.3 billion citizens — beginning with what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called “freedom from want.” Today, the Chinese people are freer to save, accumulate, conduct business and travel abroad than perhaps at any other time in China’s 2,200-year history as a coherent state.

Pundits and professional worriers tend to paint China as a burgeoning military threat. This is a serious misinterpretation of a very long track record that includes the peaceful re-annexation of British Hong Kong and continuing restraint toward Taiwan (lost first to the Japanese, and then as a result of civil war). Unjustified suspicions blind policymakers to important security options at a volatile time in Northeast Asia.

Like pioneers of yore, we need to read the trail to understand where China is headed and how we might ease its path.

For centuries, China was the economic powerhouse of the globe. As Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, commented in 1776, “China is a much richer country than any part of Europe.” Today, more than anything else, the ancient nation wants to be rich again — though in ways that do not leave commoners mired in squalor, as before. Its commercial policies are aggressive, but it is not territorially expansive. China understands that physical conquest — as Japan’s World War II experience proved — can undermine economic success in the modern world.

Instead, to achieve its goals, China needs regional peace and stability. It has a far greater stake in capitalist South Korea’s health and happiness than even the United States, which has guaranteed Seoul’s safety for the past 60 years as part of its campaign to stop the worldwide spread of communism — a task now completed.

South Korean companies such as Samsung are among the world’s largest producers of semiconductors, the electronic chips that nourish everything in the electronic food chain from toys to automobiles. Semiconductors are key to economic growth around the globe.

Though China’s manufacturing base has gone viral, it does not make these precious chips in any significant amount — partly because foreign investors won’t set up shop, given the lax enforcement of intellectual-property rights. China depends heavily on imported semiconductors, for which its best and closest suppliers are South Korea and Taiwan.

Semiconductor plants require enormous investment; a single factory costs $6 billion or more. They are geese, laying golden eggs. The last thing China wants is a nuclear or conventional war between its immediate neighbors that might destroy this industrial infrastructure. Li Baodong, China’s envoy to the United Nations, said as much in early March, after the last round of sanctions against North Korea to discourage Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear ambitions. “We are formally committed,” Li insisted, “to safeguarding peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”

This statement is of critical importance to Washington, which should do everything possible to encourage China to take on the role of peacemaker and enforcer. The United States has played bad cop in relation to North Korea for six decades. We still have 28,500 troops on the ground in a war without end.

An armistice brought the three-year civil war between North and South to a temporary halt in 1953. The peace treaty, however, never followed.

Modern world history shows that Band-Aids need to come off for healing to happen — despite the sting. Japan’s recovery after World War II was delayed for six years, until the allied countries finally agreed to sign a peace treaty in 1951. Thirty years after the surrender of Nazi Germany, the Helsinki Accords of 1975 formally established peace in Europe. The accords reduced tensions across the continent and eventually led to the end of the Cold War.

The 60-year delay in formally ending the Korean War has had costly repercussions. No blue-helmeted U.N. troops patrol the demilitarized zone, as in other post-conflict areas, to keep peace once it’s been established. Instead, the United States has borne the expensive military burden of enforcing another country’s day-to-day defense for six decades — enabling South Korea to democratize and flourish.

In addition to straining our national budget, this commitment has bought us animosity on both sides of the 38th parallel. A survey of South Korean military cadets in 2004 found that more ranked the United States as the “country’s main enemy” than ranked North Korea as the primary threat. Young Americans who teach English in Seoul find signs at some restaurants saying, “No Foreigners Allowed.”

If not an example of the axiom “No good deed goes unpunished,” these reactions may belong in the category of nationalist responses to the long-term presence of foreigners — regardless of how helpful they may be.

A former graduate student at San Diego State University, where I teach, recalls liking the cookies that friendly U.S. soldiers brought to the South Korean orphanage where he was raised in the 1980s. But he also remembers being mystified as to why the “white men” were there. It’s a question the majority of Americans might have a hard time answering, given that the U.S. commitment predates their birth.

The United States has given South Korea more in the way of shelter than any competitive nation-state has given another in perhaps all world history. But this effort has hit a point of diminishing returns for everyone involved.

More of the same promises little in the way of progress. It’s time for China to become umpire and peacemaker of the region, consistent with its historical record and modern aspirations.

The 60th anniversary of the Korean Armistice is July 27, 2013. Let’s celebrate with a peace treaty that allows Washington to bring our troops home for good.


PHOTO (Top): North Korea’s artillery sub-units, whose mission is to strike Daeyeonpyeong island and Baengnyeong island of South Korea, conduct a live shell firing drill to examine war fighting capabilities in the western sector of the front line in this picture released by the North’s official KCNA news agency in Pyongyang March 14, 2013. REUTERS/KCNA

PHOTO (Insert A): North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (R) talks with Wang Jiarui (L), the head of the International Liaison Department of China’s Communist Party, in Pyongyang August 2, 2012, picture  released by the North’s official KCNA news agency. The agency said this was the new leader’s first reception of a foreign official since taking power. REUTERS/KCNA

PHOTO (Insert B): A Chinese border trade boat is seen docking at the North Korean banks of Sinuiju, unloading goods to North Korea, October 23, 2012. REUTERS/Aly Song

PHOTO (Insert C): North Korean soldiers look across a concrete border as a U.S. army soldier (R) stands guard at the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), in Paju, 55 km (34 miles) north of Seoul, December 2, 2011.  REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won











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“Over two millennia, China has not attempted to conquer its neighbors or spread its system of government on any scale remotely comparable to the Romans, Mongols, British, Germans, French, Spanish, Russians, Japanese or even Americans.”

Tell that to the Mongolians, Vietnamese, Burmese, Tibetans, Turkics, Koreans or any other neighbour of China’s. Total rubbish claim. Even Vietnam used to stretch all the way to modern Day Hong Kong… Did they just pack up and leave thinking “Oh maybe the Chinese want to peacefully come here, lets let them have it!’.

Posted by Free_Pacific | Report as abusive

The author has staked out a courageous position here. There is no process internationally for conflict resolution. The impediment is the structure of the Security Council at the UN. It makes no sense for the US to play a role as arbiter in this case precisely because it is a party to the conflict. In fact the US has contributed to the current crisis by conducting war games with South Korea. So, it makes sense to explore options and for the US to step back. Ms cobbs Hoffman offers a reasoned, alternative perspective based upon solid historical analysis.

Posted by DavidHillstrom | Report as abusive

North Korea is communist China’s pitbull, just as Cuba was for the USSR in the western hemisphere.

As for historical borders, The People’s Republic of China was not founeded until after WWII. In fact it was the Chinese communists who set about destroying China’s historical archives, sites and artifacts. They are true believers that there is no history, no culture, no meaningful values and no authority above or superior to their party’s rule.

Posted by ajsfca | Report as abusive

The Fed Reserve is sued for violating Chinese Anti-monopoly Law by enforcing QE

Ms. Liu Hua, a Chinese lady at 58, charged the Fed Reserve System in Kunming city of China main land with intentionally abusing currency issuance monopoly power by enforcing four rounds of Quantitative Easing (QE) policies on March 19, 2013.

Ms. Liu alleges she deposited 250 dollars in a local municipal bank in Feb 2006. But with the Fed Reserve’s QE from 2009 through 2012, the real value of 250 dollars depreciates significantly both in China and in the United States.

In this antitrust complaint, Ms. Liu claims that the Fed Reserve is a private institution which monopolizes US dollar issuance. According to IMF, the US dollar is the main Foreign Exchange Reserve with more than 60 percent market share. According to anti-monopoly rules, the conduct of injecting trillions of dollars into the financial market by the Fed Reserve is apparently one of the abusive conducts of monopoly power, which inevitably devalues the dollars in circulation.

The plaintiff, pursuant to China Antimonopoly Law, requests the court: Enter a permanent injunction to prevent future violations of Chinese Anti-monopoly Law by the defendant; and Award the plaintiff one US dollar as damages.

Till now, the lawsuit, Liu Hua v. Federal Reserve, is submitted to the Kunming Intermediate People’s Court in the capital city of Yunnan Province, PRC.

Posted by LeeCheung | Report as abusive

There is no danger from North Korea. The pig-faced little fat boy in charge probably just got his grubby little fingers on an old copy of “The Mouse That Roared” and thought it was a great way to make some money.

Posted by Shamizar | Report as abusive

The Chinese are free today because American troops died defeating the Japanese and liberating China from brutal Japanese occupation.

There are no blue-helmeted UN troops protecting the Korean border because the US prevented them from coming.

Posted by pbgd | Report as abusive

“With a 2,200-year history of non-aggression, China is in the best position to take the lead”

This just shows how ignorant this author is.
She should also see history as it is told by other countries in Asia as well.

Having said that, China right now has the full capability to do a lot of ‘things’ and they don’t have a rigorous religion to give them good moral judgement . It is lucky for many countries in Asia that the communists are in power. They do a good job of refraining the other factions to some extent (remember, not all communists are the same)

I think if we are to come out of this crisis with minimum suffering, some kind of ‘communism’ is probably required to be part of the solution.

For starter, the ‘communists’ should focus more on the other core idea of communism : cooperation and no-conflict (ie co-existence) instead of redistribution and coercion.

That’s how I can see with my limited knowledge

Posted by trevorh | Report as abusive

Need to write a patch up comment here. It is hard to write something these days without being overanalyzed.

I did not mean to attack China in the above comment. Throughout the history of the world. Almost any country which became big and powerful enough would bully smaller ones to some extent.

And even when these things happen, there shouldn’t be any guilty by association because there are always people who disagree with action of others, want nothing to do with it, yet having no control over it.

.. just try to write down a few ideas based on the facts I know.. still very hard to do..

Posted by trevorh | Report as abusive

Oops, duplicate comment. I thought the prev one was missed because of connection reset.. so I have to retype

Posted by trevorh | Report as abusive

China much prefers to keep its prickly ally alive and well as a buffer between U.S. ally S. Korea and China proper. It may pull on the leash from time to time but not too hard.

Posted by act1 | Report as abusive

A great sequel to your weightier suggestion that America should relinquish the role of global umpire. But I doubt China wants to be the global umpire, let alone try to boss around its neighbour from hell, North Korea. If push came to shove I suppose China could bomb North Korea to smithereens – China has always been good at seeing the big picture. As for China playing good cop to America’s bad cop, I think this is a strategy by default rather than design and I doubt China wants to associate itself with a bad cop. Sooner or later North Korea will have missiles to hurl at the US and we know that Reagan’s Starwars defence blanket was no more than aspiration/fantasy. Once suitably armed for long distance aggression, North Korea’s first soft option will be to attack South Korea. What then will the US, our present emasculated world umpire, propose or insist upon? China will just look inscrutable and hope that this comes across to North Korea as “don’t even think about messing with us”? It would be great to think that the US and China have a working relationship that can respond to this threat but, with politicians the way they are, I doubt it. The poverty of their thinking never ceases to amaze me.

Posted by robalka | Report as abusive

More patch-up comment.

By co-existence, I mean co-existence of countries of different culture and language protected by border at the global level, NOT multiculturalism. Multiculturalism will disintegrate whatever country short-sighted enough to embrace it.

Multiculturalism, I think was invented by the Jewish people since they don’t have a home land to live (Israel is too small), as well as other groups that have embraced the growth agenda.

Now the grow agenda people have run out of places and resources to live so they have to move into places of people who have moved forwarded into getting better agenda. In the past, this happened with expansionary military actions and wars.. now it is happening in a different way.

I think it is more fair, that people who embrace the growth agenda face the consequences of their actions by living with low standard of living and not cause problem to others by moving in and live with people who embrace ‘getting better’ agenda.

Posted by trevorh | Report as abusive

I wanted to write even more patch-up comment, but then I realize whatever I write somebody always ends up being unhappy…

very very hard to say anything these days

Posted by trevorh | Report as abusive