(ANTIMEDIA Op-ed) — In America’s latest show of force on the Korean Peninsula, U.S. jets flew further north of the demilitarized zone than they have at any time in this century. The flight followed a week of name-calling from both the U.S. and North Korea during which nothing of any substance — suggestions on how to scale back tensions, for example — was uttered.
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The current anxiety surrounding the situation between the United States and North Korea is rooted in uncertainty. No one really seems to know how advanced Kim’s missiles are or if he would actually use them, just as no one seems to have a firm grasp on how much of Trump’s talk about annihilating the Hermit kingdom entirely can be taken at face value.
In fact, this uncertainty is having a direct effect on global financial markets. A new survey shows over 80 percent of Wall Street CFOs now feel the soaring stock market is readying for a downturn, with many citing U.S.-North Korea tensions as one of the most worrisome factors.
And while the world’s attention is understandably focused on the possibility of military conflict on the Korean Peninsula, it’s important to note that this fact hasn’t stopped the major players of the Asia-Pacific from making moves.
China, the only country on Earth that can rival the United States as a dominant superpower, has set the regional tone. In both statement and action, China has demonstrated that its grand plan to link the continents of Asia, Europe, and Africa through digital and physical infrastructure is very much alive.
As recently as Saturday, the country’s Ministry of Land and Resources was urging countries with a stake in Chinese mining to eschew protectionist policies — the type often attributed to President Donald Trump — in favor of those more conducive to China’s aims. From Reuters:
“China’s Minister of Land and Resources on Saturday called for trade protectionism to be totally opposed as he pledged to promote greater cooperation in the mining industry as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative.”
That minister, Jiang Daming, who was speaking at a mining conference in Tianjin, mentioned China’s willingness to help develop the infrastructure of countries that would play ball. From the same article:
“Jiang, who in his speech drew on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s revival of the ancient Silk Road, which Beijing calls the Belt and Road Initiative, said China would establish a mechanism to promote resource prosperity and development in countries taking part in the scheme.”
China asserting itself has left other key players in the Asia-Pacific in the position of having to respond. This position has been the subject of much commentary of late, as it appears that two of those players, Japan and India, are quickly strengthening ties.
Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited India to shake hands and take pictures with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two men were breaking ground on a new high-speed rail project, a venture funded by a generous low-interest loan from Japan.
The launch of the bullet train project came just weeks after India’s more than two-month-long standoff with China at Doklam had ended, and some analysts saw it as an opportunistic move by Japan. From the South China Post on Saturday:
“In recent months there has been a determined effort by Japan, and its many friends resident in India, to bring these two Asian giants closer and close ranks against the third and increasingly assertive Asian giant.
“The Doklam crisis gave Japan a great opportunity to win goodwill in India and it seized the opportunity with both hands by becoming only one two countries, alongside the United States, that openly supported India during the stand-off.
“Suddenly editorials and commentaries in India are waxing eloquent about a new strategic relationship to counter China.”
Thing is, the analysts could be right. During Abe’s cheerful visit with Modi, the two leaders vowed to further deepen their countries’ military ties. This cooperation makes even more sense when you consider that Japan is a mainstay of the U.S. security umbrella and it seems India is becoming more so by the week.
From India’s NDTV on Sunday:
“When US Secretary of Defence James Mattis flies out to New Delhi later today, his top priority will be to try and ensure that the new India-US ‘major defence partnership’ ends up being more than a talk-shop on strategic issues of mutual concern.
“On top of the agenda is the sale of 22 Sea Guardian remotely-piloted vehicles, a $2 billion sale that could see the Indian Navy acquire the world’s most advanced maritime reconnaissance drone.”
Let us not forget that this year’s annual joint drills between the U.S., Japan, and India were the biggest they’ve ever been and marked the largest naval presence in the region in decades.
When those exercises kicked off back in July, the titles of the mainstream media’s articles left little doubt as to how they wanted their readers to interpret the news. “India, U.S. and Japan Begin War Games, and China Hears a Message” was the title from the New York Times. Similarly, CNN went with “US, India and Japan begin naval exercises, as China looks on.”
So a strengthening bond between Japan and India does make sense in the context of them both operating within a larger U.S.-led sphere. And at a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last week, the three countries again showed cohesion on the issue of the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) vision. From the Times of India on September 19:
“Close on the heels of the Indo-Japan summit, which saw the two countries calling for a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific, India and Japan along with the US again sought to address concerns over China’s OBOR, saying that connectivity initiatives must not undermine sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj had a ministerial trilateral with US secretary of state Rex Tillerson and the Japanese foreign minister, Taro Kono, on the sidelines of UNGA on Monday in which, according to a statement by MEA, views on maritime security, connectivity and proliferation issues were exchanged.”
These developments are worth looking at. What’s happening in North Korea is troublesome, yes, and heavy scrutiny is justified. But it’s abundantly clear that the U.S. has designs on the Asia-Pacific far beyond eliminating the Kim Jong-un regime, so it’s important, especially now, that we not let ourselves be distracted by all the noise.