By Dinouk Colombage
June 25, 1950 saw the outbreak of the Korean war. The conflict was between the Republic of Korea with the support of UN led forces and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea who were supported by the People’s Republic of China.
The war lasted over three years ending in a US brokered armistice; it resulted in casualties amounting in excess of 2.2 million on both sides. Sixty years have passed and tension between the two Koreas is mounting once again, threatening to spill over into armed conflict.
On November 23, North Korea fired over 200 rounds at the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. South Korea fired in retaliation resulting in the tension between the two neighbours, rising. In response to the shelling of the island of Yeonpyeong, the Chinese refused to comment, instead calling for calm on either side. India moved a large number of troops to the India-China border, while expressing condolences to those who lost their lives. The Americans refused to rule out a military intervention. Regardless of whether this incident was a planned attack by North Korea or one carried in response to a perceived threat from the military exercises being carried out by the South, the end result is a clear portrayal of the fragile nature of the Asian bloc.
With the eventual decline of the United States’ influence on the global scale and the waning European economies, the Asian bloc has been tipped by many as the eventual replacement for the European Union. Led by the economic and military giant, China, the Asian bloc has been slowly yet surely climbing the ladder as the world’s leading forum. However, with the rising tension in the region caused by the ongoing conflict between the two Koreas, analysts are beginning to contemplate whether or not the Asian bloc possesses the stable alliances which the European Union does. With the increasing hostilities between the two Koreas, the larger members of the Asian bloc have begun presenting their true intentions for the region.
India, in support of South Korea and the US, sent across two mountain divisions to the state of Arunachal Pradesh that borders China. A clear indication of the mistrust that simmers beneath the surface between the two Asian powerhouses. In recent years, India’s relations with the United States have been improving following the signing of economically beneficial agreements and President Barack Obama’s pledge to support India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. The improved relations between these two nations is, according to political analyst Robert Malley, “a threat to China. As the leading Asian nation they would have wanted a reduced American presence in the region.”
Malley explains that it is in China’s best interests to diffuse the situation between the two Koreas. An increased US military presence however, would be greatly beneficial for the Indians. With the increasing interest by the Chinese in the Indian Ocean, the Indians would welcome the US’s arrival in the region. The conflict has provided India with the opportunity to piggyback on the United States into China’s sphere. China’s hesitancy indicates both their inclination to avoid a confrontation with the Americans, as well as a refusal to abandon North Korea.
Political commentator David B. Rivkin claimed that the Korean conflict has “the ability to cause further confrontations between India and China, elsewhere in Asia.” Countries such as Sri Lanka have seen an increased involvement on the part of China in the development process in the South of the country. A nation typically viewed as ‘the younger brother’ to India, Sri Lanka is slowly shifting towards the Chinese periphery. Such a change would not be viewed favourably by the Indians and it is unlikely that they would relinquish their influence over the island nation. For Sri Lanka itself, division between India and China could very well result in the country being forced to choose sides. With a multitude of possible battlefields between the two Asian giants, it is clear that both their influence and the fragile nature of Asia is vast.
Dr. SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda, a guest lecturer at The Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies, explained that dissimilar to the Cold War tensions between India and China are far more threatening to the region due to the close proximity of the two nations. The Korean conflict has illustrated that the two power’s spheres of influence overlap each other. India, traditionally and culturally, has dominated much of the subcontinent, whilst China has maintained its influence in Indo-China. In recent years China has followed a policy of a ‘string of pearls’ which sees China building up its influence along the trade route from the Middle East to China. In response, India has joined up alongside the US in supporting South Korea in the Korean conflict with the intention of increasing their role within China’s sphere of influence.
The possibility of a second Korean war has seen the breakdown of the traditional Far East alliances and the subcontinent alliances. It has also illustrated the deception that was a unified Asian bloc. China, the dominant state, is clinging on to its power preventing any possibility of competition. India, falling behind China, is searching for an opportunity to rejoin the race for world superpower.
Political writer Robert Kaplan has described a scenario which sees the re-emergence of the cold war. India along with the US have thrown their support behind South Korea, whilst China continues to maintain its Communist ties. He explains that the location has been moved to Asia and involves China rather than the Soviet Union. The potential war has opened the door to a reversal of the roles of China and India. It also sees the possibility of a breakdown within the Asian bloc and in the process, delaying the decline of the Western powers.
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