20 February 2015

Trouble Ahead? Chinese-Korean Disputes May Intensify

Andrew S. Erickson and Michael Monti, “Trouble Ahead? Chinese-Korean Disputes May Intensify,” The National Interest, 20 February 2015.

As Cold War glaciers melt, Chinese-Korean tensions may grow more pronounced.

The Christmas release of The Interview, however coarse in depiction, underscores the Korean peninsula’s tremendous geostrategic importance and potential for disruptive change. Brookings scholar Jonathan Pollack aptly terms it “the East Asian pivot.” Historically, it has been an important battleground—the latest major instance being the still-unresolved Korean War (1950-53). The current status quo is unsustainable, the future uncertain but surely dynamic. It therefore matters greatly that significant resource-rich peninsular land and proximate seas have attracted intense debate and contestation. These differences, primarily between China and South Korea today, are likely to involve other parties such as North Korea or a successor state and Russia in the future. Pointed disagreements, deeply intertwined with painful, contested history, will likely resurface as peninsular conditions shift and Chinese and Korean capabilities, particularly maritime, grow. Considering the historical basis and subsequent evolution of continental, maritime, and riverine disputes among China and the Koreas, and how all sides have thus far attempted to mitigate discord, offers insights into future developments in a vital but vulnerable region. …