When President Obama paid a state visit to Brazil AFTER the end of Carnivale last year, the right wing accused him of taking a Carnivale vacation. At least this trip, they aren’t calling the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea a vacation resort.
It has become routine for our sitting President to make a visit to the oldest continuous American war zone. Yes, we are still at war with North Korea. They didn’t sign a peace treaty, just a ceasefire 59 years ago.
This visit comes at an unusual time in relations with North Korea. The new leader, Kim Jung Un, is an unknown factor. The North Koreans just said that they want to hold negotiations about their nuclear program in exchange for desperately need food, but they have also just announced a planned launch of a new rocket and their intention to place a satellite in orbit. The launch would void the negotiations to hold negotiations.
The new leader, Kim Jung Un paid his own visit to the DMZ in March. He used binoculars to look into South Korea and told the troops to “maintain the maximum alertness since you stand in confrontation with the enemy at all times.” It was pretty much what his father and grandfather had also said on their visits.
In other words, it’s business as usual in North Korea.
And, in business as usual, the President issued stern statements aimed at North Korea. He also called on China to exert influence on North Korea, which was considered a client state of China in the past. But China has not been as supportive of the North Koreans as in the past. They have certainly not been sending in the enormous amount of food aid North Korea needs. And they have been burdened with a steady, though small, stream of North Korean refugees who manage to make it into Chinese territory. It is the potential of even more refugees that is causing China to hold back from exerting more pressure on North Korea.
China does not want a nuclear North Korea or any war on its border. They are too deeply invested in their economic superiority instead of in a military superiority in the region. China did announce recently an increase in defense spending, but it still won’t amount to 20% of what we spend every year. Last year, it was 11%. Whether or not China still has influence over North Korea is not a certainty. That China has nothing to gain if North Korea starts a war is a certainty. South Korea is too much a part of China’s pan-Asian economic network.