Seoul Must Beware of U.S.-China Naval Competition

      July 06, 2010 12:55

      The U.S. nuclear-powered submarines Michigan, Ohio, and Florida recently surfaced almost simultaneously at ports in Busan, Subic Bay in the Philippines and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. International press reports said it is "rare" for three U.S. nuclear submarines to surface at the same time and detected a form of "armed protest" against China, an apparent show of force to indicate that the U.S. will not relinquish its control of the Pacific Ocean.

      China has criticized plans by the U.S. and South Korea to hold anti-submarine drills in the West Sea in response to North Korea's torpedo attack on the Navy corvette Cheonan, saying the maneuvers will create "new tension" on the Korean Peninsula. China then held a live-fire exercise in the East China Sea from June 30 until Monday.

      In April last year, China flexed its maritime muscle by parading its nuclear submarines, destroyers and other ships in a naval review off Qingdao in the Shandong Peninsula, vowing to become a force to reckon with on the oceans. Beijing said it will bolster its Navy by expanding its reach from China's coastal waters to the Pacific and Indian oceans, where its economic and military interests are at stake. And during another massive naval exercise in the South China Sea in April this year, China announced that the region encompasses its "core interests." It possesses 62 submarines, including nuclear-powered ones.

      All that has triggered a chorus of calls in the U.S. to bolster the American arsenal of aircraft carriers and submarines. The U.S. Navy cut the number of submarines from 102 in 1987 to just 53 last year, but the Pentagon said in its Quadrennial Defense Review in February that it intends to deploy 60 percent of its naval power in the Pacific Ocean.

      The Global Times, a sister newspaper of the official People's Daily, last week said South Korea and Japan, whose economies rely on China, "are seeking to keep China in check by leaning on U.S. power." It warned this "would make things more difficult" for them. Meanwhile, China is trying to water down any UN Security Council statement or resolution condemning North Korea for sinking the Cheonan by replacing the word "attack" with "incident" and deleting any direct reference to the North. That is directly related to the intensifying Sino-U.S. competition in the Pacific. These developments are showing signs of creating a Cold War atmosphere where South Korea, the U.S. and Japan face off against China and North Korea.

      The U.S.-South Korea alliance forms the cornerstone of the South's national security and diplomacy. But China is South Korea's largest trading partner, and it also has a huge influence on peace and reunification on the Korean Peninsula. The time has come for Seoul to factor into its diplomacy and security policies both China and its intensifying competition with the U.S.

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