Tag Archives: American politics

China Rising

Mapby Michelle Brooks

Mounting tensions reached boiling point this week off the Korean peninsular. In a seemingly unprovoked attack, North Korea shelled the tiny island community of Yeonpyeong which lies on the disputed maritime border between North and South Korea. The Northern Limit Line (NLL) was drawn by the then United Nations Command following the 1950-1953 Korean War and is a line that South Korea must not transgress. However whilst this was agreed between South Korea and it’s allies, mainly the United States, it was contested by a then severely beleaguered North Korea.  The NLL which is a curved line (see map above) effectively maroons five (South Korean) islands in the coastal waters of North Korea. This effectivly renders the islanders as the ‘outsiders within’ a perilous life to say the least where ‘within’ is North Korea. Much has been written in human geography about the externalisation of people who whilst holding citizenship of one nation, are geographically positioned in the hands of another, often adversarial neighbour (see work by Alison Mountz). Mountz’ work is in the context of state fear of immigration however the processes of externalization reveal the use of island communities in bearing the burden of wider political sabre rattling.

Additionally, the Korean islands lie amidst some of the worlds richest fishing stocks of hermit crabs, a commodity fought over by America, Japan, and France and jealously guarded by China and North Korea in the past. For a country that has seen food aid from South to North Korea reduced to a trickle since the new administration took charge, devastation to farming from recent floods, and crippling aid sanctions from the west, North Korea has the opportunity to take a meagre portion of moral high ground and has done so at a strategically important time. The incident took place amidst planned joint naval exercises between the U.S. and South Korea near the disputed border just a few miles to the north; the political temperature then climbing further with the arrival of the U.S. (nuclear) aircraft carrier USS George Washington leading to accusations of ‘gunboat diplomacy‘ by America. North Korea has promised ‘a merciless military counter-attack’ should there be any transgression of the territorial boundary (whilst clearly acting without mercy towards the residents of Yeonpyeong prior to any such transgression).

Unfortunately for the small fishing communities on the islands all of this has meant many nights spent in reinforced military bunkers on top of this weeks fatalities and obliteration of property. The presence of the elite South Korean military command post has not had a deterrent effect and arguably provides North Korea with a proximate and hence cheap military target. China has indicated it’s annoyance at the military exercises and is calling for diplomatic engagement with North Korea, refusing to condemn the actions of Kim Jong-il.

China is the single biggest provider of aid to North Korea and Beijing has kept dialogue open despite a plethora of violent and threatening outbursts from Pyongyang over the last few years. Importantly, for China, North Korea is a buffer zone between it and the western-allied South Korea. The question is whether Beijing is prepared to continue walking on egg shells to keep dialogue open with North Korea in the face of pressure from the west to  ‘get tough’ with the Jong-il administration. Whatever the strategy, the world is no longer in any doubt that peace on the prevailing Korean fault-line, lies undoubtedly in the hands of China.

globe1Read about the spatiality of contentious politics for the journal Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.

globe1Read about the NLL

globe1Well-being indicators in North Korea

globe1 Read article  by Alison Mountz for the journal Government and Opposition

A Change to US Hegemony?

By Kate Botterill

Is it the ‘beginning of the end’ for Barack Obama or ‘the end of the beginning’? In an article for The Times Anatole Kaletsky proclaims anxiously that today’s political summit on healthcare reform in the United States is Obama’s ‘last chance to find a way forward’, out of political deadlock and into the promised brand of consensual politics. Kaletsky claims that if Obama fails to secure consensus on the reforms there will be dire consequences politically and economically for the US and its place on the world stage, potentially altering the ‘balance of power between Western democracy and benign dictatorship along Chinese lines’.

Speculation over the decline of US hegemony and its impact on geopolitics are a feature of the media coverage of Obama’s Presidency, demonstrating at times a cynical fall out from the historic election of America’s first Black President last year. In a more measured assessment, Allan Watson (2010) reviews the geopolitical implications of the Obama Presidency in Antipode. Watson traces the decline in US hegemony from the Bush administration to its present state suggesting that changing deep-rooted US policies through the model of open, collaborative and multilateral politics is no easy feat. Military supremacy continues to be on the agenda, which arguably strengthens US hegemony, but this has been tempered by the financial crisis of 2008 which increased American reliance on foreign investment and compelled diplomacy.

Watson remains uncertain about the future of US hegemony in shaping the geopolitical landscape but optimistic about the multilaterlism of the Obama presidency, seeing it as a chance for America “to re-invent itself as a more open and tolerant nation and practice what may be termed as a “moral hegemony” (see Kobayashi and Peake, 2000), without the need to exercise the hard coercive unilateral military or economic power upon the rest of the world” (p245).

Read If Barack Obama fails today, we’ll all be swept away by Anatole Kaletsky

Read Watson, A. (2010) US Hegemony and the Obama Administration – A New World Order? Antipode, 42(2)