As the US and South Korea mark the 73rd anniversary of the Incheon Landing during the Korean War (1950-53), the two nations have been increasingly tightening their military bond. This is evident in their joint military exercises, arms transactions, and defense dialogues. Despite North Korea’s criticism, the alliance seems to be growing stronger.
Chinese analysts argue that this fortified alliance signifies the US’s inclination towards addressing security issues on the Korean Peninsula via military channels. This, they believe, could exacerbate regional tensions and diminish chances of political reconciliation.
Of particular concern to China is the proximity of the recent joint military drills to the Yellow Sea. Experts interpret this as a deliberate provocation targeting China. Highlighting the history of the Korean War, they remind the US of the severe consequences of such military brinkmanship so close to China.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, during a commemoration ceremony aboard the Nojeokbong landing ship in Incheon, praised the alliance. He pointed to the persistent nuclear and missile challenges posed by North Korea. Notably, this event was graced by the presence of around 1,300 soldiers, along with war veterans from the US and Canada, reports Yonhap News Agency.
Simultaneously, high-level deterrence discussions between the US and South Korea kicked off in Seoul. These talks came on the heels of a summit between North Korean and Russian leaders. Officials from the US and South Korea denounced the military collaboration between Moscow and Pyongyang. Additionally, they cautioned that weapon transfers breach UN Security Council resolutions.
There’s also news of Seoul and Washington finding common ground on the defense frontier. South Korean sources say both parties are keen on employing 5G wireless tech in joint operations. In another notable development, the US State Department greenlit the sale of up to 25 F-35A stealth fighters, along with associated equipment, to South Korea.
Recent joint naval exercises also featured significant assets. The US sent the USS America amphibious assault ship, often likened to a mini aircraft carrier, capable of hosting up to 20 F-35B stealth jets. Joining the drill were the Canadian frigate HMCS Vancouver and the South Korean Navy. Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military analyst, observes that deploying the USS America in the Yellow Sea conveys the US’s readiness to intervene in Korean affairs, selecting its point of engagement.
Li Haidong, from China Foreign Affairs University, postulates that these joint exercises signify a strategic shift. Instead of dialogue and negotiation, the US and South Korea appear to favor military means to handle Korean Peninsula security concerns. This trajectory, he warns, will sustain high-risk military confrontations and further strain reconciliation prospects, particularly given Seoul’s dependence on the US.
Interestingly, the naval exercise was staged close to China, in the Yellow Sea. The China Maritime Safety Administration flagged a military operation happening from September 15 to September 18, covering the northern section of the Yellow Sea and the Bohai Strait.
Li Haidong also underscores the broader objectives of the US. Beyond North Korea, the US aims to counterbalance China and Russia. Such strategies, aimed at fostering conflict and confrontation, could imperil peace in the Asia-Pacific region. In his view, this jeopardizes regional harmony for the US’s strategic gains.
Reminding the US of the lessons from the Korean War, Chinese military expert Song Zhongping suggests that the Incheon Landing remains one of the few American triumphs in that conflict. To him, celebrating war milestones isn’t as vital as cherishing the peace achieved. He stresses that the US must recall this lesson.
Furthermore, he cautions the US against recklessness in the Korean Peninsula, especially near China. Drawing from historical events, Song underscores the unpredictability and potential fallout of crises. Recollecting the Korean War, he recalls how the US’s military moves post-Incheon led to setbacks once Chinese forces joined the fray. Given the Yellow Sea’s proximity and dimensions, he believes US naval assets are within easy reach of Chinese capabilities.
In sum, while the US and South Korea strengthen their military alliance and assert their stance, regional stakeholders, especially China, urge caution and the pursuit of diplomatic channels for sustainable peace.