April 27-28, 2018 may go down in history as a very significant weekend in Asia with consequences impacting the whole world. Coincidentally, on this weekend, the two most populated countries in the world, China and India, will have an informal summit meeting between the two strong leaders, President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi while the Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un of North Korea (NK) is meeting President Moon Jae-In of South Korea (SK), both meetings expecting positive results.
The two Koreas were separated since the Korean War in the 1950’s (6/25/1950- 7/27/1953). The Korean War involved the United States and China. The U.S. adamantly practiced the anti-communism foreign policy by resisting the spread of the Soviet Union led communism in Asia and Europe. China, as a communist country heavily depended on Russia for aids in her recovering from WW II, had little choice but engaged in Korean War. The Russian Army would willingly cross the Chinese northern border to fight the Americans in Korea Peninsula if China would not help NK. China did help NK and paid a hefty price in human casualties. The Korean War ended with a truce in 1953, dividing Korea in two by an artificial line known as 38 degree line. The truce, not a peace treaty, was signed on July 27, 1953 by Lt. Gen. William Harrison representing the U.S. and United Nation Command and Gen. Nam I’ll, representing Korea People’s Army and Chinese People’s Volunteers. In 1954, During the Geneva Conference, Chinese Foreign Minister Zhou En-Lai proposed to sign a peace treaty for the Korean Peninsula, but the U.S. Secretary of State, john Foster Dulles rejected it, a big mistake leading to today’s nuclear threat. SK and NK were eventually admitted to the U.N. on August 8th, 1991.
The ideological divide in two Koreas persisted seven decades. SK is a constitutional republic consisting of an executive branch led by an elected President and an elected legislative branch with elected legislators. SK’s road to democracy has not been smooth as exhibited by the fact that several presidents were either assassinated or murdered or jailed throughout the seven decades. SK remained as a strategic partner of the U.S. having US military presence of 23,468 (2017) American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines (USFK) which has Title 10 authority; meaning that USFK is responsible for organizing, training and equipping U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula so that forces are agile, adaptable and ready. Recently, the U.S. installed the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in response to NK’s nuclear threat. This has not only annoyed China, Russia and NK but also raised protests in SK, a possible trigger for NK and SK to hold peace meetings today.
Different from China who has departed from the Soviet style of communism since the 1960’s, The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) was established in 1948 when the United States and the Soviet Union divided control of the peninsula after World War II. NK has maintained an authoritarian secretive communist system with present Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un inherited the leadership from his father, Kim Jong-Il. NK pursued nuclear weapon development as a leverage for maintaining security of the regime. NK’s success in long range nuclear missile development not only has caused concern of SK, Japan, and the U.S. but also irked China since China has always advocated a nuclear free Korea Peninsula.
NK’s nuclear threat has been a thorn on the north side of Pacific causing uneasiness all over the world. The recent development of the leaders of two Koreas meeting each other at the military demarcation line is welcoming News. The two leaders stepped over the line to symbolize a visit to the other side and they planted a tree of peace. Both leaders showed warmth and worked hard to exhibit their sincerity towards the goal of achieving denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and signing a peace agreement to permanently end the Korean War. Although the two rivals may still have a long way to unravel their issues, this meeting really opened a new era despite of some rhetoric still appeared in the U.S. media. President Trump seems to be genuinely welcoming this development. As an American citizen desiring peace, I don’t mind President Trump claiming the credit for promoting this historical event. Going a step further, I would even encourage The Nobel Prize Committee to award Kim, Moon, Trump and Xi a Nobel Peace Prize, if a denuclearization and peace treaty could be achieved prior to or at the Kim-Trump meeting in May or June.
During the same weekend, the Chinese President Xi and Indian Prime Minister Modi are meeting at Wuhan, China for an informal Summit. India and China are regarded as frenemies, a word presumably created to describe a relationship of friendly enemies. Narendra Damodardas Modi (67) was the Chief Minister of Gujarat from 2001-2014 and became Prime Minister since 2014, a strong leader standing for reelection in 2019. At the request of Modi for a friendly get-together, the two leaders agreed to meet over the weekend at a relaxing spot in China favored by Chairman Mao. Although the meeting is informal with no official agenda, the leaders are expected to touch a few issues in a relaxed informal manner reminiscing Xi’s visit to Modi’s home in Gujarat in 2014, sitting on a swing with Modi.
In 2017 China-India relations took a dive, when a border braw happened at Doklam with military stand-off lasting two and half months. China was building a road at the border with Bhutan also nearing China-India border. India was overly concerned with the Chinese influence over Himalayan states and South Asia in general. The stand-off was resolved before the BRICS Summit in September of 2017 in Beijing, but the mistrust between the two nations deepened, nevertheless, on top of India’s boycotting the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Summit in May in Beijing where even Japan and the U.S. attended as well as India’s joining the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) with the U.S., Japan and Australia which is another contributed factor to the cooling of relations between the two nations.
In the 1980’s India’s and China’s GDP were comparable, but now China’s GDP is about five times of India. Out of the $84 billion trade between the two nations today, China enjoys a trade surplus about $15 billion. India is concerned with this trade deficit but the economic cooperation is hampered by political relationship such as the above issues as well as by India’s attitude towards Dalai Lama and China’s position regarding designating Jarsh-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist.
Over all, the mistrust between India and China, although long rooted but is not irreparable. If India and China, the two largest nations in Asia, could cooperate, it would bring more benefits to the two nations, Asia and the whole world. At this juncture, the U.S. is initiating a tariff war on trade; it creates a tremendous opportunity for India and China to focus on trade and economic cooperation. The political issues might be hardened by further deeds of mistrust but could also be resolved by mutual benefits derived from economic cooperation. Hopefully, at the Wuhan informal summit, Modi and Xi will have a heart to heart conversation removing the ‘frenemies’ image and be friend with each other for the benefit of the two largest nations on earth and their people.