Wed, Sep 01, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Troops plan unsettles the region

By Sushil Seth

Beijing has declared the ancient Korean kingdom of Koguryo to be a Chinese province in its day. Koguryo was without doubt part of Chinese civilization. South Koreans, though, regard it as their founding civilization. They are, therefore, furious at China's new claim. The region in question included much of what is today called North Korea.

What this means is that Koreans -- whether they like it or not -- have been appropriated by China as part of their domain. This is part of Beijing's grand plan to reclaim all people and territories regarded as historically theirs. Take, for instance, the case of the islands in the South China Sea. China has already claimed the Spratly and Paracel groups of islands. As a result,

sea lanes in the South China Sea

have become national waterways under Chinese law, and therefore places where China can enforce its authority when it is powerful enough to do so. Other islands and territories are also claimed by China, giving Beijing the pretext at any opportune time to annex them.

No wonder South Korea is worried. As Kim Woo-jun of the Korean Institute of East-West Affairs has said, "This is not a purely historical issue. If Koguryo is incorrectly interpreted by China as China's old kingdom, the North Korean region becomes China's historical territory. And this can serve as a justification for future Chinese intervention."

Taiwan, of course, is regarded as a "renegade province," waiting to be annexed. There is now even speculation on how long Taiwan can last on its own if attacked by China.

According to one source in Taipei, "in the event of a `first strike,' the air force and the navy can preserve three quarters of their fighting capabilities while the army can maintain 80 percent of its fighting capabilities."

It added, "Under these circumstances, Taiwan can hold on for two weeks in the event of a war in the Taiwan Strait."

In the midst of China's military threat to Taiwan and its high-profile regional ambitions, it is hard to understand why the US has come out at this time with plans for redeployment of ground forces.

The plan involves thinning forces in Europe and the Asia-Pacific, where South Korea will lose about one-third of the 37,000 US troops stationed there. Japan will be similarly affected, with precise numbers unknown at this time.

The rationale is that the world has changed since the end of

the Cold War in the 1990s, and

that new threats require new responses and strategies. As US President George W. Bush has put it, "For decades, America's armed forces abroad have essentially remained where the wars of the last century ended, in Europe and Asia."

In future, the US would rely more heavily on special forces and small contingents of "forward forces" to provide a rapid response capability, while its roving naval deployment and high-tech capability will ensure global supremacy.

But the redeployment, by focusing on rapid reaction and high-tech resources, seems to overlook the possibility that future military threats are not likely to fit the American prescription. Take Iraq, for instance. It is true that the US military rapidly defeated the enemy. But the subsequent quagmire requires the commitment of increasing numbers of ground troops to create some sort of order.

Similarly, in Iran, where the regime is daring the US to take it on, the easiest part would be to rain destruction. But the subsequent task of putting together

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