chapter  3
15 Pages

A neutral Democratic People’s Republic of Korea? Historical background, rationale, and prospects

Traditionally, Korea has been viewed as both a menace and an opportunity by all

of the great powers surrounding the Korean Peninsula. Throughout history, Japan

has perceived Korea either as “a dagger aimed at her heart” or as a convenient

proximate invasion route and key to the resources-rich mainland Asia. China has

often perceived Korea as a mountain-rigged natural buffer protecting its

northeastern hinterland from possible invasions by maritime powers, describing

its geostrategic relationship with a friendly Korea as being as close as “lips and

teeth” (i.e. “when lips are gone, teeth get cold and hurt”) and viewing a hostile

Korea as a “hammer hanging over the head of the Chinese dragon.” As for Russia,

a friendly Korea offered a remotely controlled “umbrella” to protect its Far Eastern

outposts from unwelcome storms in the international system in the region and

readily available access to warm ports, whereas a hostile Korea was considered to

be a jumping-off point for all those forces perceived as intent on mounting

aggression against or undermining and curtailing the Russian power in the Far

East. The United States has always seen Korea as a regional check and balance on

ambitious aspirations of adjacent giants, never able to pose any direct threat to

the US global interests but capable of upsetting the regional balance of power and

spoiling the game if it fell into the wrong hands. Such an ambivalent but crucial

geostrategic position of the Korean Peninsula, both posing threats and presenting

opportunities for both ascending and descending great powers, has made Korea a

constant object of contention among its more powerful neighbors that have been

jockeying for influence, if not outright domination, in Korea for centuries.