The four most important powers in Northeast Asia, bitterly divided rivals, have all now completed a leadership change: North Korea, China, Japan, and now South Korea are all under new management. Dynastic politics plays a role everywhere: the new Chinese leadership is stuffed with princelings, Japan’s new PM is grandson of a former prime minister, Kim Jong-un is the third in his dynasty to rule, and South Korea’s new President-elect Park is the daughter of a dictator who was assassinated in the Korean White House.
All four are seen as conservative figures, all four are rooted in regimes and policies of the past. Yet all four have promised to bring change.
Most of the issues dividing them are very old: territorial disputes, inherited rivalries, and grievances dating from World War II and before.
To understand the new Asia taking shape, we have to understand the 19th- and 20th-century history of Asia much better than most Western non-specialists do. As the center of world history shifts to the Pacific, Americans need to develop a greater literacy in Asian politics and culture—and follow Asian news more closely and thoughtfully.
Park’s South Korea is in one of the world’s most difficult geopolitical positions: squeezed between two great powers and bordered by the hostile North. The slowing growth in Asia and the growing political tensions in the region mean that her tenure is likely to be a testing one. Via Meadia wishes her and the democracy she leads the best.