By Ding Gang Source: Global Times Published: 2017-1-11
The Military Demarcation Line (MDL), more widely known as the 38th Parallel, is a tourist destination included in most itineraries of Chinese tourist groups in South Korea. In recent memories of the Chinese people regarding the Korean Peninsula, it is perhaps the most renowned attraction.
However, most of the time, tourists can only look upon the distant green-clad region from a high observation deck. The majestic view of Mount Kumgang can also be seen on clear, sunny days.
Those who want to visit the truce village of Panmunjom will have to go through the formalities and verification procedures. Only a few South Korean travel agencies have the qualification to arrange such tours.
According to many textbooks, Panmunjom is the testimony of the Korean War and the split of the Korean Peninsula. More importantly, it is a symbol of the Cold War and is still controlled by the US military.
For most Chinese tourists enjoying the view on the observation deck near the MDL, the scenery around them is charming. Even in winter, they can still sense the raw beauty of desolation and sincerity.
This is a wilderness untouched by humans for decades. Its sky only belongs to birds while tens of thousands of landmines as well as tunnels allowing North Koreans to transfer military forces for surprise attacks against the South are lying hidden below the ground.
When experts marked 1991, the year the former Soviet Union disintegrated, as the end of the Cold War, why hadn`t they thought of the MDL?
For North Koreans who live near the zone, the Cold War never ended. Even for Chinese tourists like me, we feel the same standing on the viewing platform. The peace and stability we are enjoying today is still closely linked to the MDL.
The readiness for combat on both sides of the line makes war highly likely to ignite at anytime in the region. After Pyongyang started developing nuclear weapons of its own, the possible scale of the next war is increasingly worrying.
Such threat is not out of reach for Chinese citizens living near the China-North Korea border. Their insecurity is heightened with the frequency of North Korean nuclear tests.
Nevertheless, for the US, which is on the other side of the ocean, this insecurity has turned into Washington`s balancer to manipulate the regional situation, which has led to the fierce conflicts between Beijing and Seoul over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.
Given its different purposes, contradictions over the THAAD system emerged between China and South Korea. Seoul wants to use it against Pyongyang, but Beijing will never allow US strategic detector to probe and threaten China without scruples.
So far, the situation in the area is to a large extent the continuation of strategic arrangements and logic of the Cold War. The US is still dominating the big picture and taking the opportunity to contain China.
Compared with my tour in South Korea 10 years ago, I see a sharp increase of Chinese tourists in Lotte department stores now, but the view of the Yongsan Garrison army base, where US troops are stationed, has never changed.
US soldiers has not left, despite discussions of withdrawal of US military from the Yongsan base and Panmunjom 10 years ago, US military presence there is actually on the rise. The deployment of the THAAD system is an example.
I still cannot forget that 10 years ago, a South Korean taxi driver told me, "Reunification of Korea will happen on the day US army withdraws."
The US won`t readily remove its troops from the peninsula, but China will not just be an onlooker. The solution to the North Korean nuclear issues requires all six parties` efforts. It is also an issue of which country will dominate the reconstruction of the regional security pattern. If China wants to totally get rid of the US strategic restrictions in the area and maximize its national interests, it has to take the initiative.
When Chinese air and navy force crossed the first island chain, the outlook that China will be the one to write the regional security rules has also become undoubtedly logical.
The author is a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.