Opinion: Behind John Kerry’s visit to Asia


Haoran Li is a junior communication studies major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. He can be reached at [email protected].

Haoran Li

John Kerry recently visited Asia for several days, during which he paid a visit to South Korea but not Japan. However, both South Korea and Japan are America’s allies and were used to check and balance communist countries in Asia-Pacific; both countries also needed America’s support for the benefit of their economics and security in Asia-Pacific during the Cold War. However, the end of the Cold War gave these two countries new strategies to set up their foreign policies, which meant that they had to become more normalized. The two major allies of America have also had issues between one another historically. Kerry’s purpose for his recent visit to Asia was to ease tension between South Korea and Japan, which flared after the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which has A-Class criminals of World War II, arousing pain and rage in South Koreans who can still recall Japan’s military invasion in WWII, in addition to arguments between China and Japan on South China Sea issues.

Kerry’s visit seems as if it was effective on those grounds but actually had limited influence. Kerry wanted to balance each side in Asia in order to maintain American interests in this area. Unfortunately, the South Korean government will not change its political stance on historical issues, which has deep conflicts with Japan. The South Korean government’s reaction was not only based on its national interests but was also based on gaining reputation from its citizens in order to maintain its legitimacy on domestic issues. Moreover, South Korean investment and trade has shifted to China instead of relying on America, as it did several years ago. Clint Work, a Seoul-based writer focusing on Northeast Asian international relations, said, “Starting in 1991, Seoul and Beijing opened mutual trade offices, followed by full normalization of relations a year later. The realignment would spur a rapid boost in investment and trade over the next twenty years based on the obvious complementarities between the countries’ economies.” South Korea still needs security protection from America because of North Korea issues and the rise of China. After Kerry’s convincing, South Korea might stop arguing with Japan.

As for South China Sea’s problem, it is more difficult to be solved only by Kerry visiting. If China were a small, poor, and uneducated country, Kerry’s visit would have been influential. However, China has capacity to be a global super power which means what America says has had less effects on China. China’s military power still lags behind America, though its economic influence is almost as good as America’s, as well as its political influence. South China Sea issues are just the first step of China to its blue-sea operation, namely its first step of strategy of commanding of the sea. China will not retreat from South China Sea issues because it involves China’s national security strategy and national interests.

Obama has declared a “pivot” to Asia, but it won’t be as easy as before, though America is still the most powerful country in the world, though not as strong as several years ago. Kerry’s visit might have some influence but can be mostly discounted because of the declining of America and rise of other countries.