Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Partitioning Korea in 1896

As I've previously written, Russia has long desired to maintain a buffer state on the Korean peninsula, to counter Japanese influence in the area and help defend Primorye - the very east of Siberia around Vladivostok, and possession of which gives Russia access to the Pacific.

In 1894-5 Japan and Qing state fought a short war over Korea and Manchuria, in which the Japanese sank most of what China possessed in the way of a modern navy and successfully invaded Manchuria. The result was a fairly humiliating defeat for China.

Imperial Russia took fright at this, rightly fearing long term Japanese aims to expand and colonise Manchuria and Korea, and thus threaten Primorye and eastern Siberia.

In an act of bare faced cheek, Russia proposed to Japan that they partition Korea between them along the 38th parallel, which is today roughly the cease fire line between the DPRK and South Korea.

At the same time, Russia, France and Germany pressured Japan to return territory in Manchuria seized during the 1894-5 war, at which point Russia seized the territory returned by Japan and hence the war of 1905, and the whole sorry tale of the DPRK as a Soviet buffer state.

The interesting thing about a lot of the commentary around the death of Kim Jong Il was that it emphasised the role of China in supporting the DPRK, rather than the role of Russia.

Historically it is Russia that has wanted the DPRK to continue to exists, as a buffer to protect the Primorye, first against American forces in Japan and Korea, and latterly against any pre-emptive move by China to regain the territories in the east of Siberia informally ceded by the Qing state to Russia from the 1860's onwards.

China's support is probably pragmatic. A hungry chaotic nuclear armed neighbour is not a nice prospect. One with a stable government, however repressive, is probably a comfortable neighbour, and there always remains the prospect of managed change...

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