Sunday, September 5, 2021

Vietnam War Victims Wanted Justice. They Were Given ‘30 Bags of Rice.’

South Korean troops were the largest foreign contingent fighting alongside American soldiers during the Vietnam War. They have long been dogged by allegations of brutality.

 Choe Sang-Hun

SEOUL — The South Korean marine unit had a reputation for leaving nothing breathing behind when they passed through hostile territory, not even a pig suckling its litter.

After the unit swept through Phong Nhi and Phong Nhut, villages in central Vietnam, on Feb. 12, 1968, scores of bodies were found, all unarmed civilians, most of them children and women, shot or stabbed with bayonets.

“This old man came out of a hiding hole, his hands held up,” recalled Ryu Jin-seong, a former marine attached to the unit who was 22 at the time. “He kept begging for life, apparently thinking he would be killed when he was taken away.”

In a fit of rage, a sergeant swore and emptied his clip on the man, Mr. Ryu said.

The tragedy of the Vietnam War — echoing loudly this week during the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan — continues to haunt those victims who witnessed and survived the two decades of bloodshed.

Nearly a half-century after the war ended, victims of the massacre at Phong Nhi and Phong Nhut are seeking compensation from the Seoul government in the first lawsuit of its kind being tried in a South Korean court.

Stung by shocking testimony, South Korean lawmakers and civic groups are also pushing for a special law to investigate long-held allegations that South Korean troops killed thousands of civilians when they were the largest foreign contingent fighting alongside American soldiers during the war.

Ryu Jin-seong, a former marine attached to the unit accused of massacring Vietnamese civilians, in Seoul in July.
Credit...Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

The scene of the massacre, now a memorial site.
Credit...Linh Pham for The New York Times

“I have never been free from the nightmare of the day when South Korean troops came to our village,” said Nguyen Thi Thanh, 61, who lost five relatives, including her mother, sister and brother, and was herself wounded in Phong Nhi in 1968. “But the South Korean government has never once visited our village and never once asked us what happened.”

South Korea sent 320,000 troops, billing them as “anti-Communist crusaders.” In return for its contribution, it won American aid that helped build the national economy. But rumors have long persisted that South Korean troops committed mass killings of Vietnamese civilians.

Discussions of the topic had been a taboo under the past military dictatorship. But as South Korea enjoyed a greater freedom of press in the late 1990s, more outlets began publishing stories about the alleged civilian massacres. The one in Phong Nhi and Phong Nhut was the most documented.

The United States military investigated what happened just days after the killings occurred, according to declassified American documents.

According to the documents, American Marines and South Vietnamese militiamen operating in Dien Ban, Quang Nam Province, heard firing and saw huts burning after the South Korean marine unit moved into Phong Nhi and Phong Nhut. The Americans and South Vietnamese assisted villagers fleeing with wounds. They later visited Phong Nhi to find piles of bodies, including a child and pregnant woman shot in the head at close range and “a young woman who was still alive and had her breast cut off,” the documents said.

One of the American Marines took pictures.

Nguyen Thi Thanh, a survivor of the massacre. Last year, Ms. Nguyen filed a lawsuit against the Seoul government.
Credit...Linh Pham for The New York Times

Ms. Nguyen pointing to names on a memorial stone of relatives, including her mother, who were killed in the massacre.
Credit...Linh Pham for The New York Times

More than 70 villagers died in the attack, according to the American documents and recent testimony from survivors.

“The victims of this incident were defenseless civilians, the great majority of which were women and children, who were murdered as they plead for their lives,” Major John M. Campanelli, an American Marine investigator, wrote in the declassified documents on Feb. 18, 1968. He added that “in an attempt to placate the survivors and relatives of the dead and wounded,” the executive officer of the South Korean Marine battalion “offered his apologies and provided 30 bags of rice to the District Chief.”

By April 1968, American military investigators concluded that “there was some probability that a war crime was committed,” and shared the information with the top South Korean officer in Vietnam, Lt. Gen. Chae Myung-shin. General Chae responded by claiming that the “massacre was an act conspired and mercilessly elected by the Communists.”

South Korean veterans told a different story.

Mr. Ryu said there was a standing order that if marines received even small fire, they should trace its origin and destroy everything they found, even unarmed civilians, to instill fear among the enemy. The task of demonstrating cruelty often fell into units nicknamed “killer companies,” including Mr. Ryu’s, he said. The attack in Phong Nhi and Phong Nhut started after small fire from near the villages injured a South Korean marine, according to the American documents.

Remains shortly after a South Korean marine company attacked the village.
Credit...United States Marine Corporal J. Vaughn

Images of the remains of Ms. Nguyen’s mother, from a book about the killings written by a South Korean journalist.
Credit...Linh Pham for The New York Times

Mr. Ryu, a member of the second platoon, said that when his unit swept through the villages, it found no armed men but rounded up villagers. It was widely known within the company that the third platoon, which was bringing up the rear, massacred the gathered villagers, he said.

“We heard that when the company commander was asked what to do with them, he raised a thumb and made the gesture of cutting the throat,” he said.

The United States military reopened its case in late 1969 after the RAND Corporation, in one of its studies, uncovered allegations of brutality by South Korean troops against Vietnamese civilians. It was around this time that the South Korean intelligence agency began questioning members of the marine unit about the massacre, former officers told South Korean media in 2000. At least one of the officers gave an account similar to that of Mr. Ryu.

There is no evidence that Washington or Seoul pursued the matter further. Instead, the American military was accused by refugees and student researches in the United States of suppressing evidence of civilian atrocities carried out by South Korean forces.

After South Korea and Vietnam opened diplomatic ties in 1992, South Korean visitors encountered Vietnamese villagers who remembered the atrocities of South Korean troops. One study by a South Korean researcher, based on interviews with survivors and witnesses from the villages, reported that dozens of alleged mass killings carried by South Korean troops left as many as 9,000 Vietnamese civilians dead.

In 2015, Ms. Nguyen and another woman became the first Vietnamese victims to visit South Korea to share their stories. In 2019, with the help of South Korean civic groups, she and 102 people from 17 Vietnamese villages petitioned President Moon Jae-in of South Korea for an investigation and apology. Last year, Ms. Nguyen filed a lawsuit against the Seoul government.

An undated photo of Mr. Ryu in South Korea after he returned from the Vietnam War.
Credit...Ryu Jin-seong

South Korea maintains that it has found no evidence of civilian killings in its wartime records. When lawyers demanded that the intelligence agency make public the results of its reported investigation of marines in 1969, it refused, saying that it could “neither confirm nor deny” whether an investigation took place.

In response to the petition in 2019, the Defense Ministry said it could not look into the allegations because Vietnam was not ready to cooperate.

When he visited Hanoi in 2018, President Moon expressed “regrets over an unfortunate past,” but stopped short of issuing an official apology, which Hanoi has never requested.

His words hardly soothed the victims in Vietnam.

“No South Korean government officials have asked us survivors whether we wanted an apology,” said the petition to Mr. Moon from Ms. Nguyen and others. “We do want an apology.”

The area where the Phong Nhi and Phong Nhat massacre took place on Feb. 12, 1968.
Credit...Linh Pham for The New York Times

Sunday, May 9, 2021

The end of strategic ambiguity? America has finally stopped pretending it would risk war with Russia over supposed ‘ally’ Ukraine


The end of strategic ambiguity? America has finally stopped pretending it would risk war with Russia over supposed ‘ally’ Ukraine

The end of strategic ambiguity? America has finally stopped pretending it would risk war with Russia over supposed ‘ally’ Ukraine
Would the US go to war with Russia over Ukraine? As tensions escalate between Moscow and Kiev, some have warned that the latter’s ‘alliance’ with Washington could spiral into a conflict between the two main nuclear superpowers.

Except, of course, there is no alliance between the US and Ukraine. This week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken effectively ended the notion that Ukraine has Western backers ready to step in at a moment’s notice if it finds itself under attack.

Pressed on whether American forces could be sent into battle against Russian troops to support Kiev in the event of war in an interview with MSNBC, he answered only that Washington is committed to “helping Ukraine defend itself.”

In other words, no. Indeed, with these words, Blinken backed up suspicions in Moscow that Washington stands ready to fight Moscow down to the very last Ukrainian, but would never risk its own troops.

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It is difficult to overstate the importance of the secretary of state’s response, which has effectively ended a calculated policy of strategic ambiguity over Ukraine. For years, the State Department has been reluctant to be drawn on just how far it would go for the Eastern European nation, and whether it would send its own soldiers into battle for its supposed ally.

The fact that mask has slipped now fundamentally changes the nature of the situation. It comes as the White House has also seemingly pivoted its foreign policy in the region by revising a section in an official transcript to play down the prospect of Ukraine joining the NATO military bloc. After turning to the West following the 2014 Maidan, Kiev has played up its credentials with the EU and US, emphasizing the importance of its ‘alliances’ and its role as a vanguard against supposed Russian aggression towards Central Europe. That argument is now based on less and less evidence.

The gamble of strategic ambiguity

Strategic ambiguity, neither confirming nor denying your red lines and potential responses, is often an ideal approach when it concerns the defense of an ally or partner such as Ukraine. Most notably, the US has applied a similar approach to Taiwan.

Suggesting that Washington may provide direct support intends to deter adversarial states like Russia and China, as the added uncertainty about the US response makes it hard to predict how a situation might escalate.

Strategic ambiguity is preferable to making firm commitments to defend its partners for two main reasons – first, the US would lose its credibility in the arena of global security if a war broke out and it decided at the last minute to not live up to its commitments. Second, offering firm promises of support could encourage states like Ukraine or Taiwan to pursue bolder and more aggressive strategies.

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With the support of the Americans, for example, Ukraine may be emboldened to attempt to attack and take back the Donbass region by force. Likewise, Taiwan could be emboldened to officially declare independence from China if it believed Washington had its back. Thus, there is the risk that the tail begins wagging the dog, as minor powers like Ukraine and Taiwan would suddenly be capable of influencing their supposed protectors.

For this reason, the US has avoided firm security guarantees towards both Ukraine and Taiwan since neither Russia nor China can be deterred in the event of escalating war scenarios. If Kiev were to attack the Donbass, it would be politically impossible for Russia to stand by, and any sign of weakness would likely embolden NATO to expand into Ukraine, which Moscow deems to be an existential threat. Similarly, it would be impossible for China to accept Taiwan’s secession, seeing it instead as a repetition of the so-called Century of Humiliation, with the subsequent intolerable domestic and international consequences that entailed.

The failure of strategic ambiguity in Ukraine

Strategic ambiguity failed in Ukraine because it created unrealistic expectations. The policy was not intended to deter a Russian invasion, but to enable Kiev to negotiate a more favorable political settlement to fighting in the Donbass, between its forces and those loyal to the two self-declared People’s Republics.

That negotiated settlement came in the form of the Minsk Agreement, which Kiev also signed. The agreement explicitly demands that Kiev establish direct diplomatic ties with the leaders in the breakaway regions to negotiate constitutional changes, including decentralizing power in order to grant the east of the country a degree of autonomy in a reunited Ukraine. However, years have passed and Kiev has been reluctant to honor its obligations and establish that dialogue with local leaders.

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Instead of fulfilling its role as required under the Minsk Agreement, Ukraine has aimed to renegotiate the entire agreement while changing the realities on the ground – rebuilding its military power, mobilizing support from Western powers, and intensifying sanctions against Russia.

Washington has continuously signaled that it supports Kiev’s efforts to repudiate the treaty, while Western Europe has been unwilling to put any pressure on Ukraine to seek to implement the terms of the deal. Washington’s continuous references to Ukraine as an “ally” and promises of NATO membership undoubtedly gave Kiev the expectation of US support in its bid to scrap the Minsk Agreement, and potentially even if it attempts to resolve the conflict by force.

The recent mobilization of Ukrainian troops towards the contact line with Donbass was intended to be the pinnacle of pressure on Russia to renegotiate the settlement along terms more favorable to Kiev. However, the Russian military build-up along the border destroyed Kiev’s entire strategy. Moscow signaled clearly that it will uphold its red lines irrespective of the cost, for the simple reason that NATO’s continued expansion is considered an existential threat.

Unwilling to go to war against Russia, the G7 countries have since instead affirmed that the Minsk Agreement is the sole solution to the conflict. Without the possibility of renegotiating the pact, Ukraine is at a crossroads. An attack on the Donbass would almost certainly result in defeat and even potentially lead to the destruction of Ukraine as a state, while honoring the Minsk Agreement would make the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, vulnerable to the far-right nationalists that could topple him in another supposedly ‘democratic revolution’.

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Zelensky is in a difficult spot as he is being forced to withdraw with no real gains, and desperate times often call for desperate measures. By making it clear that it will not defend Ukraine, the US is discouraging Kiev and the right-wing militias from engaging in reckless actions. Furthermore, it also signals to Moscow that Washington is committed to de-escalation and Russia does not need to take unilateral actions to resolve the conflict.

What will Russia do? Returning to the revisionism versus status quo debate

What will happen now as Washington withdraws its strategic ambiguity by making it clear the US will not defend Ukraine? Will Russia invade or de-escalate?

A revisionist power is defined as one that seeks to change current circumstances to obtain a more favorable balance of power, while a status-quo power aims to preserve its existing position against the challenges of revisionists who want to reopen old conflicts.

The narrative that Russia is a revisionist power, spun by the Western political and media classes, infers that without a security guarantee from the US, Russia is free to conquer Ukraine and “restore the Soviet Empire.” However, that will be challenged if the US’ signals that it is no longer providing security guarantees result in Russia de-escalating, because the threat of an offensive in the east of the country and NATO expansion are minimized.

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The theory of an expansionist and revisionist Russia has repeatedly failed. It was argued that Russia would go on to invade Georgia when the country intervened in response to Tbilisi’s attack on South Ossetia in 2008. Instead, Moscow merely restored the status-quo by pushing the Georgian troops out of South Ossetia. In 2015, Russia intervened in Syria to prevent Western-backed regime change, and again to preserve the status quo. In Ukraine, Russia has similarly aimed to defend the local population in Donbass following the 2014 coup and prevent further NATO expansionism.

Are US security guarantees and NATO expansion instruments of revisionism in Europe or are they preserving the status quo? This question seems to have now been answered, as promises of military support and bloc membership are walked back, opening the door for a peaceful settlement in Ukraine.

Friday, January 15, 2021

How China Won Trump’s Trade War and Got Americans to Foot the Bill

Bloomberg News

January 11, 2021, 1:00 PM PST

*Chinese trade surplus, exports rose despite Trump’s rhetoric
*Biden administration likely to favor technology controls

Supply Lines is a daily newsletter that tracks Covid-19’s impact on trade. Sign up here, and subscribe to our Covid-19 podcast for the latest news and analysis on the pandemic.

U.S. President Donald Trump famously tweeted that “trade wars are good, and easy to win” in 2018 as he began to impose tariffs on about $360 billion of imports from China. Turns out he was wrong on both counts.

Even before the coronavirus infected millions of Americans and sparked the steepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, China was withstanding Trump’s tariff salvos, according to the very metrics he used to justify them. Once China got the virus under control, demand for medical equipment and work-from-home gear expanded its trade surplus with the U.S. despite the levies.

While trade tensions between the world’s two biggest economic powers didn’t start under Trump, he broadened the fight with the unprecedented tariffs and sanctions on technology companies. The tougher approach, according to the scorecard that follows, didn’t go as he hoped. But he’s leaving his successor Joe Biden a blueprint of what worked and what didn’t.

“China is too big and too important to the world economy to think that you can cut it out like a paper doll” said Mary Lovely, an economics professor at Syracuse University. “The Trump administration had a wake-up call.”
The U.S. Trade Deficit Grew

Trump vowed in his 2016 election year to very quickly “start reversing” the U.S. goods trade deficit with China, ignoring mainstream economists who downplay the importance of bilateral deficits. However, the deficit with China increased since then, hitting $287 billion in the 11 months to November last year, according to Chinese data.

China’s Trade Surplus with the U.S.

January-February 2020 is combined by source

Data: China’s General Administration of Customs

The deficit did fall year-on-year in 2019, as U.S. companies switched to imports from countries like Vietnam, but it remained higher than the $254 billion gap in 2016. That was partly because Beijing’s imposition of retaliatory tariffs on about $110 billion in goods reduced its imports of American products, and these only started recovering in the last few months of 2020.

As part of the phase-one trade deal signed a year ago, Beijing made an ambitious vow to import $172 billion worth of U.S. goods in specific categories in 2020, but through the end of November it had bought just 51% of that goal. The slump in energy prices amid the pandemic and the problems with Boeing Co.’s planes played a part in that failure.

The persistent deficit demonstrated how reliant companies are on China’s vast manufacturing capacity, which was highlighted again by the pandemic. China was the only country capable of increasing output on a big enough scale to meet surging demand for goods such as work-from-home computers and medical equipment.

President Xi Jinping expressed his confidence in China’s rise Monday, telling officials that “time and the situation are in our favor.” The Chinese leader said that he saw “opportunities in general outweighing challenges,” a marked shift from his sometimes dire-sounding warnings of recent months.
China’s Export Machine Rolls On

Trump repeatedly said that China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001 caused its economy to take off like a “rocket ship,” a result he viewed as unfair. As it turned out, Trump’s trade war with China coincided with another expansion in Chinese exports. After shrinking for two straight years in 2015 and 2016, China’s total shipments grew each year after Trump took office, including in 2019 when exports to the U.S. fell.

China Exports

January-February 2020 is combined by source

Data: China’s General Administration of Customs

A group of 10 Southeast Asian nations replaced the U.S. as China’s second-largest trading partner in 2019. The shift to Asia is likely to continue as Southeast Asian economies are projected to grow faster than developed countries over the next decade. Those trade links will be further cemented by the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership pact signed late last year, which will see 15 regional economies gradually drop some tariffs on each others’ goods.

What Bloomberg Economics Says...

The fact that exports were little affected after four years of trade war speaks to the resilience of China’s manufacturing capacity. However the trade war has exposed China’s vulnerability in certain bottleneck sectors such as high tech.

-- Chang Shu, chief Asia economist
U.S. Companies Stay in China

Trump said that tariffs would encourage U.S. manufacturers to move production back home, and in a 2019 tweet he “ordered” them to “immediately start looking for an alternative to China.” But there is little evidence of any such shift taking place.

U.S. direct investment into China increased slightly from $12.9 billion in 2016 to $13.3 billion in 2019, according to Rhodium Group data.

Foreign Direct Investment

Data: Rhodium Group

More than three quarters of 200-plus U.S. manufacturers in and around Shanghai surveyed in September said they didn’t intend to move production out of China. U.S. companies regularly cite the rapid growth of China’s consumer market combined with its strong manufacturing capabilities as reasons for expanding there. “No matter how high the Trump administration raised any tariffs, it was going to be very difficult to dissuade US companies from investing,” said Ker Gibbs, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai.
Economic Losses on Both Sides

Trump claimed that tariffs had boosted the U.S. economy, while causing China’s economy to have its “worst year in over 50” in 2019. However, direct economic impacts were small relative to the size of the two countries’ economies as the value of exports between them are tiny relative to gross domestic product.

China grew at or above 6% in both 2018 and 2019, with tariffs costing it about 0.3% of GDP over those years, according to Yang Zhou, an economist at the University of Minnesota. By her estimate, the trade war cost the U.S. 0.08% GDP over the same period. The clearest winner was Vietnam, where the tariffs boosted GDP by nearly 0.2 percentage point as companies relocated.
U.S. Consumer Foots the Bill

Trump repeatedly claimed that China was paying for the tariffs. Economists who crunched the numbers were surprised to find that Chinese exporters generally didn’t lower prices to keep their goods competitive after the tariffs were imposed. That meant U.S. duties were mostly paid by its own companies and consumers.

The tariffs led to an income loss for U.S. consumers of about $16.8 billion annually in 2018, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research paper.

Another own goal: Tariffs on imports from China tended to reduce U.S. exports. That was because globalized supply chains mean manufacturing is shared between countries, and the U.S. raised the costs of its own goods by levying duties on imports of Chinese components.

U.S. Export Value

Year-over-year change

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Bloomberg calculations

Companies which together account for 80% of U.S. exports had to pay higher prices for Chinese imports, according to analysis of confidential company data by researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve, reducing export growth.

The Rustbelt Stayed Rusty

Trump campaigned hard back in 2016 on pledges to revive the Rust Belt by taking on China and bringing the jobs back home. It didn’t happen.

Growth in U.S. manufacturing jobs flatlined in 2019, partly due to falling exports. Even regions home to industries such as steel, which received explicit protection from Trump’s tariffs saw declines in employment, according to research by New York University Stern School of Business economist Michael Waugh, suggesting that the trade war didn’t significantly alter the trajectory of U.S. manufacturing.

“That stuff is just naturally going to move offshore. The protection maybe delays it a little bit,” Waugh said. “There’s no evidence that the tariffs benefited workers.”

The pandemic’s disruption to the world economy in 2020 makes it difficult to estimate the effect of the tariffs on jobs and investment.
China Changed at Its Own Pace

The Trump administration claimed that tariffs provided leverage over the Chinese, which would force them to make reforms to benefit U.S. companies. “I love properly put-on tariffs, because they bring unfair competitors from foreign countries to do whatever you want them to do,” Trump said.

The biggest victory claimed by the administration as part of its trade deal were promises from Beijing to enhance intellectual property protections. But that was probably in China’s interests anyway.

Mark Cohen, an expert on Chinese law at the University of California Berkeley School of Law and Fordham University, said that while Beijing has made “tremendous legislative changes” to strengthen IP protection in the past two years, its own motivation to enhance innovation may have been a more important factor than U.S. pressure. The agreement didn’t “push the structural reforms in China that would make its system more systemically compatible with most of the world,” he added.

Chinese companies paid a record $7.9 billion in intellectual property payments to the U.S. in 2019, up from $6.6 billion in 2016, and its courts imposed some record-breaking fines on IP infringement involving U.S. companies. But that rate of increase was slower than for its IP payments to the whole world, according to World Bank data, showing the payments to the U.S. were part of a general trend.

China’s Payments for Use of U.S. Intellectual Property

Data: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

Washington was also not able to extract any significant commitments on reform of China’s state-owned enterprises, which were also cited as a justification for tariffs.
Trade War to Tech Wars

It’s now up to President-elect Biden to decide whether to keep up the trade war. In a recent interview, he said he wouldn’t remove the tariffs immediately and would instead review the phase one deal.

Washington was also not able to extract any significant commitments on reform of China’s state-owned enterprises, which were also cited as a justification for tariffs.
Trade War to Tech Wars

It’s now up to President-elect Biden to decide whether to keep up the trade war. In a recent interview, he said he wouldn’t remove the tariffs immediately and would instead review the phase one deal.

Compared with tariffs, an escalating conflict over technology is of more concern to China. Sanctions and export restrictions imposed by Washington have threatened the viability of leading technology companies such as Huawei Technologies Co. and microchip maker Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. That is an existential threat to Beijing’s plans for economic growth.

“If the U.S. continues to increase its technological blockade, China’s modernization towards the high-end of the global industrial chain will undoubtedly be affected,” two researchers at the official Communist Party school in the province of Jiangsu wrote in an article.

So far, the impact of U.S. actions has been to accelerate Beijing’s drive for technological self-sufficiency. The issue has rocketed up the Communist Party’s agenda, symbolized by a statement last month that increasing “strategic scientific and technological strength” is the most important economic task.