What do a Ballistic Missiles Defence System and K-Entertainment/Culture have in common, and why does it matter to Southeast Asia?

UPDATE: North Korea testing new rocket launcher. A space programme has everything to do with a nuclear weapons programme, technologically speaking (and that both involve rocket scientists at varying degrees, pun intended).

It’s South Korea. The possibility of North Korea launching nuclear warheads against US assets in Japan, or at South Korea itself, has convinced South Korea to allow the US to install a THAAD system that would target short-to-medium-range ballistic missiles before their descend; that decision had China going ballistic too. China thinks that there is an ulterior motive behind this, and that they would be the next target. So we all know, unequivocally, that nuclear proliferation is happening in a part of Asia not too far away from Southeast Asia, even if Southeast Asia states do not appear to be the target for political and economic reasons (it would be like killing ants with a sledgehammer, with the potential of hitting the wielder’s own foot).

So, China is targetting where it hurts most for South Korea, given how the Chinese had been the biggest customers: banning the streaming of k-dramas and all forms of k-entertainments within its borders, cancelling concerts and fan-meets,boycotting goods (especially from Lotte), taking down (via cyber attacks – now this is going more hardcore) a major conglomerate (Lotte again) accused of conspiring with the S. Korean government and the US, and getting the rabid Chinese consumers of K-culture to willingly give up their ‘addiction’ (when you live in China and your access is controlled, there is not much you can do but comply, unless you have skills to circumvent that ban and circumvent detection from circumventing that band). There is also a travel ban from China to S-Korea, which is going to hit the latter’s economy big time (the last time I was in S Korea in November 2016, I saw loads of Chinese tourist buses).

One might ask: why should we in Southeast Asia care? For one, this attack against the so-called ‘softpower’ is a form of cold war. Secondly, China sees itself as a major superpower of Asia and resents the ‘collaboration’ between S Korea and the US, which I think it perceives as an interference and disrespectful of China’s political might. Thirdly, inasmuch as the ‘Hallyu’ culture has also made its impact in Southeast Asia, the loyal following it garnered could not even come close to the Chinese investment in Southeast Asia in varying sectors – especially in infrastructural developments. Let’s put it this way – China has the cold hard cash in a way that S. Korea does not quite have (unless trade continues to flow) – and China could potentially exert pressure on its neighbouring trading countries too, given that many Southeast Asian countries are dependent on trade and investment from China. It would be interesting to see how ASEAN might respond to this.

In the field of nuclear power, S Korea has signed a number of agreements and collaborations with partners in Southeast Asia and the Middle East around the time that China is also trying to penetrate these emerging nuclear power markets. Of course, South Korea has had a longer history of collaborations with Southeast Asia (in industry, education, and technology), particularly since the turn of the twenty-first century, following Japan in the 1980s and 1990s. But China has been strategic in how it is positioning itself as a fast moving late-comer as it is also attempting to do the same with Asian/ASEAN neighbours (and should we mention the Chinese students and businesses abound in Southeast Asia). When you put in the recent maritime dispute between China and Southeast Asia, and other economic strategies the East Asian states are deploying in tandem (and even in opposition), some really interesting stuff will be playing out in the geopolitical theatre of Southeast Asia in this coming year. Nuclear might be involved.

That said, consumers of K-entertainment, K-beauty, and K-gastronomy, and other K-culture from Southeast Asia might be oblivious to all these political turn of events and will continue their consumption in peace until their governments become politically involved in the situation surrounding the crisis.



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