Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LETTER FROM VLADIVOSTOK: Kosovo Waves Crash Over Pacific Concerns




Every so often, a United States president will stand at a podium in a city like Tokyo or Vancouver, glance at a teleprompter, and declare, "America is a Pacific Rim country, too."


Such pronouncements are probably the subject of headlines in Washington or London ("U.S. Borders Large Western Sea, President Insists"). But the remarks are downright bombshells in Seattle and Los Angeles, where reporters scramble to write stories that begin: "The blue stuff you see outside your window may well be the world's largest ocean, President Bill Clinton disclosed Friday. Citing recent CIA satellite photography, the president ?"


The strategic significance of the Pacific Rim has been on my mind lately. While NATO and Russia have been paralyzed in tactical negotiations over whether several busloads of Russian soldiers may open a shashlik grill in the Pristina airport, we in East Asia have been distracted by local concerns. Only a few hundred kilometers from Vladivostok, North and South Korea have engaged in a battle at sea.


In case you haven't heard over the din in the Balkans, the North Korean navy had been escorting its crab fishing vessels into disputed territory for eight days, leading to clashes with South Korea. Then on Tuesday, North Korean patrol boats opened fire. South Korean warships shot back and sank two enemy patrol boats, killing at least 30 sailors and wounding 70.


It's not as if the possibility of a land war in Asia really matters in the grand scheme of things, but at first I was a little uneasy. The Korean peninsula was the site of horrific fighting from 1950-53. My uncle, a bomber navigator, is still listed as missing in action after his plane was shot down over North Korea, and my father, a U.S. Army lieutenant, was wounded when his Jeep hit a land mine. No peace treaty has ever been signed, North Korea remains in the hands of a Stalinist leadership that last year shot a missile over Japan, and 37,000 U.S. soldiers are stationed in the line of fire.


Furthermore, if ever a war broke out, this part of Russia could find itself swamped in refugees. The North Korean border is fewer than 100 kilometers from Vladivostok.


As the tensions mounted in the Yellow Sea, I net-surfed the world's major newspapers. I kept finding f well, very little, at least at first. Then finally, after Tuesday's battle, a smattering of wire stories and a few phoners called in by newspapers' Tokyo bureaus.


But after a few days, I started to like the idea that the Pacific Rim is only of minimal interest. At least nobody's embassy got bombed out here. But next time a president makes known the United States' oceanic proximity, I just hope he says, "We're aPacific Rim country. But frankly, who cares?"