The 4th industrial revolution is reshaping the structure of international politics. World politics, which was once dictated by industrialized nations with large populations and abundant natural resources that could mobilize large armed forces, will now be dominated by the nation armed with advanced technology. In the new era, a nation that can mobilize well-trained small military units with sophisticated weapons supported by artificial intelligence will easily subjugate big units equipped with conventional weapons. The United States, which leads the 4th industrial revolution with the most advanced scientific institutions run by the largest group of top-ranked scientists will dominate world politics in the 21st century as it did in the unipolar hierarchical political order that lasted for two decades after the end of the Cold War. The United States’ border is a permeable membrane that allows top-notch scientists and technicians to enter and thus it can maintain the largest pool of high-quality scientists for years. The unipolar international order governed by the United States will be challenged by China which has the largest population and is governed by an autocratic one-party dictatorship. China is well aware of the new rules of the power game of the 21st century: advanced technology will determine who dominates among states. China adopted a meritocratic system in staffing leadership positions in government and public institutions. Selected elite bureaucrats are running not only the government but also business and industrial apparatuses. China, with this combination of a one-party autocracy and efficient meritocratic bureaucracy, is rapidly becoming a competitor with the United States. The United States-China competition will develop into a bipolar cold war system. China as a superpower reveals its ambitious dream of restoring a Sino-centric hierarchical order, the tributary system that prevailed in Asia until the end of the 19th century. China is trying to recover its dominance over the Korean Peninsula, which it will utilize as a buffer to deter US encroachment into Asia. China will try to annex North Korea as an autonomous province of China, and it will try to ‘Finlandize’ South Korea and keep it as an independent puppet state that it can control. Against this backdrop, South Korea should take firm steps to discourage China’s ambition. First, to secure its sovereign status as an independent state, the Republic of Korea should strengthen its alliance with the United States. The mutual defense treaty should be reinforced to become a comprehensive treaty covering all aspects of cooperation. The United State is the only power able to deter China’s ambition, and is the only superpower that shares a belief in liberal democracy with Korea. Korea has hesitated to build formal security cooperative relations with Japan, and has instead nurtured popular grievances against Japan stemming from Japan’s harsh colonial governance. Korea has maintained a ‘pseudo alliance’ with Japan, the closest ally of the United States. To check the Chinese threat, Korea should formalize security cooperation with Japan. A Korea-Japan alliance will reinforce the stability of the Korea-US alliance. Second, we should make Korea a strong competitive nation in the global technology war. To that end, Korea should adopt a meritocratic system to build highly an efficient bureaucracy modeled after Singapore. Educational reform to train and produce top-notch scientists and technicians is also needed. Third, expanding the civil education system, all citizens should be reoriented to accept a new work ethic to honor an achievement-based rewards system and government policy of providing free-meals only for physically disabled citizens. The public should be persuaded to support the meritocratic government’s policy of enhancing industrial efficiency. Additionally, the Korean community should be expanded to include overseas Koreans.
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