In some ways—even more than Japan and the People’s Republic of China—South Korea is dominating key U.S. markets.  I’ve noticed this for years in Orange County, where Hyundai North America just built its new $200 million U.S. headquarters in Fountain Valley, the city next to where I live in Huntington Beach.  It’s double the size of the old headquarters, indicating what the company sees in the future.  And just 11 miles down the 405 in Irvine sits sister company Kia’s shining HQ, built in 2007.

The Korean presence in Silicon Valley is also surprising.  During a 2013 business trip to the Bay Area, I drove around in a rented car—Enterprise gave me a Kia Optima—to see all the glittering tech companies that dot the landscape of what officially is called the Santa Clara Valley: Apple, Intel, Google, Facebook.  As the diversity-mongers keep griping, these companies still are owned and run mostly by billionaire white guys.

There’s now an unofficial Koreatown east of Apple in Cupertino and west of San Jose.  Almost every store is a Korean restaurant or a small business supporting their compatriots who come here, some to stay, while interfacing with Korean, American, and other high-tech companies.

Cupertino is named after Saint Joseph of Cupertino, a 17th-century Franciscan from Naples, Italy, known for levitating, something for which Apple has yet to develop an app.  A parish bearing his name sits next to Apple; it was established in 1872 by Jesuits from Santa Clara University.  This is the area where the late Steve Jobs grew up as the adopted son of a working-class father and a housewife.  Today the high-tech boom has pushed home prices well above the one million dollar mark; the middle class is vanishing fast.

A few key numbers tell of the Koreans’ march to dominance.

In cellphone sales for the first quarter of 2015, the highly popular iPhone 6 drove Apple’s sales to a record 74.5 million units.  That compares with 82.4 million for Samsung and 15.4 million for LG, both Korean firms.  But there’s more to it than that.  The iPhone contains crucial Korean components.  And most of those phones, of course, are manufactured in China.

The fastest growing car company in the United States is Hyundai-Kia, which scored its best half-year sales ever from January to June of this year and has risen to sixth place among companies selling cars here.  It now accounts for 8.7 percent of U.S. vehicle sales, already ahead of Nissan, Subaru, Mazda, BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen.  And the Koreans are within passing distance of Honda’s 9.1 percent and not far from Chrysler’s 12 percent, although they are still well behind Ford’s 15.6 percent, Toyota’s 14.1 percent, and GM’s 18.8 percent.

(In the 1960’s, the federal government threatened antitrust action against GM for reaching for a 60-percent market share.  GM then slacked off because it didn’t compete as hard, producing such lemons as the Vega.  Is there anyone more foolish than U.S. antitrust functionaries, who attacked GM, then the world’s mightiest company, at the beginning of the foreign-car invasion?)

Korean companies are major players in numerous other markets: televisions, computers, transport vessels, non-crude oil, heavy construction equipment, and iron and steel.  According to World Bank data, from 2010 to 2014 exports accounted for an astonishing 54 percent of the South Korean economy, compared with 26 percent for China, 16 percent for Japan, and 14 percent for the United States.

Not bad for a country of 50 million whom many Americans still imagine as the natives depicted on M*A*S*H: impoverished, war-torn, starving.  There’s one part of the TV show (filmed in hills near Los Angeles) that remains true: Guys in U.S. military uniforms like Hawkeye and Trapper John still provide a defensive umbrella over South Korea against North Korea, a communist hellhole run for almost seven decades by the nutty, nepotistic Kim clan.

According to Global Firepower, which lists countries’ estimated military power based on open CIA data and other sources, the Korean People’s Army includes 690,000 active frontline personnel; 4.5 million reserves; 6,600 tanks; 3,500 artillery; 943 total aircraft; and 700 multiple-rocket launchers.  Despite the numbers, the equipment mostly consists of antiquated leftovers from the defunct Soviet Union; and the troops, like the rest of North Korea’s populace, have suffered long from malnutrition, as can be seen whenever North Koreans compete in sports games against taller, healthier South Koreans.

Siegfried Hecker, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, has visited and inspected North Korean nuclear sites seven times.  In January, he wrote in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists,

Pyongyang likely has roughly 12 nuclear weapons with an annual manufacturing capacity of possibly four to six bombs. . . . North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has been relentlessly expanding for a decade, and poses a real and deadly threat to the rest of Northeast Asia.

He also said in 2012,

I don’t believe North Korea has the capacity to attack the United States with nuclear weapons mounted on missiles and won’t for many years. . . . And even if Pyongyang had the technical means, why would the regime want to launch a nuclear attack when it fully knows that any use of nuclear weapons would result in a devastating military response and would spell the end of the regime?

So basically, North Korea could launch a suicidal attack against South Korea, killing hundreds of thousands of people and thousands of U.S. troops, before its own regime was destroyed militarily by South Korean and American retaliatory attacks.  China either would refuse to resupply Pyongyang—the United States would insist, threatening to end Chinese imports to Walmart shelves—or send the People’s Liberation Army south of the Yalu River, as in 1950, to maintain her military interests.

South Korea’s population today numbers twice that of North Korea, and her economy is a hefty 40 times as large.  She could easily defend herself.  Yet in June, reported Army Technology,

South Korea . . . launched a combined military division with the U.S. to strengthen its tactical combat readiness against North Korea.  The new division will reportedly involve one South Korean Army brigade and the 2nd Infantry Division of U.S. Army in Uijeongbu, located to the north of Seoul.

This is part of the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia.”  U.S. forces in South Korea total 28,500.

According to the Defense Manpower Data Center, 50,631 U.S. troops still occupy Japan, some 67 years after Tojo was hanged.  In a war, those troops would attack North Korea.  And the U.S. Pacific Fleet patrols the seaways.

Yet in 2014, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, South Korea spent just 2.4 percent of her economy on defense, compared with 7.6 percent for Israel, 3.7 percent for Russia, and 3.3 percent for the United States.

In other words, they are freeloading, exporting Hyundais and Kias while we send back to them tanks and armored troop carriers loaded with U.S. forces.  Admittedly, the Koreans are better than other defense moochers like Japan (1 percent) and our NATO allies Italy and Germany (1.1).  Yet the NATO countries at least have the excuse that, with the Soviet Union dissolved, there’s no need for NATO, nor is there a need for excessive spending on defense.

The South Koreans also cheat on trade.  According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the 2012 U.S. Trade Agreement “means countless new opportunities for U.S. exporters to sell more Made-in-America goods, services, and agricultural products to Korean customers—and to support more good jobs here at home.”

Yet in July 2014, the U.S. government imposed antidumping steel tariffs on nine countries.  The “lion’s share” of the tariffs, reported the Los Angeles Times, involved levies of 10 to 16 percent on South Korea.  “But Bank of America steel analyst Timna Tanners said it would take a tariff of at least 20 percent on Korean steel to have a meaningful effect, given the cost difference with U.S. producers.”

Despite all the Hyundais and Kias imported to America, you won’t find many Buicks and Chryslers tooling around the streets of Seoul.  A major reason is that the South Korean government and the country’s corporations have established a major lobbying presence in America, Alan Tonelson told me.  Formerly a research fellow at the U.S. Business and Industrial Council, Tonelson now writes at AlanTonel

“In Washington we have the Korea Economic Institute of America,” he said.  “They are ostensibly an organization that puts out information about U.S. trade with South Korea.  But they’re providing the research materials that are used in various lobbying campaigns.”  According to the institute’s website, “Most of KEI’s revenue is obtained from the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, a think tank in Seoul that is financed from public funds.”

Then there’s Washington’s revolving door.  Representing Rockford, Illinois, in Congress for 20 years was Don Manzullo, a Republican who served as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.  After his defeat in the 2012 Republican primary by neoconservative wunderkind Adam Kinzinger, Manzullo became the president and CEO of KEI.

According to his KEI bio, “Representative Manzullo is well-known as a staunch advocate for small business, manufacturing, and trade between the United States and Asian economies.”  And he’ll tell you about it all the way to the bank.  KEI’s Form 990, which reports foundation financial information, lists his total compensation in 2013 at $270,000.

Tonelson also pointed to the big national-security think tanks, “especially the conservative ones.”  “Allies Should Confront Imminent North Korean Nuclear Threat” is the title of Heritage Foundation Backgrounder #2913, by Bruce Klingner, published in June 2014.  “Long ridiculed for repeated failures, North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs now directly threaten the United States and its allies,” he wrote.  “Yet, the majority of analysts and policymakers still downplay the possibility that North Korea could have nuclear-tipped missiles or a preliminary ability to reach the United States.”

Heritage sponsors the annual B.C. Lee Lecture on U.S. Policy in the Asia-Pacific, which, according to the Heritage website, “was endowed by the Samsung Group in honor of its founder, the late B.C. Lee, to focus on the U.S. relationship with the Asia-Pacific region.”  The website also says of former President Edwin J. Feulner that he is Heritage’s “Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow.”  Chung founded the Hyundai Groups.

Recent B.C. Lee lecturers include Stephen Hadley, national security advisor to President George W. Bush; Sen. Joseph Lie berman (I-CT); and Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA).  Royce is the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and lectured in 2013 on “The Enduring Legacy of America’s Commitment to Asia.”  According to, contributors to Royce in 2013-14 included defense contractors General Atomics, Honeywell International, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman.

Suffice it to say that the editors of Chronicles are unlikely to be invited to deliver a B.C. Lee lecture.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies sponsors the Korea Chair, currently held by Victor Cha, as “an independent platform in Washington from which to advance major policy issues of common importance to the people of the Republic of Korea and the United States.”  From 2004 to 2007, Cha served George W. Bush as director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council.  And CSIS publishes the Korea Chair newsletter, “a biweekly look back at events of interest in Washington, Seoul, and the region.”

CSIS has grown in recent years to become a major center of bipartisan, internationalist policymakers, including Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor; Frank C. Carlucci, secretary of defense under Republican President Ronald Reagan; William S. Cohen, former Republican senator and secretary of defense under Democratic President Bill Clinton; and former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn, who served as chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services.

In the 1970’s ten Democratic congressmen were accused of accepting bribes from South Korean operatives in an affair known as Koreagate.  The only one indicted was Rep. Richard T. Hanna of Orange County, California.

According to his 2001 obituary in the Los Angeles Times, Hanna

eventually pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit bribery by accepting nearly $250,000 from Tongsun Park, a South Korean businessman.  The congressman helped Park obtain and keep his status as the exclusive agent for the purchase of surplus U.S. rice for South Korea.  Hanna served a year in federal prison.

The Koreans learned quickly how the Washington game is played.  There are much better ways than bribery to buy influence: fund think tanks, hire former congressmen, play the internationalist game.  And why defend your own country when you can get American taxpayers and troops to do it for you?