Tag Archive | "diplomacy"

Moon Jae-in Urges Trump-Kim Summit before U.S. Election

By Robert R. King

During a video conference between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and European Council President Charles Michel on June 20, the South Korean leader said “I believe there’s a need for North Korea and the United States to try dialogue one more time before the U.S. presidential election. The issues of nuclear programmes and sanctions will ultimately have to be resolved through North Korea-U.S. talks.”  A South Korean presidential aide said that President Moon’s office had conveyed these views to the White House.

It seems a bit unusual that President Moon’s interest in midwifing another Trump-Kim summit was made public after a conversation with the head of the European Union.  President Moon has played a key role in the U.S.-North Korean summitry that has taken place thus far, but making the proposal for a new summit public after a video conversation with the leaders of the European Union seemed inconsistent.

President Moon played a very visible role as the intermediary who brought a summit proposal to Trump in March 2018.  That effort led to the Singapore summit three months later.  It is not clear what role President Moon played in the second summit in Hanoi in February 2019.  That meeting ended prematurely when the final dinner, the signing of a joint statement, and other planned concluding events were abruptly cancelled after failed initial meetings.

The third of the three Trump-Kim meetings took place one year ago in June 2019.  This was the briefest and least formal of the meetings.  On an official visit by President Trump to South Korea, the two leaders traveled to Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where the three leaders met informally.  Trump and Kim had a brief private meeting.  Despite the friendly handshake and Trump’s much photographed footstep onto North Korean soil, the U.S.-North Korea relationship has languished.

Is Trump Interested in Another Summit? 

The U.S. President seems a bit preoccupied with the resurgent COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.  Also, a new media frenzy has questioned “what did the President know and when did he know it” regarding reports that Russian intelligence were offering Taliban insurgents generous cash bounties for killing American soldiers in Afghanistan.

And looming over everything else for President Trump is the upcoming U.S. presidential election in November.  At this point, the outlook for Trump does not appear to be so promising.  The latest polling numbers suggest that Trump is lagging behind Joseph Biden by a significant margin, and in the last couple of months Biden has outraised Trump in campaign cash.

In a normal election year, Trump would be frantically crisscrossing the country from one mass rally to another.  His first effort to get into campaign rally mode in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 20, however, was a disappointment.  Preliminary publicity raised expectations with talk of millions seeking tickets, but the audience filled only a third of the seats at the arena.  Trump campaign staff were found infected with COVID-19 virus just before the rally began, and public health specialists publicly criticized the President for holding such a rally in the face of the intensifying pandemic.

Under these circumstances, President Trump may well be looking for a shiny bauble to dangle before the press to focus attention on him and draw attention away from the current domestic news stories that are less flattering.  Another summit with Kim Jong-un could give him a new opportunity to change the news focus and let him play the role of global statesman.

On the other hand, with two previous summits and the meeting in the DMZ with Kim Jong-un from June 2018 to June 2019, the novelty and press-worthiness of another North Korea summit is certainly gone.  Furthermore, there is a distinct risk that the erratic Kim Jong-un might not give Trump the diplomatic triumph he seeks, and another Hanoi-style diplomatic flop before massed media cameras and microphones could contribute to an electoral disaster at home.  The risk-reward scale seems to be tilting heavily toward caution.

One straw in the wind, however, is that Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun is visiting Seoul and Tokyo for meetings on July 6.  Before being elevated to his current position, Biegun was Senior Representative for North Korea Policy, and he negotiated with North Korean officials in connection with previous summits.  Also traveling with Biegun is Allison Hooker, senior National Security Council staffer on North Korea, who is one of the most experienced U.S. government officials on this issue.

Where is Kim Jong-un?

A key unanswered question is whether Supreme Leader Kim is interested in hand holding in front of the cameras with President Trump.  Over the last year North Korea has shown little interest in actually reaching an agreement with the United States.  The North Koreans walked away from senior-level diplomatic meetings in Stockholm in the fall of 2019 and called the session “sickening.”

In January of 2020 one of Pyongyang’s most senior and most experienced diplomats said “Although Chairman Kim Jong-un has good personal feelings about President Trump, they are, in the true sense of the word, ‘personal’.”  He then added that North Korea has “been deceived by the United States, being caught in the dialogue with it for over one year and a half, and that was lost time for us.”  Just last month, North Korean marked the second anniversary of the Singapore Summit with the United States.  On that commemorative occasion, the North Korean Foreign Minister asked, “Do we need to keep holding hands with the United States?”

Another question is whether Kim Jong-un is in a position to be seen up close by western news media, which would be an essential part of any summit for Trump.  Questions about Kim’s health surfaced in April when he failed to appear at the birthday commemoration of his grandfather Kim Il-sung.  This is the most important national holiday in North Korea, and Kim Jong-un’s presence has been the high point of the commemoration in the past.  Kim did not reappear until the festive opening of a new fertilizer factory after being absent from public view for over three weeks—the longest such gap in his public appearances since he assumed the leadership.

The appointment of Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong as an alternate member of the Party Politburo has raised questions about his health.  His sister has increasingly played a leading role in verbal attacks on the United States and South Korea.  She was the author of a harsh attack on South Korea for permitting defector organizations to launch balloons with leaflets from the South to float into the North.  She blasted South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and ordered the picture-worthy explosion that destroyed the liaison office where the two Koreas had contact offices on the North Korean side of the DMZ.

Kim Jong-un’s unexplained absences, the expanded role his sister is playing, and the harsh attacks on the United States and South Korea suggest some uncertainty regarding what might be going on behind the curtain with the North Korean leadership.  This may not be the time for a close-up inspection of the Supreme Leader.

The other question is whether the North Korean leader wants to make a deal with Donald Trump at this time.  North Korean diplomats and foreign policy analysts are reading the tea leaves regarding the upcoming United States election.  They are likely questioning whether a high-level meeting with an American president whose reelection in four months is not a foregone conclusion.  As Donald Trump has demonstrated since becoming U.S. President, changes in leadership can result in significant changes in policies.  A Biden administration will have little interest in following through on Trump commitments to North Korea.  Why risk making an agreement with a president who might not be around much longer?  If Trump is reelected, another summit certainly could be in the cards.  But there is little benefit for the North in rushing to meet before the election.

“As Sands through the Hourglass”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has his own logic for pushing a summit.  He is acutely aware that he has passed the mid-point of his presidency, and the South Korean constitution limits its chief executive to a single term.  He has a strong working majority in the National Assembly, and his focus is his legacy.  As a senior advisor to former president Roh Moo-hyun, he saw Roh hold a summit with Kim Jong-il, but it came at the end of his presidential term and he was not able to follow up with programs to cement the Sunshine policy.  Moon rushed for a North-South summit early in his term, and he is now anxious to consolidate the progress made with the North.  First and foremost that means getting the United States and North Korea together.

Moon sees Trump as a risk-taker, willing to break barriers and ignore foreign policy experts.  He met three times with Kim Jong-un, although those summits produced meager results.  Moon is also acutely aware of the United States political timetable.  He fears that a Biden presidency will not be make quick progress with North Korea.

President Moon is likely to be a lame duck or even a former President before a new Biden administration has personnel in place and has completed necessary policy reviews to undertake innovative policies toward Pyongyang.  Even if Trump wins reelection in November, Moon sees the sand spilling through the hourglass.

The North has taken a breath after its tantrum over the balloon crisis and after exploding the liaison office.  South Korea responded to these outbursts by abjectly bowing to the North’s demands to stop the sending of balloons.  Now there is a very small window to make progress in relations with the North, and the President is determined to act quickly.

Is There Time for a Summit?

North Koreas have seen the waning hours of a U.S. presidential administration and watched last ditch efforts to accomplish a particular goal before a new administration takes office.  At the end of the Clinton Administration on October 24, 2000—just days before the American election—Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Pyongyang and negotiated with Kim Jong-il in an effort to make a breakthrough on denuclearization.  She also held out the promise of a visit by U.S. President Bill Clinton if it were successful.  The American diplomat was warmly welcomed and feted at one of Pyongyang’s spectacular synchronized performances in the Pyongyang stadium, but no meaningful agreement was reached.  North Korea wanted to deal with the new president.

After North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon in 2006, the George W. Bush Administration worked to the very end of the administration in an effort to reach a denuclearization agreement with North Korea.  In June 2008 agreement was reached on the first steps with North Korea declaring fifteen nuclear sites in the Six Party Talks.  Running against the clock, the Bush administration rescinded trade restrictions and began the process of removing the North from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.  In October, agreement was reached on what would be included in verification protocol, and about that same time the United States announced it would provide North Korea with significant humanitarian assistance through the UN World Food Programme and some private American humanitarian organizations.  By December, however, efforts to reach arrangement on verification of the nuclear agreement had broken down, and shortly after the Obama Administration took office food assistance was suspended because monitoring of distribution could not be assured, and North Korea tested its second nuclear weapon.

The bottom line is that North Korea has previous experience with urgent last ditch efforts to reach agreement with the United States to beat an election deadline.  In the case of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, there was no question that this was the end of their tenure in office.  There is no expectation that Trump will be that much better in dealing with their interests than Biden might be, so North Korea feels little urgency to rush into another summit.  President Moon is the one participant who feels the greatest urgency to move quickly.

Robert R. King is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute of America.  He is former U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Human Rights.  The views expressed here are his own.  

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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Understanding Intentions: A Response to James Brown

By Olga Krasnyak

I’d like to respond to Dr. James Brown’s recently published paper entitled ‘Putting a spoke in the wheel: Russian efforts to weaken U.S.-led alliance structures in Northeast Asia’ that he presented at KEI on 18 June 2020. Brown’s main argument is that Russia intends ‘to undermine the unity of Western alliances’ but more specifically – ‘to weaken the South Korean and Japanese alliances with the United States.’ While using the Russian-language sources to support his argument, Brown brings a number of examples illustrating Russia’s assertive behavior in Northeast Asia.

To be sure, there is no way to deny Russia’ belligerent behavior in the region as shown by the author. Yet, what is more important is to look at the situation from Russia’s perspective. In this case, understanding Russia’s intentions that are based on historical and geographical peculiarities of the country, its relations with neighbors and with major powers is key.

As represented in the paper, Brown’s arguments rather leaves an impression of the old-fashioned Russo-phobic rhetoric inherited from the Cold War period. Such rhetoric surely doesn’t weigh the main argument. However, to some extent, the Cold War narrative still navigates world politics and inter-state relations, and it’s here to stay for some time.

Assessing the article, my simple counter-argument is that Russia, as any other regional or global power, pursues its national interests and does not necessarily intend to deliberately harm the existing alliance structure in Northeast Asia. Moreover, if the U.S.-South Korea and U.S.-Japan alliances remain strong, there is nothing to fear to undermine them. If the U.S.-led alliance system in the region is showing elements of corrosion, pointing fingers and blaming Russia is a rather weak position considering domestic challenges within the alliance and the global shift towards multipolarity.

Diplomacy and derzhavnost’

As Brown rightly noted, diplomacy is a tool to implement a nation-state’s foreign policy objectives. Therefore, understanding Russia’s foreign policy is important to assess diplomatic means and ends. Historically, Russia’s foreign policy has been the pursuit of influence over Eurasia, including the Far East, reflected in the national idea derzhavnost’. Seva Gunitsky and Andrei Tsygankov, Russian-born political scientists based in Canada and U.S. respectively defined the term as ‘the state of possessing – and being recognized by others to possess – clear status as a great power.’ In other words, putting the national idea of derzhavnost’ at the core of Russian foreign policy explains that the country sees itself a great power and it seems there’s no option for Russia to reconsider this view any time soon.

As for South Korea and Japan – despite their economic and technological capabilities – Russia more than likely does not consider them geopolitical competitors. Instead, pure pragmatism and rationality to maintain friendly and beneficial relations with both neighboring countries remains Russia’s foreign policy objective through diplomacy.

Air incursions and military exercises

Air incursions and joint military exercises are another key point to which Brown refers in  characterizing Russia’s ill intentions. However, intrusions into the airspace of other countries or military exercises performed close to foreign territory is not something that Russia does exclusively. Such intrusions and exercises are the legacy of the Cold War and is the reflection of the security dilemma. In this case, the intrusions and exercises serve defensive purposes although they have a psychological effect – to animate danger, threat, and fear.

An American political scientist Ben Buchanan, in his book The Cybersecurity Dilemma (2017), describes how during the Cold War the U.S. practiced intrusions into the Soviet air space as what it thought was a benign defensive activity. The Soviets, however, perceived American intrusions as aggressive and viewed them as a serious threat. Buchanan cited one American pilot who recalled that “sometimes we would fly missions over the Black Sea … To tickle the Soviets a little and create more activity we would do a straight approach towards Sevastopol, turn and run out. Then we would listen to the racket” (p. 26).

Such intrusions led to tragedy in the different parts of the world. In 1983 the U.S. Navy conducted a massive military exercise in the North Pacific Ocean near the Kuril Islands, which was also often surveyed by American jets. It was an attempt to provoke a Soviet reaction with flights on or over the border, so that naval intelligence could study the response. Six American planes directly flew over Soviet military installations outraging the Soviets and prompting an angry Soviet diplomatic response. The incident built up Soviet anxiety that eventually led to tragedy when Korean Air Lines Flight 007 from New York to Seoul inadvertently entered Soviet airspace and was shot down destroying the airliner and killing all of the 269 passengers and crew aboard (p. 27).

In no way should one bring excuses or undermine the repercussions of such actions, but realistically the situation when a country uses air incursions or conducts military exercises along the borders of a country with adversarial intentions (i.e. U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises) to minimize the security dilemma, is a long-term practice continuously replicated by different countries at different times. Accusing only Russia of doing so, as Brown argues, sounds rather one-sided.

Plus, other recent events, such as the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Open Sky Treaty as well as from arms control arrangements negotiated with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, maximize the security dilemma and put countries to the rise of another arms race.

Information and public diplomacy

Brown pays special attention to Russia’s public diplomacy and information campaign. Once again, public diplomacy is not a new tool to promote a nation-state narrative among foreign audiences. Practices of public diplomacy are also rooted in the Cold War Era. In 1953, the U.S. created the United States Information Agency (USIA) to ‘tell America’s story to the world’ (for the detailed view and deeper analysis, see Nicholas J. Cull’s book on the USIA). In Korea, earlier in 1950, when communist North Korea invaded non-communist South Korea, the U.S. prepared not only a military response, but also launched battlefield propaganda and an explanatory information campaign around the world. As for Japan, during the decades of the Cold War, the USIA put a lot of effort into producing a massive amount of publications as well as commissioning films, music and other cultural media aiming to promote American culture.

To be sure, America’s public diplomacy slogan to influence hearts and minds of foreign publics – which may be outdated in its intended context – could relatively easily be adopted by any other power that has regional or global ambitions to promote its interests internationally. In this regard, Russia’s information campaign in Japan – to which Brown references – should not look unique, exclusive or threatening. Quite the opposite – those are well-developed practices as set by the USIA.

To sum up, Brown’s article makes an argument to prove that Russia has had bad intentions towards the United States and its allies in Northeast Asia. However, the evidence the author brings appears one-sided, with the facts taken out of their current and historical context. Nonetheless, the merit of the article is starting a discussion even though the conclusion of the article doesn’t suggest any solutions to minimize the negative outcome that Russia’s actions might cause as they are viewed by the author. As a suggestion, perhaps adding a diplomatic perspective if not to solve then to manage the ongoing problem by minimizing the security dilemma while trying to understand the other side’s intentions would have been more beneficial for the discourse.

Olga Krasnyak  is an Assistant Professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia.  The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from United Nations Photo’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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North Korean Peace Proposals: A Long-run View

By Stephan Haggard and Liuya Zhang

Over the last thirty years, North Korea has periodically made reference to the importance of reaching a “peace agreement” or negotiating a “peace regime.” Most recently, The Panmunjom declaration suggested the parties might exchange denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula for a peace agreement (평화협정). The historic Trump-Kim summit made reference to “building a lasting and stable peace regime (평화체제) on the Korean Peninsula”; indeed the reference to a peace regime appeared in the summit document even before mention of denuclearization.

Although we have some sense of North Korean grievances vis-à-vis the United States—and vice versa—we do not have a very precise sense of what negotiations over a peace agreement or peace regime would look like, or even whether there is genuine North Korean interest. With few exceptions these terms have only rarely been attached to a very clear picture of what North Korea would like to see.

However, we can get some sense of North Korean intent by taking a broader look at the use of these terms over time.  To provide this longer-run view, we scraped 1305 articles published between January 1st, 1998 to December 31, 2019 in the KCNA.co.jp (Korean) Archive inside the KCNA Watch database,[i] restricting the search to the following Korean terms: 평화(보장)체제 (peace regime) and  평화협정 (peace agreement).[ii] We kept only articles that represented what we considered authoritative opinions, which we divided into “first-tier” commentary—from the supreme leaders themselves or institutions such as the National Defense Commission, Foreign Ministry or Supreme People’s Assembly—and “second-tier” commentaries from major state media, including Rodong Sinmun, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and others. This selection criteria left us with 327 articles, 120 first-tier and 207 second-tier.

An analysis of these statements, and their intended audience, suggests a pattern that is well-known to most Korea watchers. The term “peace agreement” is typically used in the context of negotiating the normalization of relations with the United States, implying a bilateral agreement that would address policy issues immediately under American control: the withdrawal of U.S. forces, suspension of exercises, the lifting of sanctions. A peace regime, by contrast, is a multilateral agreement among the four parties—South and North Korea, China and the United States—that would replace the armistice.

Figure 1 provides an overview of mentions of the two terms over time, and suggests several interesting patterns. Although there was some use of the term “peace agreement” during the Four Party Talks (1998-99), there was surprisingly little usage of these concepts during the period leading into the second nuclear crisis nor the heyday of the Six Party Talks. We did see a brief flurry of interest in reaching a non-aggression treaty (불가침조약) in 2003-4, at the outset of the Six Party Talks, when North Korea appeared preoccupied with getting security assurances that would carry the imprimatur of Congressional approval.

From 2005 through 2008 we see some increased usage of the terms as the Six Party Talks reached its short-lived apex in 2007-8. But during this period, North Korea seemed more focused on negotiating the quid-pro-quos around a nuclear agreement, including the lifting of sanctions, provision of heavy fuel oil and pursuit of a light-water reactor; thinking about a wider “mechanism” or regime was pushed off to later phases of the talks in the two roadmap agreements of 2007.

What is striking is that usage of the peace agreement and peace regime terms increases dramatically in 2010, and then spikes again in 2013, 2015 and 2018. Several hypotheses suggest themselves, and they are not altogether mutually exclusive. One hypothesis is that North Korea turned toward the peace agreement and peace regime proposals precisely as an alternative to the Six Party Talks, which were focused on denuclearization. Indeed, in important statements in 2009 and 2010, North Korea began to float the idea that reaching a peace agreement with the United States was a prerequisite for resuming the Six Party Talks.[iii]

A second hypothesis is that the new reference to a peace regime was designed to stabilize the external environment as the succession process went into high gear following Kim Jong-il’s likely stroke in August 2008.

We focus, however, on a third hypothesis. That at least until 2018, the floating of peace agreement and peace regime ideas is related to a stepped up cycle of provocations. These begin with the nuclear and missile tests of 2009, and go through the sinking of the Cheonan and Yeongpyong-do shelling in 2010, and the acceleration of nuclear and missile testing under Kim Jong-un.

Under this hypothesis, North Korea might float these ideas for two reasons. “Peace offensives” were designed to assign—or shift—blame for ongoing tensions to the United States and are issued prior to an escalation of tensions. “Pacifying campaigns” by contrast, seek to de-escalate and are undertaken after tensions rise. Under this more cynical view, peace agreement and peace regime ideas are not to be taken seriously; they do not necessarily reflect an interest in actually negotiating such agreements but are essentially strategic.

It is arguably hopeful that there was a spike in mentions of a peace regime in 2018 that was sustained into 2019. Prior to the Hanoi summit, hopes were raised of a grand bargain that might achieve the trifecta of a denuclearization agreement, a normalization of relations with the United States, and a wider peace settlement that would replace the armistice. Yet the Hanoi summit was a bitter disappointment for the Kim Jong-un regime, and it is noteworthy that since 2016 interest in a peace agreement with the United States has clearly waned. In the absence of a meaningful path back to talks with the United States, with North-South relations on ice, and with North Korea comfortable with its nuclear deterrent, even aspirational peace regime proposals may play a declining signaling role in the diplomacy around the peninsula.

Stephan Haggard is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute and the Lawrence and Sallye Krause Professor of Korea-Pacific Studies, Director of the Korea-Pacific Program and distinguished professor of political science at the School of Global Policy and Strategy University of California San Diego. Liuya Zhang is a master student at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California, San Diego. She received her Bachelor Degree of Arts from Fudan University and Master’s degree of International Studies from Seoul National University. The views expressed here are the authors’ alone.

Photo from White House photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

[i] Data source:


[ii] . We also searched for the term 평화조약 (peace treaty), but it’s usage was exceedingly rare and was used primarily in reference to peace treaties reached elsewhere beyond the Korean peninsula.

[iii] 로동신문 《평화보장체계수립이 급선무이다》, 23/11/2009, Source: KCNA.co.jp (Korean)

조선외무성 성명 평화협정회담을 제의Date: 11/01/2010 | Source: KCNA.co.jp (Kr)


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What Can We Learn from Korea-Japan Normalization?

By Mintaro Oba

Fifty-five years ago, on June 22, 1965, the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan signed the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea to formally normalize the bilateral relationship between the two countries.

It had been a long, complicated road to get to that point.  Negotiations on the treaty had started thirteen years before, in 1952.  They had sputtered along since.  Ten years later, as close as three years before the treaty was signed, the State Department was assessing in a briefing memo that “prospects for early normalization . . . are not bright.” It noted the array of difficult issues requiring resolution between South Korea and Japan, from fishing rights to sovereignty over what the paper referred to as “an inconsequential islet.”  But, it emphasized, the “Korean claims for compensation, based on Japanese occupation from 1910 to 1945,” was the central dispute, and “if it can be settled, the other issues can be settled.”

Some observers will rightly take this fifty-fifth anniversary to reflect on the substantive legacies of the normalization treaty – how it created the formal framework for the bilateral relations and cooperation between Japan and South Korea today, or on the opposite side of the spectrum, how it defined the battlefield in Korea-Japan disputes for over half a century in resolving some issues, resolving some in a way that left the door open to future controversy, and simply declining to address others.  But one legacy that deserves more attention is the precedent that the normalization treaty set for how Korea-Japan deals come to fruition – and the lessons it holds for progress between the two countries has so often been unsustainable.

The Korea-Japan normalization process was finally made possible after thirteen years by a very narrow alignment of domestic and geopolitical factors: a strong Korean leader able and willing to prioritize practical benefits of cooperation with Japan, outside pressure from the United States, and Japanese conservatives seeing Korea as strategically indispensable.

It is easy to overemphasize one or both of the first two factors.

It certainly wouldn’t be hard to correlate Syngman Rhee’s virulent anti-Japanese sentiments with the lack of initial progress toward normalization; or Park Chung-hee’s 1961 rise to power in South Korea with new momentum in the long-stalled normalization talks given his practical interests in leveraging the treaty to generate national growth and maintain U.S. support.  But these explanations by themselves don’t quite cut it, especially since they don’t account for the fact that Prime Minister Chang Myon’s democratic government, which succeeded Syngman Rhee’s authoritarian regime and was ultimately overthrown by Park Chung-hee, had made normalization a priority. In fact, a 1961 U.S. government assessment observed that “just prior to [Park’s] coup the Japanese and Korean governments had begun to make progress in their efforts to reconcile their differences.”

It also wouldn’t be hard to assume that U.S. pressure was the reason South Korea and Japan came together.  But that explanation by itself, too, isn’t sufficient given that the negotiations still took thirteen years.  The documentary record shows that U.S. officials were highly sensitive to the complex politics around alliance management in both Japan and South Korea, and sought to nudge the normalization process along without triggering a backlash through more direct intervention.  “Both sides resent any American role that that could be interpreted as interference – almost any overt U.S. role would be so interpreted by Communist propaganda and the Japanese Left,” assessed a 1962 background paper for an NSC meeting, “at the same time, each side is constantly seeking to invoke U.S. influence and money against the other in a complex tangle of issues where a misstep for the U.S. would be very easy and could be quite damaging.”  By 1964, the U.S. Embassy Tokyo was advocating in a cable that while the United States had “played a game of sincere friend of both sides, encouraging them to settle differences but not wishing to mix in ourselves,” it was time for a “more positive U.S. role.”  Still, the contemplation of more proactive U.S. pressure on the normalization talks was a reflection of the fact that they had made progress and were close to the finish line. It was not the cause of the two countries reaching an agreement.

The critical ingredient that effectively leveraged new Korean leadership and U.S. influence to conclude the normalization treaty was the support of Japan’s most conservative political leaders and factions.  On the Korean side, Syngman Rhee’s authoritarian regime had been replaced by South Korea’s Second Republic in 1960.  But the Japanese Prime Minister who was in charge from 1960 to 1964, Hayato Ikeda, did little to take advantage of the situation and drive the normalization talks forward. Ikeda – whom Charles De Gaulle famously derided as “that transistor salesman” – was focused on economic growth and favored a “low posture” that aimed not to rock the boat at home and abroad.

Below the formal level, though, the foundation for progress was being laid.  By 1961, a pro-South Korean group within Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party was strongly pushing for progress on Japan-Korea normalization negotiations.  Led by former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, the group included major LDP faction leaders and members – including Shigeru Yoshida, Eisaku Sato, Kakuei Tanaka, and more.  Kishi in particular was a nationalist and revisionist who had no qualms about papering over war crimes but envisioned Japan playing a stronger, more independent regional role.  The group saw normalizing ties with South Korea as key to Japan playing a stronger role in the Cold War.  Increasingly, too, the LDP and Japanese business constituencies were also seeing both economic and political value in investing in South Korea.  Ichiro Kono, a major LDP faction leader, reportedly told Ikeda that the Korea’s need for money was “the greatest opportunity since the end of the war to solve the Japanese-South Korean problem.”

Even as Ikeda’s modest approach kept formal progress between Japan and South Korea slow, informal parliamentary and business interactions were thus growing and a critical consensus in favor of prioritizing normalization was taking hold in key LDP factions.  When Eisaku Sato, Kishi’s brother and a key player in this consensus, succeeded Ikeda as Japan’s prime minister in 1964 – combined with efforts by Park Chung-hee and the United States – normalization was finally made possible.  Most critically, Japan’s foreign minister and lead negotiator, Etsusaburo Shiina, made a visit to Seoul to deliver an apology that helped pave the way for the conclusion of the normalization negotiations.  That couldn’t have happened without Sato and other Japanese conservatives viewing some form of apology as a necessary move in service of Japan’s strategic objectives. U.S. pressure to make helpful gestures to move normalization forward and a receptive leadership in Seoul were also critical elements.

At the end of the day, the stars had to align between Korean leadership, Japanese ruling party conservatives, and U.S. diplomats to make the normalization treaty happen.  No one or two of these factors in isolation could have led to the conclusion of the normalization treaty.  In the fifty-five years since, almost every agreement between Korea and Japan has also required the alignment of these three factors.  Most significantly, and ironically, because of the dominance that the LDP has managed to cement in Japanese politics over those decades, these agreements have often continued to require at least the tacit acquiescence of the conservatives most likely to embrace the sort of historical revisionism that has fueled many Korea-Japan disputes.

This continuing salience of right-wing voices in Japanese domestic politics has been a huge factor in why Korea-Japan relations has been so unstable, ensuring that moments of reconciliation rely on a temporary strategic calculations rather than lasting shifts and why Japanese apologies are constantly called into question soon after they’re made.  And it raises questions about whether a U.S. approach to Korea-Japan relations that emphasizes reconciliation is really the right fit for an era in which the foundation for further reconciliation is fragile.

Reporting on the signing of the normalization treaty in 1965, UPI explained that it “put a formal end to fifty years of mutual enmity.”  In retrospect, normalization wasn’t a formal end to anything, but a formal start to a nuanced, complicated bilateral relationship that has seen – and will continue to see — both cooperation and enmity.  The normalization treaty was not a treaty to end all treaties.  The more Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington recognize it was just a beginning – and reflect on the lessons of how it was negotiated to generate more sustainable outcomes – the more likely it will be that the next fifty-five years will be better.

Mintaro Oba is a former State Department official and expert commentator on U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as a Contributing Author for The Peninsula.

Photo from wwian’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Religious Group Advocates for People to People Diplomacy

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • On June 16, North Korea blew up its joint liaison office with South Korea in a display of antagonism towards the Moon administration for failing to prevent activists from sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets.
  • As a response to the demolition of the building, the Korean Conference of Religions and Peace (KCRP) issued a statement cautioning for calm amid rising inter-Korean tensions.
  • In the statement, KCRP also called for both Koreas to expand the role of cooperative projects, such as the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tour program.

Implications: Bolstered by the Moon administration’s efforts to enhance people-to-people ties between North and South Korea, the KCRP represents one of many domestic stakeholders that will continue to advocate for engagement with Pyongyang despite deteriorating conditions. While the latest provocations by North Korea diminish the likelihood of near-term talks between the governments, these grassroots organizations will prevent the political appetite for engagement from falling to zero. In fact, the stalled diplomatic process has pushed these grassroots organizations to more actively underscore the importance of individual-level inter-Korean projects.

Context: Founded in 1968, The Korean Conference of Religions and Peace is a leadership group that represents seven major religions in South Korea. As a pan-religious consultative body, KCRP has long championed interfaith cooperation as a means for engaging the two Koreas. In 2017, members of the group discussed matters related to inter-Korean exchange with Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s newly elected president at the time.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of James Constant, Sonia Kim, and Ingyeong Park.

Picture from flickr account of user Brian Hammonds

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Can South Korea Find A Middle Way Between the U.S. and China?

By Mintaro Oba

The South Korea-China relationship has its share of ups and downs.  But ultimately, the long-term trajectory of Korea-China ties will always trend upward; the strategic and economic interests bringing the two countries together are too compelling to keep them apart for too long.

As the Korea Desk officer at the State Department charged with following Korea-China relations through many of those ups and downs – from the high of then-President Park Geun-hye’s attendance at the September 2015 military parade in Beijing to the low of the Korea-China dispute over the THAAD deployment – that was the one point I always insisted on including in any briefing to senior officials on the Korea-China relationship.  It’s also the key point the United States neglects today.  Not antagonizing Beijing in order to maintain this mutually beneficial relationship is a key tenet of South Korean foreign policy, and U.S. policymakers hoping Seoul will explicitly back an aggressive U.S. approach to competing with China are headed for deep and profound disappointment.  If the United States wants South Korea to play a constructive and helpful role in its China strategy, it will have to take a more nuanced approach, one that emphasizes implicit balancing over explicit competition.

Like it or not, a closer South Korea-China relationship is a strategic fact of the region.  For South Korea, it’s the logical way to maximize its diplomatic options, trying to get the most out of having good relations with the two major powers in the region and the world.  For China, engaging South Korea is a useful way to disrupt the U.S. alliance system by securing the backing of a U.S. ally for Chinese priorities the United States might not favor (like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) as well as reducing the likelihood it will face a united front from U.S. allies in the region in the event of some conflict.  Economically, too, both countries benefit from access to each other’s markets, and China is South Korea’s largest trading partner by far.

It’s no wonder, then, that we have seen the current Moon Jae-in administration follow in the footsteps of past Korean administration in making moves to strengthen Korea-China ties, too.  Before the COVID-19 pandemic, South Korea had been expecting a state visit by Xi Jinping that it hoped would signal a return to strong Korea-China relations after the particularly difficult period caused by THAAD.  Although the pandemic temporarily stymied those efforts, Korea-China relations have been gaining momentum as both countries emerge from the situation and turn their focus back to strategic priorities and restoring economic growth, with President Moon reaffirming that Xi would visit Seoul within the year and the two countries are continuing discussions to expand the scope of their bilateral free trade agreement.

But much to South Korea’s consternation, just as its efforts to engage China return to the front burner, U.S. policy toward China has hardened dramatically. The Trump administration has cited South Korea as a potential participant in its new Economic Prosperity Network initiative designed to sideline China from global supply chains.  Tensions over China’s proposed national security law in Hong Kong also threaten to entangle South Korea.  South Korea has held a special interagency meeting to discuss how to handle U.S.-China tensions.  “If we antagonize China,” warned Moon Chung-in, special advisor to President Moon Jae-in, “China can pose a military threat to us. Plus, China can support North Korea. Then, we will really have a new Cold War on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia.”

The evidence is clear: South Korea’s longstanding interest in maintaining ties with China and its deep-seated fear of antagonizing Beijing on practically everything guarantees that explicit U.S.-Korea counterbalancing against China won’t work.  At the same time, a more competitive mindset about U.S.-China relations is likely to be a permanent fixture of the regional environment and U.S. domestic politics – and if South Korea can’t find some way to accommodate the U.S. strategic interest in countering China, it will find more and more U.S. policymakers questioning the value and fairness of an alliance in which the United States has firmly committed lives and resources to dealing with South Korea’s ultimate strategic priority, North Korea.

Luckily, there’s a middle way: an implicit balancing strategy that focuses on the substance of countering Chinese power and not the optics, creating more space for South Korea to contribute in concrete ways to the U.S. strategy without openly antagonizing China.  How would this work?

First, work with South Korea to help other states gain strategic and economic capabilities that would help them offset Chinese power.   

From helping Indonesia build up its coast guard to help it better patrol its territorial waters, to expanding trade with Vietnam to offset both countries’ economic dependence on China, South Korea’s expertise, economic power, and many advanced capabilities can quietly support other powers in maintaining their independence from China.

To advance these goals, the United States should cooperate with South Korea in a way that invites a Chinese overreaction.  China’s coercive response to THAAD deployment is just the biggest example of how China can turn something South Korea has done for its own security into a contest of sovereignty.  The United States should advance cooperation with South Korea that can serve as tripwires for China to stumble and publicly make an issue of something in a way that causes damage to its standing in South Korea.  Strengthening U.S.-Korea-India cooperation is a good example – something benign that benefits all three countries, but could easily be portrayed by China as a strategic threat.

Second, embed South Korea in rules-based agreements and institutions in key areas. 

Rules-based order is a quiet battleground between the United States and China.  China benefits from ignoring international law, like the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, in favor of using its might to enforce legally unjustifiable claims like its Nine-Dash Line in the South China Sea and create facts on the ground that support those claims.  When it comes to the South China Sea, South Korea has always wavered between China and the United States on the notion of reinforcing rules; if Seoul does comment on the South China Sea, for example, it has a tendency to focus on norms of safe passage and freedom rather than the applicable rules in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.  But in other developing areas, like cyber or environmental policy, there is a chance to commit South Korea to rules and norms that promote values the United States and South Korea claim to share, like a free, open, and multistakeholder model of governing the Internet.

Third, and finally, the United States and South Korea should place a greater emphasis on public diplomacy.

The United States has a demonstrated track record of successful public diplomacy with South Korea, from effective short-term engagement by U.S. ambassadors to South Korea – like Sung Kim, Mark Lippert, and KEI’s own Kathleen Stephens – to exchange programs that create strong people-to-people ties long term.  China has proven less deft in this arena.  With the right ambassador in Seoul and the right public initiatives, the United States can strengthen its ties with the Korean people, highlight its commitment to South Korea’s sovereignty and strength, and create an environment where any Chinese missteps and overreach could draw helpful contrasts with the United States for Koreans.

Ultimately, the United States needs to reassess how it conceives its overall strategy toward China – and what the point of strategic competition with China really is.  Is it competition for competition’s sake?  Or is it competition to ensure that the rules and outcomes that matter, in areas from human rights to trade relations, are shaped by the United States, its partners, and the values we share?  If it’s the latter, there is a great deal we can accomplish together with South Korea.  If it’s the former, we may be on our own.

Mintaro Oba is a former State Department official and expert commentator on U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as a Contributing Author for The Peninsula.

Photo from the White House photostream on flickr Creative Commons. 

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South Korea-Japan Ties Likely to Remain Frozen Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

By Terrence Matsuo

Relations between South Korea and Japan remain icy amid the global coronavirus pandemic. After a bruising 2019, with severe disputes over historical issues, experts caution that bilateral engagement is unlikely to emerge in the near future.

As noted in a previous post on this blog, the government in Seoul reacted angrily to the decision by Tokyo to limit arrivals from South Korea. The Japanese government said that the decision was necessary to limit further transmission of the disease within Japanese territory. But Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha later summoned Ambassador Tomita Koji to lodge an official protest. According to a readout released by the Ministry, she “pointed out that it is very inappropriate for the Japanese government to take such measure at this point,” and urged their removal.

Experts on South Korea and Japan say the tensions caused by historical disputes are likely to inhibit cooperation in confronting the coronavirus pandemic. Yuki Tatsumi is a senior fellow at the Stimson Center, and co-director of the East Asia Program. “Cooperation in any area has been derailed across the government due to the political tension, and I suspect the area of public health is probably among them,” she says.

Officially, leaders in Seoul and Tokyo recognize the need for international cooperation in dealing with the coronavirus, which first emerged in China. Both President Moon Jae In and Prime Minister Abe Shinzō have participated in a flurry of international meetings held this year via video link. There was the G20 summit held at the end of last month, and the ASEAN+3 summit held in mid-April.

In translated remarks released by the Blue House, President Moon told the assembled leaders that “active bilateral and multilateral cooperation within the region will be essential to provide quarantine and medical supplies in a timely manner to those in urgent need.”

His remarks were echoed by Prime Minister Abe. The Kantei released a transcript of a press conference he held after the same summit. “As the novel coronavirus disease is raging in the countries of ASEAN and Asia around Japan, it is extremely essential to expand cooperation in the region,” he said.

Both leaders emphasized the need to share information around which to build policies going further. President Moon called for a future meeting between the health ministers of the participating states, while Prime Minister Abe proposed “the establishment of an ASEAN center for the control of infectious diseases.”

Experts in Washington are hopeful that further cooperation in a multilateral setting is likely to continue, due to the tensions in the bilateral relationship. Ambassador Kathleen Stephens is President of the Korea Economic Institute of America, and previously served as the American representative to Seoul from 2008 to 2011. She says that multilateralism, and letting the experts talk to each other is the best decision for South Korea and Japan to make. “Let the facts and the science and pragmatism lead you towards the kinds of steps that would make sense,” Ambassador Stephens says.

The career diplomat adds that in her observation, experts “do want to share knowledge and they do want to cooperate.” Ambassador Stephens also said that the role of political leadership and diplomacy “is to help facilitate that and certainly not to get in the way of it.”

According to the public record, Korean and Japanese officials are talking to each other. Near the beginning of the month, Kim Jung Han, Director-General for Asian and Pacific Affairs in the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs held a teleconference with Takizaki Shigeki, his counterpart on the Japanese side. Both the South Korean and Japanese readouts confirm that they “agreed on the importance of close communication and cooperation between” their respective governments, as the South Korean readout notes in English.

But it remains to be seen if the diplomats will encourage the kinds of contacts and exchanges Ambassador Stephens identified. As Ms. Tatsumi warns: “The fact that the bilateral conversation on this issue has not moved…into more direct talks between the two countries’ public health authorities also is an indicator that the two countries have not been holding extensive conversation about the cooperation on COVID-19.

Publicly available information does show that Japanese public health officials have engaged their counterparts in other countries. On 21 February, the Japanese National Institute of Infectious Disease held a telephone meeting with the Chinese Center of Disease Control. According to a readout provided by the Japanese side, the meeting included a discussion on the state of affairs in both Japan and China, as well as sharing information. There were approximately fifteen attendees, including Director Wakita Takaji from NIID and Director George Gao from the CCDC.

According to the readout, the Japanese side pressed their Chinese colleagues for information on how the coronavirus spreads and methods to prevent it. As the number of confirmed cases continues to climb in Japan, it is clear that this is an area where Japanese officials remain vulnerable. Brad Glosserman is the deputy director for the Center for Rule Making Strategies at Tama University in Japan. He notes that “clearly [South Korea] has more experience dealing with hot spots,” which suggests tracking and tracing infections is a useful topic for Korean and Japanese officials to discuss.

Until health officials meet, there are other areas where positive bilateral cooperation could happen. South Korea has emerged as a key supplier of coronavirus test kits. On Monday, the New York Times reported that Yumi Hogan, wife of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, had personally negotiated for 500,000 test kits for the state. This came after South Korea had already promised up to 1.5 million test kits, according to Reuters. Speaking of the latter shipment, Ambassador Stephens said: “That was a pretty big step of bilateral cooperation.”

Still, experts caution that suspicions in both Seoul and Tokyo remain significant barriers. Professor Moon Chung-in of Yonsei University says: “Moon is willing to talk with Abe, but the Japanese side seems rather reluctant.” The advisor to both KEI and Cheong Wa Dae added: “Senior Japanese government officials’ negative and even sarcastic comments on South Korea’s successful management of CVID-19 reveal such tendency.”

On the other hand, Japanese officials are wary of become scapegoats used by the Korean side. Director Glosserman notes that in his observation, the view from Tokyo is that “the Moon administration prefers to use Japan as a political tool, a rallying point for domestic sentiment, and that Seoul will never relinquish the moral high ground [on history issues].”

The mutual disdain and political tension between South Korea and Japan could even move in the opposite direction, and encourage the unfortunate status quo. Ambassador Stephens notes that there are few domestic political incentives for highlighting bilateral cooperation. “In fact, they may perceive some political downside to doing that,” she says.

“A South Korean friend said that his government took no small pride in handling the disease and outperforming the Japanese,” said Deputy Director Glosserman. As South Korea receives international attention for its skill in managing the virus, the Japanese government has expanded its emergency declaration to cover all of Japan. “Some always want to compare Japan and Korea to gain mental satisfaction,” he says.

The historical issues between South Korea and Japan are complex, and resolving them would be difficult even under the best conditions. But in order to contain and control the coronavirus, pragmatism and cooperation on mutual interests is needed by both Korean and Japanese officials. “I think the politics have to get out of the way in a situation like this,” says Ambassador Stephens. Political leaders in both Seoul and Tokyo must “foster cooperation, rather than intentionally or unintentionally hinder it.”

Terrence Matsuo is a writer and analyst of American foreign policy in the Indo-Pacific region and a Contributing Author for The Peninsula. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from B Lucava’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Disrupting Supply Chains: Evidence on the Japan-Korea Conflict

By Stephan Haggard and Jeongsoo Kim

The economic success of the Asia-Pacific has rested in no small measure on its finely-tuned supply chains. These global production networks are coming under stress from the COVID-19 crisis, but also from the new political economy of trade. The U.S.-China trade war has had as one of its stated objectives a “decoupling” from China, which of necessity means reducing American dependence on Chinese suppliers.

The history controversy that sparked the downward spiral in Japan-Korea relations threatens a similar eventuality. We now have interesting survey data from Korea on how these effects operate. The data suggest that uncertainty about even small amounts of trade in highly-specialized products can loom large for the businesses involved. Yet it also shows that governments and firms respond to these risks in ways that may harm firms in the sanctioning country.

The Japanese Controls

It is important to note that the measures undertaken by Japan did not take the form of outright export bans; rather, they involved a tightening of administrative procedures and the suggestion—or threat—that such controls could in fact be instituted. In July of 2019, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry of Japan announced an “update of METI’s licensing policies and procedures on exports of controlled items to the Republic of Korea.” The update stated that Japan would restrict the export of Fluorinated Polyimide, Photoresist, Hydrogen Fluoride, and their related technologies by mandating an individual review for the three items (METI, July 1st, 2019). The three items share two similarities. First, they are critical materials for producing semiconductors and OLED screens, two crucial industries in South Korea. Second, the major Korean producers in this space–Samsung, SK Hynix, LG—have built complex supply chains that rely on these specialized inputs.

As a result of these measures, Japan effectively blocked export of liquid Hydrogen Fluoride for more than four months until it was finally approved in mid-November. Photoresist manufacturers were permitted to export in August for the first time, and Japan mitigated the export control on this product by moving from individual review to a special general bulk license in December. Japan resumed permissions to export Fluorinated Polyimide in September.

At the same time these new screening procedures were introduced, the METI also initiated “the public comments process for the amendment of the Cabinet Order removing the Republic of Korea from the Appended Table Ⅲ (so-called “white countries”) of the Export Trade Control Order” (METI, July 1st, 2019). After the public hearing period ended, Japan eventually removed South Korea from the white list and downgraded South Korea from a “preferred” to a non-preferred trade partner on August 2nd, 2019. As a result, Japanese exporters to South Korea no longer enjoyed a General Bulk Export License. Instead, they were required to seek permission from Japan’s export control authorities unless they acquired a Special General Bulk Export License, which requires more rigid standards than the General Bulk Export License.

In addition to the list control, Japanese authorities also could regulate any export and technology transfer to South Korea under a more general “catch-all” control when deemed necessary (METI, August 2nd, 2019). The potential magnitude of these controls—although not actually invoked–was particularly wide-ranging. According to Korean sources, total trade volume that potentially fell under the list and catch-all controls was about half of all Korean imports from Japan. Furthermore, among 4,898 items which were under the catch-all controls in 2018, 707 items were products in which Korea depended on Japan for more than 50% of imports of the product; Korea was completely dependent on Japan for 82 of these items.

A survey conducted by the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade (KIET) in September 2019, asked 1,051 South Korean manufacturers about the effects of the measures, and nearly 80% said that they anticipated no effects or that they were even positive (no effect [77.8%], slightly positive [1.0%], very positive [0.4%]). Only 10.8% of manufacturers reported a slightly negative effect, with 3.5% answering they would experience strongly negative effects (민성환, 강두용 2019, 22).

Yet when we drill down into the most-affected industries, the picture changes. The table below looks in more detail at the five major industry classifications anticipating the most negative effects; the table also provides more detail on the particular problems they foresaw. Fully 60% of semi-conductor manufacturers polled foresaw production disruptions of sub-contractors, even though an analysis we conducted of the Korean semi-conductor sector showed no statistically significant change in profitability between the 3rd quarter of 2018 and the 3rd quarter of 2019. 44% of respondents from the chemical industry expected supply interruptions while the rechargeable battery industry showed a particularly high response rate with respect to “increased uncertainty.”

The Perverse Effects of Controls

It has long been known that sanctions are of necessity costly to the sanctioning country. And there is evidence in this regard for Japanese firms in these sectors as well. For example, during the first month of Japan’s new export measures, Japanese Hydrogen Fluoride producers suffered a sharp decline in their stock prices. The stock price of Morita Holdings Corporation was 1,942 JYP on July 1st; it fell to 1,552 JYP on August 12th. The price of Stella Chemifa dropped from 2,930 JYP on July 1st to 2,460 JYP on August 7th (Yahoo Finance), declines of 20.08 and 16.04 percent respectively.

Of greater long-run interest is the fact that South Korea did not take the restrictions lying down. The episode sparked a rethink of its reliance on Japan for intermediate inputs and components, new efforts to diversify sources of supply and even import-substitution measures. South Korea’s National Assembly passed a supplementary budget measure to support substituting for Japanese products on August 2nd, 2019. Nor were the sums trivial: 65 billion won ($54.15 million as of 1 March 2020) was allocated to technology development, 28 billion won ($30.86 million) for reliability tests, and 32 billion won ($35.28 million) for evaluation of mass production of critical intermediate inputs. The South Korean government also increased budget support related to material and components from 827 billion won ($911.96 million) in 2019 to 2.1 trillion Won ($2.315 billion) in 2020, and provided loans worth of 2.5 trillion Won ($2.75 billion) to support investing in foreign companies that have needed technologies (산업자원통상부 소재부품총괄과 2019, 3). In part as a result of these efforts, the Korean firm SoulBrain Co Ltd succeed in developing and producing Hydrogen Fluoride of “12-nine” purity (0.999999999999 pure). South Korea’s Minister of Trade, Industry, and Energy went so far as to publicly announce that South Korea no longer depends on Japanese Hydrogen Fluoride (Song 2020).

Nor were these effects limited to gains for Korean companies. DuPont, the U.S. based chemical firm, announced in January of 2020 that it decided to invest $28 million to build Photoresist production facilities in South Korea (The Korea Herald 2020).


As trade and foreign direct investment has slowed globally in the last three years, globalization has been dealt a further blow by the increasing politicization of global supply chains. Even putatively small administrative changes have highly disruptive effects on the industries in question, and precisely because of the specialization that such supply chains permit. Yet these measures also carry risks for the sanctioner that the U.S. needs to consider as it goes down a more nationalist route. Being an unreliable partner has costs as foreign governments and firms seek to reduce their risks.

Stephan Haggard is the Lawrence and Sallye Krause Professor of Korea-Pacific Studies, Director of the Korea-Pacific Program and distinguished professor of political science at the University of California – San Diego.  Jeongsoo Kim is a masters student at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California, San Diego. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from the Republic of Korea Naval Academy. The views expressed here are the authors’ alone.

Photo from the Port of Tacoma’s photosream on flickr Creative Commons.

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How China and Japan View South Korea

By Mark Tokola

Genron NPO, a Japanese non-profit organization, released the results of an opinion survey in October 2019 that focusses on Japanese and Chinese perspectives of one another, but which also includes some nuggets about how the two countries perceive South Korea.  The survey was conducted by the Public Opinion Research Center in Japan and by the Horizon Research Consultancy Group in China.  For Koreanists, the most striking finding is the souring of Japanese public opinion towards South Korea, which is unsurprising given the state of relations between the two countries, but which the Genron survey confirms and quantifies.  China’s opinions regarding the two Koreas have held steady from 2018 to 2019, but Japan has come to feel less affinity towards South Korea, considers it less important for Japan’s interests, and believes South Korea’s influence in the region will decline over the next ten years.

The topline for Genron of their survey was that the Chinese public is taking an increasingly favorable view of Japan, whereas Japan’s view of China became only slightly less negative over the same period.  The percentage of Chinese who view Japan unfavorably fell steeply from 93 percent to 53 percent from 2018 to 2019.  The percentage of Japanese who view China unfavorably decreased only slightly from 90 percent to 85 percent.  From the Japanese perspective, the biggest obstacle to better bilateral relations are territorial issues (the Senkaku Islands and Chinese intrusions into Japan’s air and maritime space) followed by China’s “different political system.”  For China, territorial issues also are the biggest issue, followed closely by “Japan’s lack of a proper apology and remorse over its history of invasion into China.”  The Chinese and Japanese publics agree that their bilateral relationship is “important,” but are pessimistic about its future.  49 percent of the Chinese public expect a military conflict between the two countries, 23 percent of Japanese expect such a conflict.

Both the Chinese and Japanese publics considered their relationships with the United States to be their most important — more important than their relationship with each other.  Regarding South Korea, around 20 percent  of the Chinese public in both 2018 and 2019 said that China’s relationship with South Korea was more important that its relationship with Japan.  Around 45 percent say that China’s relations with Japan and South Korea are equally important.  Over the same period, there was a sharp increase in the percentage of Japanese respondents who said that Japan’s relationship with China was more important than its relationship with South Korea, from 23 percent to 31 percent.  The percentage of Japanese who believe that Japan’s relationship with China and South Korea are equally important fell from 53 to 43.

Regarding areas for bilateral cooperation between China and Japan, the most important for Japan is dealing with the North Korea nuclear issue followed closely by cooperation on the environment.  The Chinese public thought the two countries should cooperate primarily on strengthening bilateral trade and investment, followed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.  Renewable energy was a close third.

The Genron survey asked about “affinity” with other countries separately from their importance. Japanese affinity towards South Korea dropped from 26 percent to 17 percent.  That compares to Japanese affinity towards the United States at 50 percent and towards China at 5 percent.  Chinese affinity towards the United States was 17 percent, and towards Japan 12 percent.  Those numbers held steady over the course of the year.  China does not feel much affinity for any foreign country.

There was a question in the Genron survey asking whether the influence of various countries will change over the next ten years in regarding to Asia.  Over 80 percent of the Chinese and Japanese see U.S. influence as either increasing or holding steady over the next decade.  71 percent of Chinese believe that South Korea’s influence will increase or hold steady, but only 39 percent of Japanese believe that.  They believe South Korea is the country most likely to decrease in influence in Asia over the next ten years.

China and Japan unsurprisingly perceived threats to their security coming from different directions.  The countries that Japan considers as posing a security threat were: North Korea (85 percent), China (58 percent), Russia (36 percent), South Korea (23 percent), and the United States (10 percent).  For China, the threats come from: Japan (75 percent), the United States (74 percent), India (17 percent), Vietnam (17 percent), Russia (16 percent), South Korea (12 percent), and North Korea (10 percent).  It would be interesting to see which countries South Korea finds most threatening, but that was outside the scope of the Genron survey.

Finally, another informative question from the survey in regard to South Korea asked the Chinese and Japanese which countries they believe should participate in a potential multilateral framework for security in Northeast Asia.  For China, the list was short.  The only countries that rated over 40 percent were China, the United States, Japan, and Russia.  South Korea trailed at 31 percent, and North Korea at 26 percent.  For the Japanese a high percentage of the public said that a regional security framework should include, in order: China, Japan, South Korea, the United States, Russia, North Korea, and India.  Indonesia, Mongolia, and Australia all rated over 25 percent.  There was a sharp disparity between the low level of support in China for including South Korea in a security framework (31 percent), and the very high level of support in Japan for including it (80 percent).  Japan may have low affinity for South Korea, but considers it important for its security.

What can be drawn from the data?  First, the disputes between the governments of Japan and South Korea seem to be having a corrosive effect on the Japanese public’s perceptions of South Korea, at least in the short term.  On the other hand, the Japanese public firmly believes that the biggest threat to their security comes from North Korea and believes, much more strongly than China, that South Korea should be part of a potential multilateral security framework.  This suggests that the government of Japan would find public support for an effort to improve relations with Seoul.  The survey results are a reminder that over time relations between South Korea and Japan have had their highs and lows (regrettably, more of the latter) but the two countries know they need each other.

Mark Tokola is the Vice President of the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Image from RICO Lee’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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What the United States Can Do to Help North Korea with the Coronavirus

By Troy Stangarone

In response to the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, North Korea has closed its border to tourists and commerce with China and Russia to prevent the spread of the disease in North Korea. But helping North Korea address the crisis would not only be the right thing to do, it could also serve as an entryway for the United States build trust needed for future talks on other issues.

Officially, North Korea’s self-imposed quarantine has worked. It has not reported any cases of infection to the World Health Organization.  However, North Korea is an opaque society and there have been indications that the disease has spread to North Korea. Five North Koreans reportedly died in the area of Sinuiju from symptoms similar to the coronavirus, while there are reports that a North Korean in Pyongyang may have contracted the virus as well.

While North Korea has made progress in some areas since its healthcare system went into decline in the 1990s, it still lacks the tools that other countries have to deal with contagious viruses such as the coronavirus. At this critical moment, North Korea likely needs access to facial masks and sanitizers to prevent the virus from spreading. For those who have contracted the virus, North Korean doctors would need equipment and supplies such as ventilators, medication to stabilize blood pressure, and intravenous fluids to treat the virus.

It is unclear in recent years if North Korea has put the proper resources into building up its healthcare infrastructure. Moreover, access to these supplies has been made more complicated in recent years as aid organizations have faced additional challenges in working in North Korea from international sanctions.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does recommend facial masks for travelers, but it notes that proper sanitation is also an important part of preventing the spread of the coronavirus.  While North Korea has increased domestic production of facial masks to try and meet demand, it is unclear if it is producing versions of facial masks that most effective and it would likely also need help in ensuring proper sanitation products are available.

This is where the United States could provide assistance to North Korea. Sanctions were never intended to inhibit the shipment of non-dual use medical supplies and it will be much more difficult to contain the virus if it there were to be a serious outbreak in North Korea.

The United States could offer to provide North Korea with additional supplies of hand sanitizer and facial masks to help prevent the spread of the disease. Or, if that were objectionable to North Korea, the United States could work help facilitate their provision from NGOs willing to provide North Korea assistance.

In addition to providing supplies, the United States could offer to have the CDC consult with North Korean doctors via phone or programs such as Skype. Should there be a wider outbreak, then the CDC could also coordinate other needed supplies that North Korea may need to treat the infected.

While the United States should not offer this assistance with the hope of it inducing North Korea to return to talks on its nuclear weapons programs, it could help in improving the relationship in the long-term. Building mutual trust requires taking steps that demonstrate that one party in a dispute is willing to help the other rather than just continue a cold stalemate.

However, if the United States did reach out to offer North Korea help, it should be done through discreet channels to allow North Korea greater latitude to accept the aid. Public pronouncements might be misperceived in North Korea as U.S. efforts to suggest it cannot contain the spread of the coronavirus on its own. Discrete cooperation, instead, is likely better for both countries.


Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director and Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Uri Tours’ photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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About The Peninsula

The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.