By Jason Miks
After weeks of escalating rhetoric, tensions between North Korea and the United States appear to be easing. But what prompted Pyongyang’s recent provocative statements? How well did the U.S. handle the threats? And what role has China played? James Schoff (@SchoffJ), a senior associate on the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Asia Program, answers readers’ questions:
Could Kim Jong Un's recent statements simply be an effort to save face with his own military before entering negotiations, asks “wjm”?
Perhaps to some extent, but there is no reason to think Kim’s idea of “negotiations” are anything close to what would be acceptable to South Korea or the United States. He seems to have gone “all in” with the further pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, which is prompting increased international pressure. So, North Korea's recent threats and military maneuvers are aimed more at bolstering its deterrence and pushing back against this pressure, rather than an opening gambit for talks. If an opportunity for talks emerges, Kim’s goal appears to be gaining some degree of international recognition for North Korea's nuclear status or reducing the bite of current sanctions.
When young Kim took over the leadership role after his father died in late 2011, there was some hope that he might steer the country toward more focus on economic modernization and away from emphasizing the nuclear program. That has proven to be a false hope.
Editor's Note: Scott A. Snyder is senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He blogs at Asia Unbound, where this piece originally appeared. The views expressed are his own.
By Scott A. Snyder, CFR
Following an early ambassadorial visit and a courtesy call on President-elect Park Geun-hye from China’s special envoy Vice Minister Zhang Zhijun, Park has decided to reciprocate by sending her first special envoys to Beijing during the transition. The exchange illustrates a mutual recognition that Sino-South Korean relations had deteriorated under Lee Myung-Bak and Hu Jintao and that Park and Xi have a chance to start out on the right foot this time.
This early exchange shows that both sides are acutely aware that political problems in the China-South Korea relationship do not serve either country, especially given a bilateral trade relationship that reached $220 billion in 2011. South Korea and China are natural economic partners, but North Korea continues to rear its head as a challenging sticking point between the two sides.
Xi had already reached out to Kim Jong-un in late November through a visit to Pyongyang by sending as an envoy Li Jianguo, the secretary general of the standing committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress. During Li’s meeting with Kim Jong Un (Kim’s second with Chinese visitors), he delivered a letter from Xi that pledged continuity of high-level exchanges and emphasized the importance of “strategic communication” between the two sides. However, it is not clear what sort of communication occurred regarding North Korea’s satellite launch plans, the announcement of which the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson greeted with concern only two days later. With South Korea now on the U.N. Security Council, the question of how to respond to North Korea’s defiance of Security Council resolutions could continue to be a major source of difference in Sino-South Korean relations.
This is the latest in a series of entries looking at what we can expect in 2013. Guest analysts look at the key challenges facing a selected country – and what next year might hold in store.
By Katharine H.S. Moon, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Katharine H.S. Moon is a professor of political science and Wasserman Chair in Asian Studies at Wellesley College and an Asia Society associate fellow. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
2013 will be the year of dynastic leadership on the Korean peninsula, and the offspring on both sides of the 38th parallel have to make the best out of the baggage their fathers left for them. They can choose to look back and call forth the ghosts of their dads or look forward and forge their own priorities and a practical vision for economic reforms and peace on the peninsula.
What may surprise many about the two new leaders heading into 2013 is that they have more in common than meets the eye. The newly elected president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, was elected on December 18 with a full accounting of votes confirming her ascension on December 19. Likewise, North Korea's Kim Jong Un ascended to power on December 19 a year earlier, upon the public release of news that his father, Kim Jong Il, had died.
By Michael J. Green, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael J. Green is Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Associate Professor at Georgetown University. The views expressed are his own.
With the landslide victory of Japan’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) this past Sunday, the media is atwitter with warnings of dangerous new friction in Northeast Asia. Shinzo Abe, the man about to return to power after resigning as prime minister five years ago, has said he will get tough with China and might reconsider past apologies for some of Japan’s wartime transgressions. If the new government follows through on some of this overheated rhetoric, it could complicate U.S. foreign policy and hurt Japan’s image abroad. But that does not mean that Japan is becoming a dangerous nation. If anything, the growing realism in Japanese security policy should be welcomed by the United States.
With Chinese defense spending increasing at double digits and an aggressive new Chinese maritime doctrine aimed at pressing outward to control what strategists in Beijing call the “Near Sea,” the current constraints on Japanese defense policies pose more risk than any specter of returning Japanese militarism. Japan spends less than 1 percent of GDP on defense and Abe will likely increase that, particularly to support the Japanese Coast Guard, which is currently overwhelmed trying to track the surge in Chinese ships operating in and around not only the disputed Senkaku islands, but the entire Japanese archipelago.
By John Delury, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: John Delury is an assistant professor at Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies and a senior fellow for the Asia Society Center on U.S.-China Relations. The views expressed are his own.
South Korean voters are about to choose a new president to lead their country for the next five years. It has been a hotly contested campaign, with opinion polls too close to call and voter turnout expected to be upwards of 80 percent. The race has come down to a dead heat between the liberal candidate, Moon Jae-in, and his conservative opponent, Park Geun-hye, and it’s unclear who will win.
But one thing most people do agree on is that, of all the issues that have been fiercely debated, one topic that is seen as marginal to the outcome is what to do about North Korea.
By Scott Snyder, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Scott Snyder is senior fellow for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and editor of ‘The U.S.-ROK Alliance: Meeting New Security Challenges.’ The views expressed are his own.
South Korea’s campaign for the December 19 presidential elections formally launched late last month. The field of major candidates was set two days prior to the filing deadline when independent candidate and business entrepreneur Ahn Chulsoo announced that he would concede in his campaign for a unified candidacy among liberals to Democratic Unity Party (DUP) nominee Moon Jae-in, who served as chief of staff to former President Roh Moo-hyun. This announcement paved the way for a two-way race between ruling Saenuri party candidate Park Geun-hye and the DUP’s Moon.
Ahn Chulsoo’s withdrawal had an immediate impact on the framing of the race. Although Ahn is a novice politician and an idealist who wants to effect major political reforms, his selection as the single major candidate opposing Park would have framed the main theme of the election as a candidate of the past (Park is a political veteran who has been on the stage since she occupied the Blue House together with her father in the 1970s) versus the candidate of the future (an IT entrepreneur with the potential ability to clean both computer and political viruses). Moon needs active participation from Ahn’s youthful supporters if he is to be truly competitive with Park, who entered the formal campaign period as the putative frontrunner.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS" this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.
The Gangnam Style phenomenon has been an astonishment to anyone involved in culture in Asia, The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos tells Fareed Zakaria in a GPS web extra.
“This is not a video that anyone expected to be a success. It didn’t come out of the main cultural industry in Korea. This thing came out of nowhere and it’s a phenomenon. The question is, why? And the answer actually tells you a lot about China today,” Osnos says.
“The reason it has been so successful is that it laughs at itself – it has a great sense of humor and it’s making fun of the enormous pop industry in Korea, which is big business, it’s very successful around the world. In China today, the problem ultimately, culturally, for people that are involved in the arts – whether it’s music or filmmaking – is that if you do anything that is truly radical that is making people uncomfortable, then there are so many points when the system will intervene.”
Watch the video for the full take.
By Douglas Paal, CEIP
Editor's note: Douglas H. Paal is director for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where this commentary originally appeared. The views expressed are his own.
Rising tensions over maritime claims in the South China Sea have in recent months metastasized once again to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea and Dokdo/Takeshima Islets in the Sea of Japan, proving that the origins of the disputes do not all lie with China, although many involve Beijing’s interests, as well as those of Tokyo, Seoul, Hanoi, Manila, Kuala Lumpur, and Bandar Seri Begawan.
The United States fears being dragged into conflicts over minuscule territories, but has an interest in maximum freedom of navigation and preventing aggression. It has urged all parties to show restraint, avoid precipitate behavior, and settle their issues peacefully. All parties pay lip service to a “code of conduct” that would forestall tensions, but a strong and binding code is proving elusive. Given the realities, the situation cries out for a more concrete diplomatic initiative.
By Christian Le Mière, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Christian Le Mière is a research fellow for naval forces and maritime security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The views expressed are his own.
It still amazes me how much media interest there currently is in the various maritime disputes of Asia. Five years ago, to find information on these then-obscure disagreements over tiny pieces of land required diligence and patience. Now, and in particular since the much-vaunted U.S. pivot to Asia, every week seems to bring new stories about these islands.
It is therefore worth our taking a step back and asking how we got here. What have been the drivers for the maritime disputes over the past five years, do they share any similarities, and why, when these disputes have existed for decades, have they become so tense now?
By Ken Jimbo, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Ken Jimbo is an associate professor in the Faculty of Policy Management at Keio University, Japan. The views expressed are his own.
Contested territorial claims over the Senkaku islands (known as Diaoyu in China), Takeshima (Dokdo in Korea) and the Northern Territories (call the South Kuril Islands in Russia) appear to have sparked a resurgence of nationalism in Northeast Asia – and left a headache for Japanese policymakers.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s visit this month to Takeshima/Dokdo was an unpleasant surprise to Japanese leaders and the public generally, especially as Lee had been widely seen as a pragmatic leader who carefully avoided politicization of history and territorial issues with Tokyo. But Lee had already started to press Japan on the sensitive topic of war-time comfort women, contributing to an atmosphere that has served to undermine the strategic cooperation that has been pursued for years by foreign and defense communities in both countries.
By Hyung-Gu Lynn, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Hyung-Gu Lynn is AECL/KEPCO Chair in Korean Research at the University of British Columbia. The views expressed are the author’s own.
The spat between Japan and South Korea over two islets, known as Dokdo in Korean, Takeshima in Japanese, and Liancourt Rocks in some international registers, has been propelled into global headlines by an unusual convergence of events. The tightly contested Olympic bronze medal match in men’s soccer; the first visit by a sitting South Korean president (Lee Myung-bak) to the islets; Japan’s withdrawal of its ambassador from Seoul; and the escalating tensions between Japan, China, and Taiwan over competing claims to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea, have sparked what looks at first glance like a rapid deterioration in relations between East Asia’s economic powers.
However, despite the handwringing and diplomatic posturing, I’d argue that the Korea-Japan disputes aren’t all that unusual. In fact, the latest tussle is merely the most recent example of a pattern of incremental increases in bilateral economic, cultural, political and even security exchanges, punctuated on a nearly annual basis by disagreements over interpretations of history.
By Ralph Cossa, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Ralph A. Cossa is president of the Pacific Forum CSIS, a Honolulu-based non-profit research institute affiliated with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. The views expressed are his own.
South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak’s unprecedented trip earlier this month to Dokdo Island has unnecessarily raised tensions between Seoul and Tokyo, which also claims the South Korea-occupied islets (which it calls Takeshima). Describing Dokdo as “genuinely our territory,” Lee insisted the isolated rocks were “a place worth sacrificing our lives to defend.”
Defend against what? While Tokyo periodically restates it claim, it has never threatened to use force to recover Takeshima/Dokdo. Nor has it sent warships into nearby waters or turned a blind eye to (if not encouraged) activists to land there, as China does periodically in the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands (which Tokyo administers and Beijing claims in the East China Sea). At least, not yet!