PacNet #51 – 2023 PacNet Commentary half-year index

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July 7, 2023

The comprehensive half-year index includes each PacNet commentary published from January through June 2023 below. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

  1. Taking the US-India relationship to the next level by David Santoro and Akhil Ramesh
  2. The Indian Coast Guard, the Quad, a free and open Indo-Pacific by Dr. Pooja Bhatt
  3. The 118th Congress and China policy – Continuity over change in defending America by Robert Sutter
  4. The Japan Coast Guard’s role in realizing a Free and Open Indo-Pacific by Capt. Kentaro Furuya (JCG)
  5. Australia’s Maritime Border Command: Grappling with the Quad to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific by Kate Clayton and Dr. Bec Strating
  6. Comparative Connections summary: January 2023
  7. Dealing with increased Chinese aggressiveness – PART ONE by Ralph A. Cossa
  8. Dealing with increased Chinese aggressiveness – PART TWO by Ralph A. Cossa
  9. The US Coast Guard: Provide public goods for a free and open Indo-Pacific by James R. Sullivan
  10. The inconvenient trust: Aspirations vs realities of coexistence between “the West” and China by Stephen Nagy
  11. What China’s challenge to NATO is, and what it isn’t by Rob York
  12. It’s up to the National Unity Government to forge “Union Spirit” in Myanmar by Shwe Yee Oo
  13. After China’s Party Congress, steeling for competition with the West by Kim Fassler
  14. South Korea’s Indo-Pacific pivot strategy by David Scott
  15. For India and ASEAN, an opportune reorientation by Dr. Shristi Pukhrem
  16. The world after Taiwan’s fall – PART ONE by David Santoro
  17. The world after Taiwan’s fall – PART TWO by David Santoro
  18. China has a digital grand strategy. Does the president know? by Dr. David Dorman and Dr. John Hemmings
  19. Rare earths realism: Breaking the PRC’s global refining monopoly by Brandt Mabuni
  20. How feminist is Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy – PART ONE: The Good by Maryruth Belsey Priebe and Astha Chadha
  21. How feminist is Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy – PART TWO: The ‘Needs Improvement’ by Maryruth Belsey Priebe and Astha Chadha
  22. The refresh of the Integrated Review: Putting Britain at the heart of the Atlantic-Pacific world by James Rogers
  23. Japan’s new strategic policy: Three overlooked takeaways by Thomas Wilkins
  24. How to help Korea-Japan rapprochement endure by Rob York
  25. Bangladesh’s remarkable journey and challenges ahead by Md Mufassir Rashid
  26. The UK integrated review and integrated deterrence by Brig Rory Copinger-Symes and Dr. John Hemmings
  27. Why China’s Middle East diplomacy doesn’t herald a new world order by Henry Rome and Grant Rumley
  28. A principled approach to maritime domain awareness in the Indo-Pacific by Ariel Stenek
  29. Toward a resilient supply chain to counter Chinese economic coercion by Su Hyun Lee
  30. Now is the time for a US-Japan-Taiwan security trilateral by Masatoshi Murakami
  31. Time for a shift on the Korean Peninsula by Daniel R. Depetris
  32. Europe’s China confusion does the world a disservice by Brad Glosserman
  33. Myanmar’s Coco Islands: A concern not to be ignored by Shristi Pukhrem
  34. The rise of ISKP in South Asia: A threat to regional stability by Neeraj Singh Manhas
  35. Mekong water usage tests China’s claimed good-neighborliness by Denny Roy
  36. How Biden can make the most of his Pacific Islands trip by Michael Walsh
  37. Comparative Connections Summary: May 2023
  38. EU holds the key to US-China rivalry by Stephen Olson
  39. AUKUS: Enhancing Undersea Deterrence by John Hemmings
  40. Decoding the infrastructure development on Myanmar’s Coco Islands by Shwe Yee Oo
  41. ASEAN unity and the Russia-Ukraine crisis by Shakthi De Silva
  42. Coast Guard cooperation: Heading off a troubling storm? by John Bradford and Scott Edwards
  43. Indo-Pacific middle powers: Rethinking roles and preferences by Alexander M. Hynd and Thomas Wilkins
  44. What happens in Crimea will determine Taiwan’s fate by David Kirichenko
  45. G7 attendance highlights South Korea’s growing stature by Jennifer Ahn
  46. Bangladesh’s Indo-Pacific outlook: A model for maintaining balance by Doreen Chowdhury
  47. Breaking the US-China logjam by Daniel R. Depetris
  48. A work in progress: The Indo-Pacific partnership for maritime domain awareness by Ahana Roy
  49. China’s military engagements with Cuba: Implications of a strategic advance in Latin America by R. Evan Ellis
  50. Despite Blinken’s trip, the US’ slide toward war with China continues by William Overholt

Photo: President Joe Biden speaks with Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi at the G20 Summit by Wikimedia commons. 

Issues & Insights Vol. 23, SR5 – ROK-US Alliance: Linchpin for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific

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Introduction

The US-ROK alliance in 2023 celebrates its 70th anniversary, and in both countries remains broadly popular. Previous doubts that both countries have had about the other’s commitment have largely given way to a sense of shared opportunities, and shared challenges. Not only is there an ever-more belligerent North Korea, with its growing nuclear and missile arsenals, but the People’s Republic of China uses both military and economic means to coerce other countries and Russia has demonstrated a willingness to upend norms, redraw borders, and dare former partners (including Seoul) to risk its ire.

2023년의 한미동맹은 70주년을 맞아 양국에서 널리 사랑받고 있습니다. 양국이 상대방의 약속과 책무에 대해 가졌던 이전의 의구심은 공통의 기회와 도전에 함께 대응하며 사그라 들었습니다. 호전성을 더해가는 북한이 핵과 미사일 무기를 증강시키고 있을 뿐만 아니라 중국은 군사적, 경제적 수단을 모두 사용하여 다른 국가를 압박하고 있으며 러시아는 한국을 포함한 국가들의 반발에도 불구하고 국제 규범을 무시한 채 국경을 다시 그리려는 의지를 보여주었습니다.

This is also an era of the minilateral, as the US seeks to move past its previous hub-and-spokes alliance system in Asia and draw its partners into closer cooperation. South Korea, especially under its current administration, demonstrates increased interest in becoming a regional player, with its recent gestures toward old frenemy Japan representing a key test: historical differences between the US’ two closest partners have prevented a “normal” relationship from emerging despite many similarities in political systems, values, and interests, and Korean public opinion remains skeptical of the Seoul-Tokyo rapprochement. Furthermore, there is always a chance that issues complicating US-ROK relations in the past—conduct by US military personnel in Korea, trade disputes, environmental concerns related to US bases—could resurface.

현재 미국은 아시아에서 이전의 대규모 동맹 시스템을 뒤로하고 우방국을 보다 긴밀한 협력으로 끌어들이려는 소다자주의적(minilateral) 입장을 취하고 있습니다. 한국, 특히 현 정부 하의 한국은 지역 내 핵심 국가가 되는 것에 대해 관심을 높이고 있으며 최근 한국이 애증관계에 있는 일본에 취한 제스처는 다음과 같은 의문을 낳습니다. 미국의 가장 가까운 두 동맹국 간의 역사적 갈등은 양국이 가진 정치 체제, 가치관, 이해관계의 많은 유사점에도 불구하고 양국의 정상적 외교 관계를 가로막았으며 한국 여론은 여전히 ​​한일 화해에 회의적입니다. 또한 주한미군의 비위 문제, 무역분쟁, 주한미군기지와 관련된 환경문제 등 과거 한미관계를 복잡하게 만들었던 문제들이 재부상할 가능성 역시 항상 존재합니다.

All of these issues present challenges for the alliance that will require addressing. In that light, the Pacific Forum, with the generous support of the Korea Foundation, has launched the “ROK-US Next Generation Leaders Initiative” program, bringing together young burgeoning scholars and analysts from both countries to discuss pressing issues in the alliance the way forward. This edited volume contains edited papers on pressing topics—extended deterrence, North Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and much more—by rising scholars we expect to see addressing these issues in the years to come. Their active engagement, we believe, will help the alliance endure another 70 years, will providing for the security and prosperity of both countries.

이러한 모든 문제는 동맹이 앞으로 해결해 나가야 할 과제를 제시합니다. 그런 의미에서 태평양포럼은 한국국제교류재단의 전폭적인 지원을 받아 양국의 젊은 신진 학자와 연구자들을 한 자리에 모아 한미동맹의 시급한 현안을 논의하는 ‘한미차세대지도자 구상’ 프로그램을 출범시켰습니다. 해당 편집된 발행본은 확장 억지력, 북한, 중국, 러시아, 일본 등 시급한 현안에 대해 앞으로 연구해 나갈 신진 학자들의 논문을 담고 있습니다. 우리는 그들의 적극적인 참여가 한미동맹이 향후 70년 더 지속하는데 도움을 줄 것이며 양국의 안보와 번영의 초석을 다질 것이라고 믿습니다.

Rob York

Director for Regional Affairs

Pacific Forum

Click here to download the full report.

You may also view the Korean translation of this volume here.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1: North Korea’s Evolving Nuclear Threat and the US-ROK Extended Deterrence | Chanyang Seo
Chapter 2: The Escalation Risks of Conventional Military Operations against North Korea’s Land-Based Ballistic Missile Forces | Kyungwon Suh
Chapter 3: Indo-Pacific-Focused ROK-US Maritime Exercises: Strengthening Operational Readiness to Safeguard the Indo-Pacific | Jaeeun Ha
Chapter 4: Legitimate Containment: How the ROK-US Reciprocal Defense Procurement can legitimately balance China’s military influence in the South China Sea | Yaechan Lee
Chapter 5: The Five Eyes (FVEY) Intelligence Alliance: Should the Republic of Korea (ROK) be Included as a Permanent Member Under President Yoon Suk Yeol’s Term? | Jung Seob Kim
Chapter 6: The Role of Local Governments Alliances: Improving Military Morale & Readiness of the ROK-US Joint Force | Gyeonga Kang
Chapter 7: South Korea’s Second Sight: Risks and Rewards for the ROK-US Alliance with Russia | Julian Gluck
Chapter 8: ROK and a Hard Place: Improving Republic of Korea and Japan Relations in Support of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific | Chloe Clougher
Chapter 9: A Strengthened US-ROK Partnership to Bolster Resilient Development in the Asia-Pacific Region | Lindsay Horikoshi
Chapter 10: Military Alliances, Environmental Degradation, and Status of Armed Forces Agreements | Kyle Wardwell


About the Authors

Chloe Clougher is the officer in charge of intelligence and strategic debriefing at the 320th Special Tactics Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan. She recently completed a deployment in support of Special Operations Command Pacific’s Military Liaison Element at US Embassy, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. She received her master’s degree in international relations from the Yenching Academy of Peking University, Beijing, China, and her bachelor’s degree in biology and Mandarin Chinese from The College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA. She is also an alumna of the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. Ms. Clougher is proficient in Chinese and Arabic, and previously lived and studied in China, Taiwan, and Jordan. Her research interests include Chinese politics and foreign policy, intellectual property law in China, environmental NGOs and legislation, economic development in East and Southeast Asia, infrastructure aid in Asia and Oceania, and rising nationalism.

Julian Gluck is a United States Air Force bomber instructor pilot and staff officer who recently served as Aide-de-Camp to the Commander of U.S. Air Forces Korea (Seventh Air Force). He is a 2012 Distinguished Graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and received the 2019 Secretary of the Air Force Leadership Award as the top graduate of Squadron Officer School. Major Gluck is a member of the Program for Emerging Leaders at National Defense University, a Military Fellow at the Project on International Peace and Security at the College of William & Mary, and a Shawn Brimley Next Generation National Security Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 class of 2020 as a standout honoree for Law & Policy in North America. Additionally, Major Gluck co-founded Young Professionals in Foreign Policy’s Northeast Asia Security Symposium. His research interests include multilateralism, nuclear deterrence, and the Indo-Pacific.

Jaeeun Ha is a native of Pyeongtaek and attended the Yeungnam University, earning a Bachelors of Arts in Education. She interned at the G9 office of Camp Henry, located in Daegu, Korea, where she developed interest in working in the international community, and later joined the Republic of Korea Navy as an ensign. Ha served as the translator of the training branch of the Republic of Korea Fleet command of Flotilla 5. During this assignment, she was involved with countless multinational exercises, training, and international conferences including Cobra Gold, MCSOF, ADMM-Plus, Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), Multinational Mine warfare Exercise, Combined/Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore, etc. Ha’s awards include the MND Medal, ROKFLT Commander Medal, MC Commandant Medal and other personal commendations. Ha’s last assignment was the Foreign Area Officer/Translator of the International Cooperation Branch for the Republic of Korea Navy Headquarters, and she is a freelance translator.

Lindsay Horikoshi is currently an Engagement Manager at Camber Collective, a social impact strategy consulting firm, where she leads teams of management consultants on complex strategy, customer insights, and project management engagements. She has over eight years of experience supporting private sector, multilateral, and US government clients, including U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Defense Health Agency. She has designed, implemented, and evaluated strategy and transformation programs in global health, as well as military and veteran’s health. Prior to joining Camber, she worked as a global health subject matter expert with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of Inspector General. Lindsay earned an MSc. in Global Health and a BS in International Health from Georgetown University and is a Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP). In addition to global health, research interests include international security cooperation with US allies and partners, supply chain and economic resilience, and comparative health systems.

Gyeonga Kang is the Operations Lead for Chinook-47 Performance Based Logistics (PBL) at Boeing Korea LLC. Her main responsibility is to support the day-to-day operations of the in-country team by working as a liaison for the customers (ROK Army and Air Force). She previously worked as a government official Lv. 7 at the Gyeonggi Provincial Government, the biggest provincial government in South Korea. She served as a liaison for USFK, 8A, 2ID, and 7AF to improve community-military relations in the Gyeonggi Province. She received her BA in international relations from the University of Puget Sound. In May 2023, she is starting her master’s program and will be majoring in program management. With her experience and degree, she is hoping to become a program manager for the Boeing Company. In January 2023, her research paper on “the Role of Role of Local Governments in ROK-US Alliance: Improving Military Morale and Readiness of the ROK-US Joint Force” was published by Pacific Forum. In the paper, she discussed the causes of the Rodriguez Live Fire Complex in Gyeonggi-do and offered policy recommendations to contribute to establishing an open and free Indo-Pacific.

Jung Seob “Scott” Kim is a cyber threat intelligence practitioner with five years of experience in intelligence and international affairs. He currently holds an MS and BA in criminal justice with a specialization in cybercrime. He focuses on applying threat intelligence and helps organizations managing threats within the financial sectors. He was selected to the Public-Private Analytic Exchange Program at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and participated as a member of the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity’s Ad Hoc Working Group on Security Operation Centers. Kim is the co-author of the academic article “Assessing the Practical Cybersecurity Skills Gained Through Criminal Justice Academic Programs to Benefit Security Operations Center” that was published by the Journal of Cybersecurity Education, Research and Practice. He also contributed to the “Increasing Threats of Deepfake Identities” white paper published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis. Kim was born in South Korea, speaks fluent Korean, and is a first-generation college graduate.

Yaechan Lee is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Boston University. He has received a BA in economics from Waseda University and an MA in international relations from Peking University. Based on his experiences in the major economies of the region, Yaechan’s work focuses on a wide range of topics involving the Korean peninsula. His papers have been published in top outlets such as the Pacific Review, where he discusses Korea’s hedging strategy in the East Asian region. He has also written many op-eds in the past in outlets such as The Diplomat” that discuss similar topics on Korea.

Chanyang Seo is a researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses where she focuses on North Korean nuclear and missile programs. She completed a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy (MALD) from The Fletcher School at Tufts University. In her master’s thesis, Chanyang examined North Korea’s nuclear politics for a maximalist unification goal through the ‘Stick and Carrot’ strategy. Previously, she worked as a research intern at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) in Geneva. She also worked as a research assistant in the International Security Studies program at The Fletcher School. Her research interests lie in inter-Korean relations, US-DPRK relations, North Korean nuclear program, nuclear security and nonproliferation, and regional security in East Asia.

Kyungwon Suh is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Technology and International Security at the UC Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation and the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories. Starting September 2023, he will be a Lecturer at the Australian National University’s Strategic & Defence Studies Centre. He received his PhD in political science from Syracuse University in 2022. His research interests include nuclear weapons, interstate coercion, alliance politics, and great power politics. Born in the Republic of Korea, he earned his BA in political science from Sungkyunkwan University and MA in political science from Yonsei University.

Kyle E. Wardwell is a recent International Relations MA graduate from Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. Prior to this position, Kyle received a Chemistry degree from Oklahoma City University and a Biomedical Engineering degree from the University of Oklahoma. After competing for Team USA in the Rio 2016 Paralympics as a guide runner for blind athletes, Kyle worked as a medical research assistant and received a Fulbright Scholarship for two years in South Korea, serving as an instructor, orientation leader, and editor. Kyle’s research interests include cost analysis of trade disruption and the impact of the international military operations and global supply chains on environmental degradation.

PacNet #37 – Comparative Connections Summary: May 2023

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Comparative Connections Summary:
January-April 2023

 

REGIONAL OVERVIEW

“Like-Minded Minilateralism” Coming of Age

BY RALPH COSSA, PACIFIC FORUM & BRAD GLOSSERMAN, TAMA UNIVERSITY CRS/PACIFIC FORUM

As broad-based multilateral organizations seem to be increasingly unable (or unwilling) to tackle the major security challenges of the day—Russia-Ukraine, China-Taiwan, North Korea, and Myanmar, to list but a few—more focused “minilateral” efforts involving “like-minded” allies and partners are coming to the fore. Foremost among the dysfunctional are the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and broader UN mechanisms, thanks to Russian and Chinese intransigence. Sadly, ASEAN-led mechanisms like the East Asia Summit and ASEAN Regional Forum, not to mention ASEAN itself, also fall into this category, as does the G20, whose foreign ministers failed to reach any meaningful conclusions at their early March 2023 meeting, their first with India at the helm. Enter the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or “Quad,” involving Australia, India, Japan, and the United States), AUKUS (Australia-United Kingdom-US technical cooperation agreement), various minilateral cooperative efforts (including US-Japan-Philippines and US-Japan-Korea), and a resurgent like-minded G7, now that its (failed) experiment of drawing Russia and China into its process has come to an inglorious end. But not all new efforts are succeeding. President Biden hosted his second “Summit of Democracies” which drew little fanfare or attention.

 

US-JAPAN RELATIONS

The US and Japan Build Multilateral Momentum 

BY SHEILA A. SMITH, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS & CHARLES MCCLEAN, YALE MACMILLAN CENTER

2023 brings a renewed focus on the US-Japan partnership as a fulcrum of global and regional diplomacy. With an eye to the G7 Summit in Hiroshima in mid-May, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio began the year with visits to G7 counterparts in Europe and North America. Later in the spring, he toured Africa in an effort to gain understanding from countries of the Global South. The Joe Biden administration looks ahead to a lively economic agenda, as it hosts the APEC Summit in November on the heels of the G20 Summit in New Delhi in September. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan laid out in detail the economic ambitions of the Biden national strategy on April 27, giving further clarity to how the administration’s foreign policy will meet the needs of the American middle class. Regional collaboration continues to expand. Both leaders will gather in Australia on May 24 as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese hosts the third in-person meeting of the leaders of the Quad. Also noteworthy in this first quarter of 2023 is the progress in ties between Japan and South Korea.

US-CHINA RELATIONS

US-China Effort Set “Guardrails” Fizzles with Balloon Incident

BY SOURABH GUPTA, INSTITUTE FOR CHINA-AMERICA STUDIES

The proposed “guardrail” that Joe Biden and Xi Jinping sought to erect last fall in Bali failed to emerge in the bitter aftermath of a wayward Chinese surveillance balloon that overflew the United States and violated its sovereignty. Though Antony Blinken and Wang Yi met on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference afterward, aspersions cast by each side against the other, including a series of disparaging Chinese government reports, fed the chill in ties. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy during the return leg of her US transit added to bilateral and cross-strait tensions and were met with Chinese sanctions. Issues pertaining to Taiwan, be it arms sales or a speculated Chinese invasion date of the island, remained contentious. The administration’s attempt to restart constructive economic reengagement with China, including via an important speech by US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, appears to have fallen on deaf ears in Beijing.

 

US-KOREA RELATIONS

Nuclear New Year

BY MASON RICHEY, HANKUK UNIVERSITY

South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol has tried to make a priority of transforming the traditional US-South Korea military alliance into a “global, comprehensive strategic alliance” with increasing ambitions beyond hard security issues on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia in general. Yoon and his foreign policy team get an “A” for vision and effort—joining the NATO Asia-Pacific Four (AP4) and releasing an Indo-Pacific Strategy in 2022 are evidence. But, like Michael Corleone trying to go legit in The Godfather III, every time they make progress getting out, they get pulled back into the Peninsula. To wit, during the first trimester of 2023 Korean Peninsula security issues again commanded disproportionate attention from Seoul and Washington. The proximate cause for this dynamic is North Korea’s mafioso-in-chief, Kim Jong Un, who started 2023 with a January 1 missile launch and kept at it throughout the winter. This, of course, followed record-breaking 2022 North Korean missile tests and demonstrations, which totaled approximately 70 launches of around 100 projectiles. Given the near-zero prospects for North Korean denuclearization and the growing arsenal at Pyongyang’s disposal, it is understandable that any South Korean president would be distracted from interests further afield.

 

US-INDIA RELATIONS

An Even Larger Role in Everything

BY AKHIL RAMESH, PACIFIC FORUM

On May 24, 2022, President Joe Biden met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the Quad summit in Tokyo. According to the White House readout of the meeting, “The leaders reviewed the progress made in the US-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership. They committed to deepen the Major Defense Partnership, encourage economic engagement that benefits both countries, and expand partnership on global health, pandemic preparedness, and critical and emerging technologies.” While such statements are often aspirational and lag in implementation, the first four months of 2023 show the renaissance in US-India ties to be real.

 

US-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

Washington Zeroes in on Manila

BY CATHARIN DALPINO, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

With an apparent renaissance in the US-Philippine alliance, spurred by rising tensions in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, the Biden administration ramped up diplomatic activity with Manila as the two countries moved toward an official visit from President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., in May. At the same time, the 42nd iteration of Cobra Gold, which returned to full strength for the first time since the 2014 coup in Bangkok, suggested momentum in the US-Thailand alliance, albeit with a lower profile. While the international environment continued to be roiled by US-China rivalry, the Russian war in Ukraine, and high food and commodity prices, Southeast Asia’s own internal turmoil was evident. The junta in Myanmar extended the state of emergency and stepped up aerial bombing of areas held by the opposition and armed ethnic groups. As Indonesia takes up the ASEAN chair, prospects for implementing the Five-Point Consensus Plan are dim, if not dead. Vietnam and Thailand began leadership transitions—Hanoi with an anti-corruption purge and Bangkok with the launch of general elections—while Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen continued to eviscerate the opposition ahead of his near-certain re-election in July.

 

CHINA-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

China Strengthens Regional Leadership Countering US Challenges

BY ROBERT SUTTER, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY & CHIN-HAO HUANG, YALE-NUS COLLEGE
Southeast Asia featured prominently in Beijing’s increasingly strong international efforts to portray Chi-na as a source of strategic stability and economic growth with comprehensive global governance plans supportive of interests of developing countries and opposing the United States. These efforts intensified after the landmark 20th Party Congress in October and the 14th National People’s Congress in March. They were reinforced as Xi Jinping emerged from COVID restrictions and preoccupation with domestic matters to engage actively in summitry with leaders of Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines, Cambodia, Malay-sia, and Singapore. China’s economic importance for regional countries grew as did its dominance over the contested South China Sea. Its show of force against Taiwan in April had little discernible impact on China-Southeast Asia relations, while notable US advances in military cooperation with the Philippines warranted Chinese warnings that escalated during the reporting period.

 

CHINA-TAIWAN RELATIONS

Confrontation Muted, Tensions Growing

BY DAVID KEEGAN, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES & KYLE CHURCHMAN, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES

As 2023 began, cross-Strait confrontation was muted. Travel began returning to pre-COVID levels across the Strait and between the mainland and Taiwan’s offshore islands. At China’s annual National People’s Congress, outgoing Premier Li Keqiang and reanointed President Xi Jinping eschewed inflammatory rhetoric about reunification with Taiwan. Taiwan and the US kept Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s transit of the US low-key. Tsai met House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California, deflecting the speaker’s ex-pressed interest in visiting Taiwan and avoiding the destabilizing Chinese military exercises around Tai-wan that followed Speaker Pelosi’s visit last August. Despite this calm, seeds of confrontation proliferated. China cut a communications cable to Taiwan’s off-shore islands and announced a coast guard drill to inspect commercial shipping in the Taiwan Strait, both interpreted as practice for gray-zone coercion. China persuaded Honduras to sever its longstanding diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Taiwan increased its military budget and expanded training with US forces. Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou visited China and met Chinese officials, endorsing the 1992 Consensus and signaling that the upcoming election campaign for Taiwan’s president will again offer two very different visions of Taiwan’s future relationship with mainland China.

 

NORTH KOREA-SOUTH KOREA RELATIONS

North Cranks up Nukes— and Slams Down the Phone

BY AIDAN FOSTER-CARTER, LEEDS UNIVERSITY, UK

The first four months of 2023 brought no progress or respite in inter-Korean relations. Pyongyang sent no further drones into Southern airspace as it had in December, but continued to rattle Seoul with tests of advance weaponry and ever more lurid nuclear rhetoric. South Korea hardened its language and stance, with a restored emphasis on human rights in the North—now officially defined as an enemy once more. ROK President Yoon Suk Yeol also found enemies within: leftists who made contact with the DPRK in third countries were no longer ignored but prosecuted. More ominously, so were four top officials who served the previous president, Moon Jae-in, over how they handled two difficult inter-Korean incidents in 2019-20. Elsewhere, Seoul complained in vain about Pyongyang’s abuse of its assets in two defunct joint ventures: stealing some, destroying others. Soon after, the North stopped answering the phone. It is hard to see how North-South relations will improve, but all too easy to imagine them getting even worse.

 

CHINA-KOREA RELATIONS

Deepening Suspicions and Limited Diplomacy

BY SCOTT SNYDER, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS & SEE-WON BYUN, SAN FRANCISCO STATE UNIVERSITYChina and South Korea began 2023 with the temporary imposition of tit-for-tat restrictions by both governments on travel to the other country after China lifted its zero-COVID policy. Although the restrictions proved temporary, they pointed to the reality of a sustained downward spiral in China-South Korea relations accompanied by increasingly strident public objections in Chinese media to the Yoon Suk Yeol administration’s steps to redouble South Korean alignment with the United States regarding Indo-Pacific strategy, supply chain resiliency, and shared values. South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Park Jin’s congratulatory call to newly appointed Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Qin Gang on Jan. 9 was one of the few positive senior-level inter-action between the two countries in early 2023; by the end of April, the main diplomatic interactions between China and South Korea had devolved into a dueling exchange of private demarches and public assertions that the other side had committed a “diplomatic gaffe.”

 

JAPAN-CHINA RELATIONS

Talking—But Talking Past Each Other

BY JUNE TEUFEL DREYER, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI

The 17th China-Japan Security Dialogue resumed in late February after a four-year pause but produced no resolution to outstanding problems. In early April, Chinese and Japanese foreign ministers also met for the first time since 2019, with the four-hour meeting similarly unproductive. The Chinese side expressed annoyance with Tokyo for its cooperation with the United States, its support of Taiwan, the release of Fukushima nuclear-contaminated wastewater into the ocean, and Tokyo’s recent restrictions on semiconductor equipment exports. The Japanese foreign minister sought, but did not obtain, information on a Japanese national who had been arrested on spying charges, complained about Chinese intrusions into the territorial waters around the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, and stressed the importance of stability in the Taiwan Strait. There was no mention of the long-postponed state visit of Xi Jinping to Tokyo as a matter of reciprocity for former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s visit to Beijing.

 

JAPAN-KOREA RELATIONS

The Return of Shuttle Diplomacy

BY JI-YOUNG LEE, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY & ANDY LIM, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES

In March 2023, Japan and South Korea had a long-awaited breakthrough in their bilateral relations, which many viewed as being at the lowest point since the 1965 normalization. On March 16, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio held a summit in Tokyo and agreed to resume “shuttle diplomacy,” a crucial mechanism of bilateral cooperation that had been halted for about a decade. Behind the positive developments was President Yoon’s political decision on the issue of compensating wartime forced laborers. The two leaders took steps to bring ties back to the level that existed prior to actions in 2018 and 2019, which precipitated the downward spiral in their relationship. Japan decided to lift the export controls it placed on its neighbor following the South Korean Supreme Court ruling on forced labor in 2018. South Korea withdrew its complaint with the World Trade Organization on Japan’s export controls. Less than a week after the summit, Seoul officially fully restored the information sharing agreement (GSOMIA) that it had with Tokyo. They also resumed high-level bilateral foreign and security dialogues to discuss ways to navigate the changing international environment together as partners.

 

CHINA-RUSSIA RELATIONS

War and Peace for Moscow and Beijing

BY YU BIN, WITTENBERG UNIVERSITY

Perhaps more than any other time in their respective histories, the trajectories of China and Russia were separated by choices in national strategy. A year in-to Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, the war bogged down into a stalemate. Meanwhile, China embarked upon a major peace offensive aimed at Europe and beyond. It was precisely during these abnormal times that the two strategic part-ners deepened and broadened relations as top Chinese leaders traveled to Moscow in the first few months of the year (China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, President Xi Jinping, and newly appointed Defense Minister Li Shangfu). Meanwhile, Beijing’s peace initiative became both promising and perilous as it reached out to warring sides and elsewhere (Europe and the Middle East). It remains to be seen how this new round of “Western civil war” (Samuel Hunting-ton’s depiction of the 1648-1991 period in his pro-vocative “The Clash of Civilizations?” treatise) could be lessened by a non-Western power, particularly after drone attacks on the Kremlin in early May.

 

JAPAN-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

Great Power Politics: The Indo-Pacific, Southeast Asia, and the Global South

BY KEI KOGANANYANG TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY

2023 marks the 50th Year of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation, and there are expectations that their relationship will be upgraded to a “comprehensive strategic partnership.” Given the good diplomatic, security, and economic relations between Japan and Southeast Asian states, ties are likely to be strengthened. However, Japan is now taking a more competitive strategy toward China, as indicated in the three security documents issued in December 2022, while Southeast Asian states generally continued the same strategic posture by which they have good relations with all great powers in the Indo-Pacific region. Also, while Japan issued the “New Plan for the Free and Open Indo-Pacific” that emphasizes the “Global South,” it remained silent about ASEAN centrality and unity in the Indo-Pacific, and it was unclear what roles Japan expects ASEAN to play. Although both Japan and Southeast Asian states need to adjust their roles in the Indo-Pacific region, it remains to be seen whether the 50th anniversary becomes an opportunity for clarification.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors.

PacNet #31 – Time for a shift on the Korean Peninsula

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North Korea conducted another intercontinental ballistic missile test on April 13, the second in less than a month. Unlike previous launches, however, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presided over what Pyongyang claimed was an ICBM powered by a solid-fueled engine. This would represent another milestone in Pyongyang’s decades-long effort to field an operational missile capability despite being the subject of one of the most stringent UN Security Council sanctions regimes in existence. A reliable North Korean solid-fueled ICBM would be of particular concern to the United States during a war-time contingency—solid-fueled missiles can be assembled rapidly, are easier to conceal compared to liquid-fueled variants, and can be prepared on-site, giving the United States far less time to locate and neutralize them before launch.

As expected, the United States, South Korea, and Japan condemned the latest test. Tokyo, which issued an emergency alert to residents on the island of Hokkaido, requested an emergency UN Security Council meeting. The next day, Washington authorized two separate bilateral military drills with South Korea and Japan, including B-52 bombers and F-35 fighters. The drills were designed to send a message: more missile tests, particularly those with the capacity to reach targets on the continental United States, will result in more defensive measures by Washington and its East Asian allies in response.

Drills beget drills

None of these moves are especially surprising. The Biden administration is spending significant effort this year bolstering the credibility of US extended deterrence to its South Korean and Japanese allies. In January, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and South Korean Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-sup engaged in a series of meetings in Seoul, during which Washington pledged to “enhance the implementation of US extended deterrence” through increased deployment of US strategic assets on and near the Korean Peninsula.

This came roughly two weeks after South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol suggested it may be time for South Korea to build its own nuclear weapons, or at least request the return of US tactical nuclear warheads on South Korean soil. Yoon’s comments got the attention of US defense officials; in the ensuing months, a variety of US strategic combat systems have been rotated to the area.

In February, US and South Korean officials participated in table-top exercises at the Pentagon with a specific focus on responding to a number of scenarios involving North Korean nuclear use. US B-1B Lancers joined exercises with South Korean forces at least four times this year. The USS Nimitz, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, docked in the South Korean port city of Busan in late March. In April, Washington and Seoul executed the largest military field exercises in five years. Separate exercises occur as well, including trilateral anti-submarine warfare drills between US, South Korean, and Japanese naval forces. Similar exercises are now ongoing, with Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo regularizing them in the future to improve naval force inter-operability.

This has predictably elicited strong countermeasures from the North Koreans. The “security dilemma”—where “defensive” exercises are perceived by the adversary as a belligerent action—is very much alive on the Korean Peninsula. What Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo view as entirely justifiable, Pyongyang views as aggressive and thus deserving of retaliation.

Can the cycle of escalation be broken?

It is hard to see this cycle ending anytime soon. Ordinarily, such situations would be contained through diplomatic engagement, either between the parties themselves (oftentimes discreetly) or through a trusted intermediary. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any diplomatic channel on the horizon. The Biden administration has reached out to the Kim regime multiple times to jumpstart a new negotiation after talks failed during the Trump era. But Kim Jong Un rejected the overtures and is unlikely to green-light any serious negotiating effort as long as US policy centers on North Korea’s total and irreversible denuclearization. South Korea, which acted as a facilitator of direct US-North Korea diplomacy during Moon Jae-in’s presidency, is no longer seen by the North Koreans as a credible interlocutor due to President Yoon’s hardline approach toward Pyongyang. (North Korea has even ignored daily military-to-military phone calls from the South for nearly two weeks.)

In an ideal world, China would exploit its considerable financial and political leverage over North Korea to aid Washington in bringing the Kim regime to the negotiating table. Yet, given the terrible state of US-China relations, Beijing has little incentive to help Washington on a foreign policy dispute that has confounded multiple US administrations for decades.

Additional economic pressure is unlikely to bring Kim to the table either. The UN Security Council has been deadlocked on the North Korean nuclear issue since 2017, with the United States and China arguing over who is at fault. Permanent members Russia and China use their veto power to block individual sanctions designations, and the prospect of a new UN Security Council sanctions resolution passing is too low to even theorize about. Beijing and Moscow increasingly see sanctions as worsening the internal food and economic crisis in North Korea and should therefore be loosened or removed. The United States found out the hard way when it tabled a draft resolution in May 2022, only to walk away from the council chamber disappointed after the Russian and Chinese delegations cast a double veto. Even if the North Koreans conducted another nuclear test, there is no guarantee the Security Council could conjure up the unanimity required to issue a statement condemning it. With the UN paralyzed, the Biden administration has relied on unilateral sanctions designations ever since to penalize North Korea for everything from illicit financial practices and fuel smuggling to the development of weapons of mass destruction and human rights abuses. Even so, the North Koreans have proven by necessity to be highly meticulous sanctions evaders.

Washington, therefore, is left with a short list of options. Continuing to strengthen the sanctions regime is the most likely course of action, if only out of bureaucratic habit, yet by definition is highly reactive to North Korean behavior and holds low probability of success. Maintaining the current pace of US military deployments in East Asia will be welcomed by Seoul and Tokyo but also risks prompting more North Korean missile tests and military exercises—up to and including a seventh underground nuclear test. Fostering a detente between the two Koreas is probably a dead-end as long as the Yoon administration’s hard line continues.

The North Korean nuclear issue is a low priority for the Biden administration. The United States is currently content with treading water and waiting for the Kim regime to accept its overtures. Assuming Washington wants to solve or at least contain the problem, the time has come for a major policy shift. The most dramatic shift would be recognition among the United States and its allies that denuclearization is infeasible when North Korea already possesses dozens of nuclear warheads, will likely construct more, and is in the process of diversifying its delivery systems. Avoiding a war through a mixture of deterrence, engagement, and practical diplomacy should now be the paramount US national security objective on the Korean Peninsula, not transforming North Korea into a non-nuclear state. If the United States intends to maintain a consistently high pace of military exercises with South Korea, Washington should establish protocols to minimize confusion and mixed signaling with North Korea.

This will likely require direct communication between US and North Korean military officers and perhaps advanced, mutual notifications about the timing and location of various military and missile exercises to decrease misperceptions. In addition, the United States, in coordination with China, should be willing to exchange basic information on nuclear safety and maintenance with North Korea—that the United States is highly unlikely to recognize North Korea as a legitimate nuclear-armed state does not obviate the need to ensure Pyongyang’s nuclear practices are up to standard. The United States should also stop prefacing US-North Korea engagement on the nuclear issue alone; maintaining a cold peace on the Korean Peninsula involves discussions beyond the nuclear component, including, but not limited to, the disposition of conventional forces on both sides of the 150-mile Demilitarized Zone, de-escalation mechanisms between the two Koreas, and common rules of engagement along disputed boundaries like the Northern Limit Line.

Only when realistic, achievable goals are set can an effective strategy be formulated.

Daniel R. DePetris ([email protected]) is a fellow at Defense Priorities, a foreign policy think tank based in Washington, D.C., a syndicated foreign affairs columnist at the Chicago Tribune and a foreign policy writer for Newsweek.  

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

Photo: North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and his daughter, observe a warhead missile launch exercise (20 March 2023, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA)) by KCNA via KNS/AFP.

PacNet #6 – Comparative Connections Summary: January 2023

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Comparative Connections Summary:
September-December 2022

 

REGIONAL OVERVIEW

Indo-Pacific As the “Epicenter”

BY RALPH COSSA, PACIFIC FORUM & BRAD GLOSSERMAN, TAMA UNIVERSITY CRS/PACIFIC FORUM

The Biden administration released its long-awaited National Security Strategy (NSS) this trimester, along with unclassified versions of its National Defense Strategy and Missile Defense and Nuclear Posture Reviews. There were no big surprises. The NSS identified the Indo-Pacific as “the epicenter of 21st century geopolitics” and reaffirmed China as the “pacing challenge,” even while branding Russia as “an immediate threat to the free and open international system” as a result of its invasion of Ukraine. Underscoring the priority attached to the region, President Biden attended the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh and the G-20 Summit in Bali, with Vice President Kamala Harris representing the United States at the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Meeting in Bangkok.

 

US-JAPAN RELATIONS

Ramping up Diplomacy and Defense Cooperation

BY SHEILA A. SMITH, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS & CHARLES MCCLEAN, YALE MACMILLAN CENTER

In the wake of the death of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, the fall brought unexpectedly turbulent politics for Prime Minister Kishida Fumio. In the United States, however, President Joe Biden welcomed the relatively positive outcome of the midterm elections, with Democrats retaining control over the Senate and losing less than the expected number of seats in the House. Diplomacy continued to be centered on various impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but both Biden and Kishida focused their attention on a series of Asian diplomatic gatherings to improve ties. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s attendance at the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, G20 Meeting in Bali, and APEC gathering in Bangkok proffered the opportunity finally for in-person bilateral meetings for both leaders. Finally, Japan’s long awaited strategic documents were unveiled in December. A new National Security Strategy (NSS) took a far more sober look at China’s growing influence and included ongoing concerns over North Korea as well as a growing awareness of Japan’s increasingly difficult relationship with Russia.

 

US-CHINA RELATIONS

The Bali Summit: US and PRC Leaders Attempt to Arrest the Slide 

BY BONNIE S. GLASER, GERMAN MARSHALL FUND OF THE US

Joe Biden and Xi Jinping met in person for the first time as national leaders at the G20 summit in Bali and agreed to manage competition in their relationship responsibly and restore regular dialogue between senior officials and cooperation between their countries. Bilateral meetings between senior officials in charge of climate, finance, trade, and defense followed. After the US announced another weapons sale to Taiwan, however, Beijing halted the resumption of military-to-military exchanges again. The US issued new export controls aimed at freezing China’s advanced chip production and supercomputing capabilities. President Biden maintained that he would send US forces to defend Taiwan if attacked and repeated that whether the island is independent is up to Taiwan to decide. The Biden administration issued its National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, Nuclear Posture Review, and Missile Defense Review. The US imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for serious human rights abuses in Tibet and arbitrary detention of Falun Gong practitioners. China retaliated by sanctioning two former Trump administration officials.

 

US-KOREA RELATIONS

Everything Everywhere All at Once, Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud

BY MASON RICHEY, HANKUK UNIVERSITY & ROB YORK, PACIFIC FORUM

Continuing a trend from the May-August reporting period, the final reporting period of 2022 in US-Korea relations was marked by an accelerated ratcheting up of tension. In short, numerous problems reared up on the Korean Peninsula from September-December, and good solutions have been few. And not only does this describe relations between the US and North Korea, but in their own, friendly way also the situation between Washington and Seoul, whose frequent invocations of rock-solid alliance cooperation belie unease about crucial areas of partnership. Two critical issues have been increasingly affecting the US-South Korea alliance in 2022, with the September-December period no exception. First, South Korea desires ever more alliance-partner defense and security reassurance from the US in the face of a growing North Korean nuclear threat and Chinese revisionism. Yet the US has downward-trending limits on credible reassurance as North Korea masters nuclear weapons technology that threatens US extended nuclear deterrence for South Korea. The US also faces less geopolitical pressure to effusively reassure its Indo-Pacific allies—including South Korea—as China grows to menace the regional order and the US consequently faces lower risk of ally hedging or realignment.

 

US-INDIA RELATIONS

Friends with Benefits

BY AKHIL RAMESH, PACIFIC FORUM

2022 was a challenging year, not just for US-India relations, but for every India analyst trying to explain the Indian government’s position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Explaining to a non-IR audience India’s history of nonalignment during the Cold-War era and its current policy of multi-alignment was not a gratifying endeavor. While the last four months of 2022 did not have the friction and stress-tests as the first four of 2022 or the slow and steady expansion of relations that followed between May and September, they certainly had multiple surprising events that could make them the halcyon months of 2022. In mid-November, the US and Indian armies engaged in a military exercise at Auli, not far from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) separating Indian-held and Chinese-held territory. While the US and Indian armies have engaged in exercises prior to 2022, this proximity to the Indo-China border is a first. A month later, in another first, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen traveled to India to meet Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to expand the US-India “Indo-Pacific partnership.” Yellen characterized India as a “friendly shore” for supply chain diversification and as the indispensable partner for the US.

 

US-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

External Order, Inner Turmoil

BY CATHARIN DALPINO, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

In November three ASEAN states—Cambodia, Indonesia, and Thailand—drew favorable marks for their chairmanship of high-profile regional and global meetings: the East Asia Summit and ASEAN Leaders Meeting; the G20 Summit; and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, respectively. Helming these meetings was particularly challenging for Southeast Asian leaders—who are naturally inclined to avoid strong alignments with external powers—in the current global environment of heightened tensions between the United States and China in the Taiwan Strait and the war in Ukraine. However, the year was a difficult period for ASEAN internally, with uneven economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the intractable conflict in Myanmar. The last quarter of 2022 saw two political shifts in the region: in general elections in Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim achieved a longstanding ambition to become prime minister but will have to manage a difficult coalition to retain power. At the year’s end, Laos changed prime ministers, but it is not clear if the transition will solve the country’s debt problems, which were revealed to be more dire than estimated.

 

CHINA-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

Xi Moderates to US and Others Amid Continued Competition 

BY ROBERT SUTTER, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY & CHIN-HAO HUANG, YALE-NUS COLLEGESoutheast Asia was the center of international attention in November as regional and global leaders gathered at the G20 conference in Indonesia, which took place between the annual ASEAN-hosted summit meetings in Cambodia and the yearly APEC leaders meeting in Thailand. Acute China-US rivalry loomed large in media and other forecasts, warning of a clash of US-Chinese leaders with negative implications feared in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. The positive outcome of the Biden-Xi summit at the G20 conference and related actions eased tensions, which was welcomed, particularly in Southeast Asia, but the implications for the US and allies’ competition with China remain to be seen. Tensions over disputes in the South China Sea continued unabated. President Xi Jinping made his first trip to a major international gathering at the G20 conference followed by the APEC meeting after more than two years of self-imposed isolation in line with his government’s strict COVID-19 restrictions.

 

CHINA-TAIWAN RELATIONS

Tensions Intensify as Taiwan-US IT Cooperation Blossoms 

BY DAVID KEEGAN, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES & KYLE CHURCHMAN, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES

In the wake of then US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August, China’s extensive military exercises continued to impose a more threatening “new normal” in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan continued to be the focus of heated public exchanges between the US and China. US President Biden said, for a fourth time, that the US would defend Taiwan and added an inflammatory codicil that independence was for Taiwan to decide. At the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, General Secretary Xi Jinping promised China would strive for peaceful reunification with Taiwan but would not renounce use of force. On Dec. 23, Biden signed the Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act and a State Department appropriation providing $2 billion in loans for Taiwan to purchase US equipment. Two days later, China sent 71 military aircraft and seven ships to intimidate Taiwan, its largest-ever one-day exercise near the island. Two days later, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen announced that Taiwan would extend its military conscription to 12 months. TSMC formally broke ground for the first of two factories in the US, a $40 billion investment.

 

NORTH KOREA-SOUTH KOREA RELATIONS

Drones in a Darkening Sky, Tactical Nuke Talk: Pyongyang’s Provocations Escalate

BY AIDAN FOSTER-CARTER, LEEDS UNIVERSITY, UK

The main feature of inter-Korean relations in the last four months of 2022 was varied and ever-increasing provocations by Pyongyang. Besides multiple missiles, there were artillery volleys and an incursion by five drones. Kim Jong Un also ramped up his nuclear threats, in theory and practice. A revised law widened the scope of nuclear use, while a new stress on tactical weapons was matched by parading 30 new multiple launch rocket systems (MLRs) which could deliver these anywhere on the peninsula. The government of South Korea President Yoon Suk Yeol for his part reinstated officially calling North Korea an enemy, and revived concern with DPRK human rights. As the year turned, his government was mulling retaliation for the drone incursions; that could include scrapping a 2018 inter-Korean military accord, a dead letter now due to Pyongyang’s breaches. With tensions rising, the new year ahead may be an anxious one on the peninsula.

 

CHINA-KOREA RELATIONS

Kim Jong Un Tests Xi-Yoon Diplomacy

BY SCOTT SNYDER, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS & SEE-WON BYUN, SAN FRANCISCO STATE UNIVERSITY

Regional and global summits presented high-level platforms for China-South Korea engagement in November. The summitry showed that the relationship had returned with solidity with the resumption of international meetings and in-person exchanges. Although the Xi Jinping and Yoon Suk Yeol leaderships advanced diplomatic exchange, concerns emerged over enduring political and security constraints and growing linkages with the economic relationship. Kim Jong Un’s escalation of military threats, through an unprecedented number of missile tests this year, challenged Xi-Yoon bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. China-North Korea bilateral interactions, while brisk, primarily relied on Xi and Kim’s exchange of congratulatory letters around significant founding anniversaries, China’s 20th Party Congress, and expressions of condolences after the death of former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin. The UN Security Council’s failure to take unified action on DPRK threats prompted South Korea to voice frustration with China and expand cooperation with US and Japanese partners. Such responses only reinforced concerns raised in recent leadership exchanges, and Korean domestic division over Yoon’s diplomatic strategies.

 

JAPAN-CHINA RELATIONS

A Period of Cold Peace?

BY JUNE TEUFEL DREYER, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI

In the sole high-level meeting in the report period, on the sidelines of the APEC meeting in Bangkok in November, General Secretary/President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Kishida Fumio essentially talked past each other. At an earlier ASEAN+3 meeting in Phnom Penh, Premier Li Keqiang and Kishida not only talked past each other but pointedly walked past each other. There was no resolution of major issues: the Chinese position is and remains that Taiwan is a core interest of the PRC in which Japan must not interfere. Japan counters that a Chinese invasion would be an emergency for Japan. On the islands known to the Chinese as the Diaoyu and to the Japanese as the Senkaku, Tokyo considers them an integral part of Japan on the basis of history and international law while China says the islands are part of China. On jurisdiction in the East China Sea, Japan says that demarcation should be based on the median line and that China’s efforts at unilateral development of oil and gas resources on its side of the median are illegal. Beijing does not recognize the validity of the median line.

 

JAPAN-KOREA RELATIONS

Japan and South Korea as Like-Minded Partners in the Indo-Pacific

BY JI-YOUNG LEE, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY & ANDY LIM, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES

The last four months of 2022 saw a flurry of bilateral diplomatic activities between Japan and South Korea in both nations’ capitals and around the world. They focused on 1) North Korea, 2) the issue of wartime forced labor, and 3) the future of Seoul-Tokyo cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. Despite mutual mistrust and the low approval ratings of Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and President Yoon Suk Yeol, both leaders had the political will to see a breakthrough in bilateral relations. Another signal came in the form of new strategy documents in which Seoul and Tokyo explained their foreign and security policy directions and goals. On Dec. 16, the Kishida government published three national security-related documents—the National Security Strategy (NSS), the National Defense Strategy (NDS), and the Defense Buildup program. On Dec. 28, the Yoon government unveiled South Korea’s Strategy for a Free, Peaceful, Prosperous Indo-Pacific Region, its first ever Indo-Pacific strategy. Although each document serves a somewhat different purpose, it is now possible to gauge how similarly or differently Japan and South Korea assess challenges in the international security environment, and how they plan to respond to them.

 

CHINA-RUSSIA RELATIONS

Ending the War? Or the World?

BY YU BIN, WITTENBERG UNIVERSITY

Unlike in 1914, the “guns of the August” in 2022 played out at the two ends of the Eurasian continent. In Europe, the war was grinding largely to a stagnant line of active skirmishes in eastern and southern Ukraine. In the east, rising tension in US-China relations regarding Taiwan led to an unprecedented use of force around Taiwan. Alongside Moscow’s quick and strong support of China, Beijing carefully calibrated its strategic partnership with Russia with signals of symbolism and substance. Xi and Putin directly conversed only once (June 15). Bilateral trade and mil-mil ties, however, bounced back quickly thanks to, at least partially, the “Ukraine factor” and their respective delinking from the West. At the end of August, Mikhail Gorbachev’s death meant both much and yet so little for a world moving rapidly toward a “war with both Russia and China,” in the words of Henry Kissinger.

 

INDIA-EAST ASIA RELATIONS

India’s Ongoing ‘Strategic Correction to the East’ During 2022

BY SATU LIMAYEEAST-WEST CENTER IN WASHINGTON

India’s East Asia relations in 2022 followed the arc articulated by External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar’s address at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand in August 2022. He began by recalling three decades ago India made a “strategic correction to the East” which was “[o]riginally…contemplated as an economic measure, with trade and investment at its core” and mostly focused on ASEAN. He went on to say the geography, concepts, and assessments of India’s Indo-Pacific vision have expanded “to cover Japan, Korea and China, and in due course, Australia as also other areas of Pacific Islands…[and] facets of cooperation also increased…now cover[ing] connectivity in various forms, people-to-people ties and more recently, defense and security.” And while dutifully referencing India’s Indo-Pacific policies including Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and the Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative (IPOI), he gave the most attention to the revitalized Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”)
PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors.

PacNet #68 – South Korea’s role in a Taiwan contingency: Indirect but essential

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As South Korea’s military has grown stronger, the United States now expects it to play a larger role in maintaining regional stability. Gen. Paul LaCamera, the commander of the US Forces Korea (USFK), stated that “given the international reach of the South Korean military, opportunities are emerging for alliance cooperation beyond the Korean Peninsula.” The former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was more explicit. In the event of a contingency in the Taiwan Strait, he said, “certainly there would be a support role (by South Korea) as well. I would imagine coming off the Korea Peninsula to support any type of Taiwan scenario.”

There are important precedents. South Korea provided military support for the United States war efforts in Vietnam and Iraq, and its air force and navy could likewise be deployed to the Taiwan Strait to fight with the United States. But South Korea’s military involvement would surely trigger China’s retaliation. China has shown the pattern of “killing the chicken to scare the monkey” when confronted with multiple players, as seen in the South China Sea. South Korea is the chicken in this case. Chinese media publicly refers to the country as “the weakest link” of the US alliance system in East Asia. China’s missiles can easily reach South Korea’s bases, and the People’s Liberation Army Navy will block or attack South Korean naval vessels in the Yellow Sea even before they sail to the Taiwan Strait.

North Korea is also likely to exploit the situation because the United States would be distracted if conflict were to occur in the Taiwan Strait. Such an event would create an opportunity for North Korea to speed up its advancement in missile and nuclear capabilities. North Korea’s concurrent military provocations may also help China divide the US military assets between the Taiwan Strait and the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang already began to comment on the Taiwan issue. For example, Kim Jong Un sent “a letter of solidarity” to Beijing after the US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last August. This is North Korea’s strategic signaling of potential support for China in the event of conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

For these reasons, the South Korean government has been cautious in clarifying its potential role in a Taiwan contingency. During the summit with President Joe Biden in May 2022, President Yoon Suk Yeol agreed to insert “the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait” in the joint statement. But President Yoon did not meet with Speaker Pelosi when she visited South Korea after her trip to Taiwan. Likewise, while South Korea’s minister of defense and the US secretary of defense reaffirmed the importance of peace in the Taiwan Strait in December 2021, South Korea’s vice defense minister revealed that there has been no discussion between the two governments about South Korea’s role in a Taiwan contingency.

Surprisingly, the South Korean people are ready to support South Korea’s positive contribution to the defense of Taiwan. According to a survey conducted by JoongAng Ilbo and the East Asia Institute in August, only 18% of respondents opposed any involvement of South Korea in a Taiwan contingency, while 22.5% said they would support its participation in the joint military operation with the US forces. In the same survey, 42% responded that South Korea’s military role should be limited to providing rear-area support for US forces. Overall, 64.5% of South Korean respondents agreed that South Korea should provide direct or indirect support for US military operations in a Taiwan contingency.

South Korea is thus most likely to provide indirect support for the US forces in a Taiwan contingency. The USFK commander has hinted that the contingency planning for the forces’ involvement in the Taiwan Strait is under development. Due to China’s potential retaliation and North Korea’s opportunistic provocations on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea’s direct involvement in combat operations would most likely create two fronts of crises. Therefore, in the event of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait, South Korea’s primary focus should be to deter North Korea’s aggression while providing rear-area support for US operations—for example, through base access, provision of ammunitions, noncombatant evacuation, and noncombat operations like maintenance of weapon systems and augmentation of US reconnaissance capabilities.

Critics may argue that the diversification of the USFK’s role to the region beyond the Korean Peninsula is concerning given North Korea’s military threats and improvement in missile and nuclear capabilities. But they should acknowledge the new reality that the United States and South Korea must be prepared for multiple contingencies in different locations. The need to discuss the division of labor between allies should not be confused as a “decoupling” of the alliance. Regardless of the probability of China’s invasion of Taiwan, the issue is a matter of alliance management between the United States and South Korea.

Sungmin Cho ([email protected]) is a Professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS).

The views in this commentary are his own and do not represent those of the APCSS or the US Department of Defense.

 An earlier version of this article appeared in The National Bureau of Asian Research.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

PacNote #13 – Pacific Forum Korea Foundation Fellowship Opportunity

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In partnership with the Jeju-based Korea Foundation, Pacific Forum is pleased to host a resident and nonresident fellowship exclusively for Korean nationals.

The Korea Foundation Fellowship assists individuals with an advanced degree or pursuing a Ph.D. in obtaining research and professional experience in one of the world’s leading foreign policy and security studies think tanks. Fellows will have the opportunity to meet and learn from globally recognized academic, business, government, and military leaders, as well as leading policy experts, to help shape their thinking about critical security challenges faced by Korea and the larger Indo-Pacific region. Fellows will also connect with and build their peer networks with counterparts from across the region.

퍼시픽포럼은 한국국제교류재단과 협력하여 한국인을 대상으로 하는 펠로십 프로그램을 운영합니다. 한국국제교류재단 펠로십 프로그램은 세계적인 외교정책 안보연구소인 퍼시픽 포럼에서 연구활동과 전문 경력을 쌓을 수 있도록 지원하고 있습니다. 참가자들은 세계적인 학술, 기업, 정부, 군사 지도자들과 전문가들을 만나 한반도 및 인도태평양 지역의 안보에 대해 논의하고 네트워크를 확장할 수 있는 기회를 갖게 됩니다.

Pacific Forum will select 1 candidate to be a hybrid resident/nonresident fellow, working at Pacific Forum’s Honolulu office for 3 months and virtually for 2 months. Fellows will undertake a self-directed research project on Korean foreign policy or US-Korea relations under the guidance of Pacific Forum senior staff and be active participants in the Pacific Forum Young Leaders Program. They will also receive a monthly cost-of-living stipend; and roundtrip airfare to Honolulu and travel insurance during the fellowship period.

Non-resident fellowships are also offered to outstanding full-time graduate students to allow them to participate in Pacific Forum programs while maintaining their academic commitments. Pacific Forum will select 2 non-resident fellows, who will have the opportunity to undertake a 12-month self-directed research project on Korean foreign policy or US-Korea relations and to participate in select Young Leaders Program engagements.

퍼시픽 포럼은 호놀룰루 사무실에서 5개월 동안 근무할 한 명의 펠로우를 선발합니다. 3개월 간 사무실 근무, 2개월 원격 근무로 진행될 예정입니다. 펠로우는 퍼시픽 포럼 선임 연구원의 지도 하에 한국 외교정책이나 한미 관계에 대한 개인 프로젝트를 수행하게 되며, Pacific Forum Young Leaders Program에 참여하게 될 것입니다. 또한 한국-호놀룰루 왕복 항공료와, 생활비, 보험료를 지급받게 될 것입니다.

또한, 퍼시픽 포럼은 9-10개월 동안 한국의 외교정책이나 한미 관계에 대한 개인 프로젝트를 수행 할 비상주 펠로 2명을 선발합니다. 이들에게는 학업을 지속함과 동시에 퍼시픽 포럼 프로그램에 참여할 수 있는 기회가 제공됩니다.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

  • Korean citizen
  • 20’s to 30’s
  • Current graduate or Ph.D. student researching foreign policy, international relations, political science or a related field (or within one year of graduation)
  • Fluent in English with minimum TOEIC score 850, TOEFL score 100 (IBT score)/250 (CBT), TEPS score 750 or equivalent
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0
  • Predominately completed studies in Korea

펠로우쉽 자격

  • 대한민국 국민
  • 만 22세에서 35세
  • 현재 외교 정책, 국제관계, 정치와 관련된 분야에서 공부하는 대학원생 (12개월 내에 졸업한 학생도 가능합니다)
  • 영어 업무 능력 (토익 850, 토플 IBT 100, CBT 250, TEPS 750 혹은 그와 같은 점수)
  • 최소학점3.0
  • 대부분의 교육을 한국에서 받은 자

To apply for the Korea Foundation Fellowship, please complete the Resident and/or Nonresident Korea Foundation Fellowship online application form and include all materials listed below. All materials must be written in English. Any statement in your application that is found to be false will be grounds for disqualification.

  • Statement of purpose (explaining why you are interested in this fellowship)
  • Research proposal outlining what foreign policy or security-related question you plan to research while at Pacific Forum and what your expected outcomes will be (Abstract max. 250 words, proposal max. 1,500 words)
  • Letter of Recommendation from an academic advisor at your university (may be emailed to [email protected])
  • Certificate of enrollment or graduation from your university
  • Undergraduate and graduate school transcripts
  • Currently valid English test score (TOEIC, TOEFL, TEPS, etc.)

지원하실분은 상주(resident) 혹은 비 비상주(non-resident) 온라인 지원서를 작성해 주시고 아래 서류를 첨부해 주시기 바랍니다. 모든 서류는 영어로 작성 되어야 합니다. 지원서 마감일은 2022년 12월 19일 입니다.

  • 학업계획서 (지원 동기)
  • 어떤 외교 정책 혹은 안보 관련 문제를 퍼시픽 포럼에서 연구할지를 포함한 연구 제안서 (abstract 최대 250단어, 연구서 최대 1500단어)
  • 대학교수 추천서
  • 재학증명서 혹은 졸업증명서
  • 학부 대학원 성적표

Please send all application materials by December 19, 2022.

PacNet #54 – Comparative Connections Summary: September 2022

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Comparative Connections Summary:
May-August 2022

REGIONAL OVERVIEW

Washington “Pivots” to Asia

BY RALPH COSSA, PACIFIC FORUM & BRAD GLOSSERMAN, TAMA UNIVERSITY CRS/PACIFIC   FORUM

The Biden administration has rediscovered Asia. And, for better or worse, so has the US Congress. While the administration’s national security documents (or at least their unclassified sneak previews) have identified the Indo-Pacific as a priority theater vital to US national security and China as “our most consequential strategic competitor and the pacing challenge,” Europe continues to steal headlines and the lion’s share of the administration’s (and international media’s) attention, thanks to Vladimir Putin and his unwarranted (and so far unsuccessful) invasion of Ukraine. While many eyes remain on Putin’s war (and NATO’s US-led solid support for Kyiv), this reporting period saw President Biden finally make his first trip to Asia to visit longstanding US allies and attend the second in-person Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) Summit. Prior to his trip, Biden hosted his first US-ASEAN Summit in Washington. Meanwhile Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken were both in Southeast Asia, respectively for the Shangri-La Dialogue and for various ASEAN-driven ministerials. These administration trips were largely overshadowed, however, by US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s controversial trip to Taiwan, the first by a House Speaker in 25 years, which was sure to—and clearly did—draw Beijing’s ire.

 

US-JAPAN RELATIONS

Abe’s Legacy and the Alliance Agenda

BY SHEILA A. SMITH, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS & CHARLES MCCLEAN, YALE MACMILLAN CENTER

It was a busy summer for the United States and Japan. President Joe Biden visited Asia, stopping first in Seoul to meet new South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, and then spending two days in Tokyo for a bilateral summit with Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and a follow-on meeting with the two other leaders of the Quad, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australia’s newly elected prime minister, Anthony Albanese. Biden announced his Indo-Pacific Economic Framework in Tokyo with Kishida by his side. Economic security legislation in both Japan and the United States revealed the unfolding strategic calculations for the alliance. National efforts to enhance economic productivity and resilience included efforts to ensure reliable supply chains for Japanese and US manufacturers as well as the desire for greater cooperation among the advanced industrial economies to dominate the next generation of technological innovation. State investment in attracting semiconductor suppliers to Japan and the United States demonstrate the urgency with which both governments seek to diminish reliance on critical technology imports.

 

US-CHINA RELATIONS

US-China Relations Sink Further Amid Another Taiwan Strait Crisis

BY BONNIE GLASER, GERMAN MARSHALL FUND OF THE US

Nancy Pelosi’s August visit to Taiwan—the first visit by a speaker of the US House of Representatives in 25 years—was met by a strong response from China that included provocative military exercises, punitive economic measures against Taiwan, and the suspension and cancellation of a series of dialogues with the United States. Just prior to Pelosi’s visit, Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping held their fifth virtual conversation since Biden’s inauguration. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered a comprehensive speech on the administration’s China strategy in late May. Biden officials debated whether to lift some of the tariffs imposed on China under the Trump administration, but as of the end of August, there was no decision to do so. Human rights remained on the US agenda, with statements issued on the anniversary of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen massacre and on the 25th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to the PRC, and a ban imposed on imports into the US of products made by forced labor in Xinjiang. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin held his first face-to-face meeting with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

 

US-KOREA RELATIONS

Split Images

BY MASON RICHEY, HANKUK UNIVERSITY & ROB YORK, PACIFIC FORUM

Lopsided: such was the state of US relations with the two Koreas during May-August 2022. The Washington-Seoul axis mostly flourished on the military/security, diplomatic, economic, and cultural fronts, while Washington and Pyongyang deepened doldrums whose depths had been plumbed in prior reporting periods. For the former, the most significant items included the May inauguration of conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and quick follow-on summit with US President Joe Biden, increasing trilateral US-South Korea-Japan cooperation, a raft of announcements on US-South Korea economic and technology cooperation, the resumption of field maneuvers in US-South Korea joint military exercises, and South Korea’s continuing growth as a serious middle power player in foreign policy, including stepped-up engagement with NATO. In US-North Korea relations, a COVID-19 outbreak failed to lead the Kim Jung Un regime to open up to outside humanitarian assistance, as Pyongyang remained content to keep borders mostly closed and allow the virus to course through the population with only basic prophylactic measures. On the positive side, Pyongyang’s hyperactive missile testing in spring slowed during summer, and a feared (yet still expected) seventh nuclear test failed to materialize.

 

US-INDIA RELATIONS

Relations at 75: Hawaii to the Himalayas

BY AKHIL RAMESH, PACIFIC FORUM

Like the saying, “after the storm comes the calm,” US-India relations witnessed four months of productive talks, cooperation, and collaboration. This contrasted with the previous trimester, mired as it was by Cold-War era differences brought about by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. There were thriving Indo-Pacific synergies and the decline of Cold War-era differences. The US and India continued and expanded cooperation on a wide array of regional and global issues, such as climate change, supply chains, and the Sri Lankan crisis. They solidified their defense partnership from Hawaii to the Himalayas through navy and military exercises. The US turned down pressure on India over Russian oil purchases and recalibrated the dialogue to address other pressing challenges. They did not avoid tough conversations, however. India reinforced its view of the US and other Western nations’ role in keeping the Indo-Pacific a safer and more open region.

 

US-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

Washington Revs Up Diplomacy with Southeast Asia

BY CATHARIN DALPINO, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

The Biden administration’s diplomatic campaign in Southeast Asia kicked into high gear in the late spring and continued through the summer. On May 12-13 President Biden co-hosted, with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen as the 2022 ASEAN chair, the first-ever US-ASEAN Special Summit to be held in Washington, DC. US relations in the region were also boosted when the Biden administration launched the long-awaited Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) on May 23; seven Southeast Asian countries indicated interest in joining, although few are likely to accede to all four pillars of the framework in the near-term. Two Cabinet officials made visits to two US treaty allies: Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Thailand in June and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to the Philippines in August. Notwithstanding continuing differences over human rights, the visits served to reaffirm the bilateral alliances. However, global and regional tensions remained high, over the persistent crisis in Ukraine; brinksmanship in the Taiwan Straits; and the internal conflict in Myanmar which has only deteriorated further. These pressures only divided ASEAN further as the region looks ahead to a trifecta of international meetings—APEC, East Asia Summit, and the G20—in the fall.

 

CHINA-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

Countering US Initiatives, Taiwan Crisis Complications

BY ROBERT SUTTER, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY & CHIN-HAO HUANG, YALE-NUS COLLEGE

Chinese enhanced activism in Southeast Asia in this reporting period focused on countering Biden administration efforts to enhance influence in the Indo-Pacific. The Chinese government intensified its depiction of the United States as disrupting regional order and portraying itself as the regional stabilizer. Beijing’s effort faced complications and uncertain prospects as Chinese military forces in August launched large-scale provocative shows of force amid strident media warnings targeting the United States over Taiwan.

 

CHINA-TAIWAN RELATIONS

Pelosi’s “Ironclad Commitment” or “Political Stunt” Leads to Crisis and Promises Instability in the Taiwan Strait

BY DAVID KEEGAN, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES & KYLE CHURCHMAN, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES

Between May 1 and Sept. 1, tensions between Taiwan and China exploded in ways few anticipated but were in retrospect the culmination of well-established dynamics. The US once again was right in the middle. On Aug. 2, US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan, which Taiwan’s government celebrated as the most important visit in at least 25 years by a US politician. She promised Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen that US support for Taiwan’s security would remain “ironclad.” On Aug. 4, the day after Pelosi departed Taiwan, China signaled its displeasure by conducting the most extensive military exercises ever conducted near Taiwan, closer to the island than any before, and launching ballistic missiles over Taiwan’s capital to land in waters east of the island. Throughout these exercises, the Chinese, Taiwan, and US militaries avoided any interactions that might have provoked confrontation. On Aug. 10, the Chinese military announced that the exercises had concluded, achieving their objectives, but that the military would continue its activities around Taiwan.

 

NORTH KOREA-SOUTH KOREA RELATIONS

An Inauspicious Start

BY AIDAN FOSTER-CARTER, LEEDS UNIVERSITY, UK

On May 10 Yoon Suk Yeol took office as ROK president, and rapidly lost popularity. While talking tough on North Korea, he also offered aid to fight COVID-19—but was ignored. His “audacious plan,” wholly unoriginal, to reward Pyongyang materially if it denuclearizes, had very little detail. For months the DPRK did not even mention Yoon. In late July Kim Jong Un sharply warned him against any pre-emptive strike. In August, his sister Kim Yo Jong put the boot in: ludicrously blaming materials sent by ROK activists for bringing COVID-19 into the DPRK, savaging Yoon’s proposal as insulting and unoriginal, and saying the North will never talk to him. At home, meanwhile, the new government chose to reopen two contentious inter-Korean episodes from the recent past, seemingly to punish its predecessor’s policies. It was hard to see how good could come of that, or to hold out hope for any thaw on the peninsula.

 

CHINA-KOREA RELATIONS

A Muted 30-Year Anniversary

BY SCOTT SNYDER, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS & SEE-WON BYUN, SAN FRANCISCO STATE UNIVERSITY

Beijing and Seoul marked 30 years of diplomatic ties on Aug. 24 as South Korea transitioned to a new administration under President Yoon Suk Yeol, who took office in May. Although early high-level exchanges reaffirmed partnership, the two leaderships confront growing pressures from US-China competition, economic uncertainty, and public hostility. Domestic priorities in China in light of the 20th Party Congress and South Korea’s shift to conservative rule amplify these concerns. The impact of US-China rivalry on the China-South Korea relationship extends from security to economic coordination, including approaches to THAAD and global supply chains, and export competition, especially in semiconductors, challenges new Xi Jinping-Yoon economic agreements. Moreover, public hostility is strongest among South Korea’s younger generation, raising pessimistic prospects for future China-South Korea ties. Despite mixed signals, false starts, and the continued absence of leader-level meetings marking the recovery of economic ties between China and North Korea, geopolitical developments have pushed the two countries closer together. Such engagement features mutual reinforcement of each other’s positions on issues of vital interest and solidarity in response to US policies.

 

JAPAN-CHINA RELATIONS

Few Positive Signs and Much Negativity

BY JUNE TEUFEL DREYER, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI

The tone of China-Japan relations became more alarmist on both sides with long-anticipated plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations still clouded with uncertainty. Several related events were canceled or postponed sine die. Internationally, Prime Minister Kishida was exceptionally active, attending meetings of the Quad, the G7, NATO, and Shangri-La Dialogue, where he delivered the keynote address. A common theme was attention to a Free and Open Pacific (FOIP) and the need for stability in the region, both of which Beijing sees as intended to constrain China. At NATO, Kishida met with US and South Korean representatives for their first trilateral meeting in nearly five years and suggested the possibility of joint military exercises. Meanwhile, China continued pressure on Taiwan and the contested Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. Although Foreign Minister Wang Yi and State Councillor Yang Jieqi were active internationally, Xi Jinping himself has not ventured outside the Chinese mainland since January 2020 save for a brief, tightly controlled visit to Hong Kong, which is unquestionably part of China.

 

JAPAN-KOREA RELATIONS

The Passing of Abe and Japan-Korea Relations

BY JI-YOUNG LEE, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY & ANDY LIM, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES

How might the passing of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo impact Tokyo’s approach to Seoul? This unexpected turn of events loomed large in the minds of many who have been cautiously optimistic that Japan and South Korea would take steps toward a breakthrough in their stalled relations. In our last issue, we discussed how this summer could provide good timing for Seoul and Tokyo to create momentum in this direction after Yoon Suk Yeol’s inauguration as president in South Korea and the Upper House election in Japan. However, the results from this summer were mixed. Seoul and Tokyo have not yet announced whether Yoon and Kishida will hold a summit any time soon. Both leaders ended the summer juggling domestic politics amid declining approval ratings. However, there were some meaningful exchanges between the two governments, signaling that both sides were interested in improving relations.

 

CHINA-RUSSIA RELATIONS

Embracing a Longer and/or Wider Conflict?

BY YU BIN, WITTENBERG UNIVERSITY

Unlike in 1914, the “guns of the August” in 2022 played out at the two ends of the Eurasian continent. In Europe, the war was grinding largely to a stagnant line of active skirmishes in eastern and southern Ukraine. In the east, rising tension in US-China relations regarding Taiwan led to an unprecedented use of force around Taiwan. Alongside Moscow’s quick and strong support of China, Beijing carefully calibrated its strategic partnership with Russia with signals of symbolism and substance. Xi and Putin directly conversed only once (June 15). Bilateral trade and mil-mil ties, however, bounced back quickly thanks to, at least partially, the “Ukraine factor” and their respective delinking from the West. At the end of August, Mikhail Gorbachev’s death meant both much and yet so little for a world moving rapidly toward a “war with both Russia and China,” in the words of Henry Kissinger.

 

AUSTRALIA-US/EAST ASIA RELATIONS

Australia’s New Government: Climate, China and AUKUS

BY GRAEME DOBELL, AUSTRALIAN STRATEGIC POLICY INSTITUTE

Australia has changed government and the political war over climate change draws to a close after raging for 15 years. The new Labor government led by Anthony Albanese promises continuity on foreign and defense policy, delivered with a different tone. In the government’s first 100 days, it chipped some ice from the frosty relationship with China. Ending a Beijing ban on meetings with Australian ministers that was in its third year, Chinese ministers had face-to-face talks with Australia’s foreign minister and defense minister. Albanese’s observation that dealing with China will continue to be difficult was demonstrated by a diplomatic duel in the South Pacific, as Canberra pushed back at Beijing’s ambition for a greater security role in islands. Two major defense announcements are due in the first months of 2023: the plan for an Australian nuclear submarine, based on the AUKUS agreement with the US and UK, plus a re-set of Australia’s military and strategic posture because of the toughest security environment in decades. Labor says the alliance with the US should go “beyond interoperability to interchangeability” so the two militaries can “operate seamlessly together at speed.”

 

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors

PacNet #29 – Hints of a new North Korea nuclear strategy

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An earlier version of this article appeared in The Japan Times.

For more from this author, visit his recent chapter of Comparative Connections.

Make no mistake: North Korea leader Kim Jong Un truly believes he needs nuclear weapons.

For years, that need reflected a single objective: the protection and maintenance of his regime. A nuclear arsenal was a defensive tool—a deterrent—to ensure that no foreign power would attack his country and end the Cold War division of the Korean Peninsula. Kim’s rationale for possessing nuclear weapons seems to be shifting and his rhetoric and accompanying military developments indicate a new focus—the acquisition of a war-fighting capability.

In the May 9 Japan Times, Gabriel Dominguez argued that North Korea wants nuclear weapons to “offset its weaknesses against the superior conventional military capabilities of the United States and regional allies Japan and South Korea.” I’m inclined to a more ominous explanation. Kim wants nuclear weapons for coercion. It looks as though Kim has resurrected his grandfather’s dream of unifying the whole of Korea under Pyongyang’s flag—and nuclear weapons will assist him in that quest.

Since they began in 2003, an uncomfortable fact has clouded negotiations to get North Korea to give up its nuclear capability: Pyongyang’s commitment to the development and acquisition of a nuclear weapon is absolute, a requisite for regime survival that cannot be bargained away. For all the talk of complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization or its subsequent variants, that wasn’t a real option.

Negotiations had two unspoken goals for the United States and like-minded governments. First, talks would buy time so pressures would build and force the collapse of North Korea. Second, they would reveal Pyongyang as unreasonable and intransigent and rally other governments behind a policy that would pressure the North to give up its weapons or collapse.

The regime proved more durable—and lucky—than many anticipated. It survived the negotiations and kept the other five parties in the Six Party Talks from uniting against it and forcing it to make concessions. It exploded its first nuclear device in October 2006, while the talks continued and has conducted five tests since—the last in September 2017. There are reports that a seventh test may occur sometime soon, perhaps in days.

Equally important has been Pyongyang’s determination to hone its delivery systems. It has steadily developed its missiles, lengthening their range, increasing throw weight, and improving mobility, which requires greater accuracy in targeting. Most recently, it is thought to be miniaturizing components, allowing it to send more payloads farther.

This year, North Korea has conducted a record 16 missile tests as of mid-May, including the testing of two intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of hitting the US homeland and a guided missile that can reportedly deliver a tactical nuclear weapon. A May 7 test-launch featured a submarine-launched ballistic missile; such missiles are harder to detect, and better-suited to a surprise attack.

The focus on smaller nuclear weapons is particularly worrisome, because it suggests that Kim now thinks he can fight a war with a tactical nuclear weapon.

Andrei Lankov, a Russian expert on the North who teaches at Kookmin University in Seoul, has been sounding the alarm. He told the Financial Times that North Korea’s strategy has changed. A program that was initially “purely defensive”—a product of fears that “without nuclear weapons they would be invaded”—is now “clearly overkill from a defensive point of view.” The new capabilities make Lankov “strongly suspect that their ultimate dream is to assert their control over South Korea.”

That was his grandfather’s dream, one that he tried to make real in 1950 with a bloody, ill-fated invasion of the South. Later, Kim Il Sung appears to have accepted co-existence with South Korea after the Cold War, although we’ll never know his actual intent in agreeing to a nuclear deal with Jimmy Carter, a proxy for President Bill Clinton, in 1994. Kim Il Sung died soon after. I’m inclined to believe that his son, Kim Jong Il, knew that reunification was impossible given the balance of forces he inherited and the appalling shape of his country.

Recent statements by Kim Jong Un and other senior officials suggest those grand ambitions have been revived. Kim last month spoke of a “secondary mission” for the country’s nuclear forces, adding that “our nuclear (arsenal) cannot be tied to this one mission of war prevention.”

Gibum Kim, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, a government-funded think tank, emailed that development of nonstrategic, low-yield nuclear weapons is consistent with statements from Kim and other officials “that they are working toward ‘diversification,’ ‘miniaturization,’ and ‘lightening.’” He also said that ambition is much longer lived, pointing to a 2016 order of Kim’s to the North Korean military to “convert (their) mode of military counteraction toward the enemies into a pre-emptive attack one in every aspect.”

Paul Choi, a military expert in Seoul, agrees with Gibum and Lankov. “North Korea’s advancing military capabilities and changing nuclear doctrine reflect Kim’s pursuit of a more coercive strategy and posture,” he explained in an email. Pyongyang “seeks to control escalation, if not dictate the terms of conflict (including its termination), and be the dominant force (the product of capabilities, commitment, and threshold of risk).” Especially worrying is Choi’s assessment that tactical nuclear weapons are aimed at being able to prevail in a fight that may include territorial expansion.

External developments have no doubt reinforced Pyongyang’s thinking. Western governments’ concern about Russian nuclear escalation to break the stalemate in Ukraine makes the North Korean pulse quicken. Western restraint and refusal to put boots on the ground as it supports Kyiv seems to underscore the deterrent effect of nuclear threats. But, Choi cautioned, North Korea is also learning “about the formidable challenge of controlling any territory with a resisting population.”

A second external development is the return to power of a conservative president in Seoul. New President Yoon Suk-yeol has promised to prioritize the alliance with the US over inter-Korean relations, which will deprive Pyongyang of a vocal advocate in otherwise skeptical capitals.

A senior member of the presidential transition committee, who worked on foreign affairs and national security, agreed that Kim Jong Un shares his grandfather’s dream of unifying the Peninsula under the North. “Diplomacy and negotiation for denuclearization have always been tools to earn more time and political space to continuously develop nuclear weapons,” the committee member says. “For Pyongyang, military threat is leverage to force the US and the ROK to accept nuclear arms reduction negotiations, a peace treaty, withdrawal of (US forces in Korea) and eventually a socialized Korean peninsula.”

Note, however, that those developments reinforce North Korean thinking. Pyongyang has its own logic and central to that thinking is the necessity of a nuclear capability; recent developments confirm existing beliefs. Or to put it differently, the outside world has limited ability to redirect North Korean policy.

There is no need to hyperventilate, however. Coercion and expansion may be the goals, but they both remain beyond Kim’s grasp. South Korea is not Ukraine. It’s a treaty ally and US commitments, conventional and nuclear, are steadfast. I’ve heard North Korean officials talk about a relationship with the US akin to that of the Soviet Union, which was characterized by nuclear parity. That’s a fantasy. A nuclear threat is not the equivalent of mutually assured destruction.

The North has a long way to go to turn its ambitions into reality. Gibum Kim explained that a test or two (or 16) isn’t enough. North Korea would have to spend lots of money to build the logistical infrastructure for nuclear use and maintenance, train for nuclear use and, “most unimaginable of all,” prepare to delegate authority to field commanders for nuclear use in wartime.

Still, the US, South Korea, and Japan must plan on continued acquisition and sharpening of North Korean nuclear capabilities and prepare to better deter and defend. Yoon has said that he wants to work more closely with Washington and Tokyo to do that, and President Joe Biden is reportedly going to reiterate nuclear assurances to US allies during his trip to the region beginning this week.

The signals must be clear to discourage Kim Jong Un from reviving those dangerous dreams of unification or miscalculating his way into a nuclear conflict.

Brad Glosserman ([email protected]) is deputy director of and visiting professor at the Center for Rule-Making Strategies at Tama University as well as senior adviser (nonresident) at Pacific Forum. He is the author of “Peak Japan: The End of Great Ambitions” (Georgetown University Press, 2019).

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

PacNet #16 – South Korea’s presidential election aftermath: Ukraine as test for a “global pivotal state”

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For more from this author, visit his recent chapter of Comparative Connections.

South Korea has watched the tragic development of war in Ukraine and—like much of the rest of the world—come down firmly on the side of Ukrainians. Seoul city authorities have displayed blue and yellow lighting on buildings and monuments to show solidarity. President Moon Jae-in and Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong have condemned Russia’s invasion and voiced support to their Ukrainian counterparts. Nongovernmental and civil society groups have launched emergency charity and humanitarian efforts, and citizens have made donations. Most substantively, South Korea has agreed to support and enforce the sanctions—spearheaded by the United States and the European Union—to impose costs on Russia.

At the same time, South Korea has been focused on its March 9 presidential election, which resulted in victory for conservative opposition candidate Yoon Suk-yeol. With a new executive team soon to enter the presidential office and ministries, South Korea’s approach toward Russia and the Ukraine war are likely to continue, but the new leadership may set different accents. New issues and challenges may also emerge depending on how the war evolves.

The nail that sticks up gets hammered down?

South Korea is a member in good standing of the international community. It is democratic, well-governed, prosperous, and peaceful. It follows international law and supports the rules-based order. Today, it does so regardless of which party is in power, so it was not surprising that Seoul chose to implement the economic sanctions, financial transaction lockout, asset freezes, and export bans against Russia. The Moon administration recognized that Russia’s invasion is not just an attack against another sovereign state, but against sovereignty tout court—a concept a formerly colonized nation appreciates—and against the rules-based order generally.

That said, South Korea’s principles are tempered by pragmatism, and the Moon administration was mindful not to be too forward in responding to Russian aggression. At first, the Blue House offered rhetorical support to Kyiv and called out the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, but was slow to condemn Russia by name. South Korea was also a follower—not a leader—in the campaign to sanction Russian entities. Seoul’s primary concern was potential blowback from Moscow, both economically and with respect to Russian support for inter-Korean relations.

South Korea has legitimate concerns, as it both exports and imports products to/from Russia. Nonetheless Seoul eventually acquiesced to the broad sanctions package, although it did negotiate inclusion on a US waiver list for certain export-ban items. Meanwhile, the Moon administration’s worry about alienating Russia as a partner for inter-Korean relations seemed primarily reflexive. Inter-Korean relations have been stagnant for years due to North Korean recalcitrance, and Seoul is a long way from sufficient rapprochement with Pyongyang such that Moscow’s support would be necessary.

For its part, Russia has indeed flashed its anger. South Korea predictably and understandably demurred from sending Ukraine lethal weapons, but that was not sufficient to prevent Moscow from placing Seoul on an “unfriendly list.” Consequently, South Korean firms owed payment in non-Russian currency will have the debt settled in rubles, which have declined drastically in value since the start of the war.

Enter Yoon Suk-yeol

In contrast with Moon’s progressive Democratic Party (DP), which tends to be more parochial and Peninsula-focused on foreign and security policy, Yoon’s conservative People Power Party (PPP) privileges more comprehensive and geographically expansive alliance alignment with the United States. Indeed Yoon’s campaign foreign policy statement committed to making South Korea a “global pivotal state.” The Russia-Ukraine war will test that commitment.

First, Yoon will need to maintain current sanctions on Russia, even if they have a negative effect on South Korea’s economy, or if Russia retaliates (including through cyberattacks). That will require crafting a narrative for the public, notably and convincingly underlining Seoul’s global role. Beyond that, the United States and European Union may strengthen sanctions, which South Korea would be expected to endorse. That could include joining a ban on the import of hydrocarbons and petrochemicals (of which South Korea imports a modest amount). There may also be cases in which Washington and/or European capitals increase pressure on China to dissuade it from assisting Russia with sanctions evasion. As a “global pivotal state,” Seoul may feel obliged to support such measures, which would risk South Korea’s economic relations with its number-one trading partner.

Finally, depending on how the war develops, South Korea may need to engage in peacekeeping and post-conflict stabilization. Seoul may be called on to participate in rebuilding efforts in Ukraine, as well as in financial assistance programs. In addition to delivering these contributions, the challenge for Yoon would be to do so in a timely way, with South Korea out front and outspoken in bilateral and multilateral fora. This would signal that South Korea is now a “global, pivotal” leader.

The specter of North Korea

Even a “global, pivotal” South Korea cannot escape the specter of Pyongyang, and the Russia-Ukraine war has provided (at this point provisional) lessons for the Korean Peninsula. Those lessons are a mixed bag.

On the one hand, both South Korea and Kim Jong Un’s leadership circle would very likely have understood how pyrrhic the Russian invasion has been. Swallowing and digesting a country with an appropriately armed and motivated population is a devilishly difficult endeavor. Furthermore, military operations with poorly motivated/trained soldiers and shambolic logistics is a recipe for disaster. Note also that South Korea is well-armed (and allied with the United States) and would be motived to defend itself, while North Korea’s military likely has poorly motivated/trained soldiers and limited logistics capabilities.

Putin’s Ukraine war illustrates why North Korea would be foolhardy to invade South Korea. South Korea is thus perhaps marginally safer from North Korean attack. Nonetheless Yoon will surely want to bolster deterrence by re-starting full-spectrum US-South Korea joint military exercises, which have fallen by the wayside under Moon (and partially due to COVID).

On the other hand, Putin’s signaling of potential nuclear escalation in Europe highlights the nexus of the stability-instability paradox, nuclear coercion, and the escalate-to-de-escalate doctrine. Both South and North Korea will keenly watch to see what kind of effects Putin’s nuclear brinksmanship produces vis-à-vis NATO and Ukraine, and whether Russia is able to meet some of its objectives in Ukraine by overcoming conventional military failure through brandishing nuclear weapons as both sword and shield. Yoon’s national security team will watch this development and perhaps need to adjust South Korea’s defense posture accordingly (in consultation with the United States), including especially extended nuclear deterrence.

Conclusions

The Russia-Ukraine war will likely offer both opportunities and risks to the Yoon administration, and there are steps the administration can take to rise to the challenge. First, Yoon should prepare the ground for South Korea’s enhanced prominence as a “global, pivotal state.” Having greater voice in global and regional affairs increases influence and weight, but also means more responsibilities and costs. The South Korean public needs to be convinced of the value of this path. For example, Yoon has made a commitment to leading more in support of democracy and the rules-based order—this implies calling out the predatory behavior of certain states, which South Korea has not often done forcefully. Doing so can attract unwanted attention, and South Korea must be prepared.

On the conventional deterrence front, in addition to re-starting full US-South Korea joint military exercises, the Yoon administration should review South Korea’s defense procurement to make sure it has the right systems and equipment for national defense, notably for a nation with a dramatically declining population of males eligible for military service. In particular, the Yoon administration will need to take a hard look at the value of big-ticket items such as a planned light aircraft carrier. The efficiency of resources allocated for indigenous missile defense assets will also require close examination.

As for extended nuclear deterrence, Yoon may wish to reiterate his openness to the United States eventually re-stationing tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea, although Washington has already rebuffed this request during his campaign. More plausibly, Yoon and his senior security and defense officials should consider working more closely with Washington on nuclear planning for the Korean Peninsula, with the objective of further institutionalizing shared nuclear planning and strategy, akin to NATO.

Mason Richey ([email protected]) is Associate Professor of international politics at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, South Korea and Senior Contributor at the Asia Society (Korea).

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Photo: Yoon Suk-yeol, South Korea’s president-elect and former top prosecutor, speaks at his campaign office after his election win. Source: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg News