PacNet #39 – Covid-19 Recovery: Re-energizing Hawaii with Regional Insights

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As part of our long-standing Honolulu International Forum, the Pacific Forum launched a special virtual series, “Covid-19 Recovery: Re-energizing Hawaii with Regional Insights,” to provide Hawaii’s policy leaders with insights from the region to inform both its public health and economic responses to Covid-19.

Below is a summary of Covid-19 Recovery highlights with a link to key insights from each talk, which we hope will be valuable to our readers well beyond Hawaii.

  1. Taiwan (April 24, 2020)

Taiwan has been able to avoid wide-spread public shutdowns, containing the spread to relatively low numbers. Much of Taiwan’s success has been due to lessons learned during the SARS and MERS outbreaks, which impressed upon the Taiwanese public the importance of following guidelines from relevant authorities. The talk by Michael Y.K. Tseng, Director General of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Honolulu, Hawaii, focused on three main themes: technology and big data, community measures, and organizational structure.

Technology and Big Data: Taiwan officials integrated the national health insurance database with the immigration database to track the 14-day travel histories and symptoms of citizens returning from high-risk countries. Taiwan’s “digital fence” monitoring system allowed it to monitor quarantined individuals in real time.

Community measures: Taiwan has not enacted widespread public shutdowns, adopting effective community measures instead. These included wearing masks in confined areas, granting healthcare access to foreign workers, and adopting social distancing measures in schools.

Organizational structure: Taiwan CDC allocated the key tasks of identification and treatment of new cases to two separate groups. This approach sought to eliminate a potential conflict of interest, giving the “hunting” group a free hand to identify infected individuals without having the responsibility to also treat them.

  1. South Korea (May 6, 2020)

South Korea has been widely praised as a Covid-19 success story, avoiding wide-spread public shutdowns and counting a low number of deaths. Dr. Victor Cha, Professor and Vice-dean at Georgetown University and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies described South Korea’s response as centered on four main themes: the importance of early, decisive action; the ability to quickly deploy innovative measures; and resources for contact tracing. He also provided insight into North Korea’s handling of the crisis. 

Early action: Despite a slow start and some initial mistakes, within a month of detecting the first imported case of Covid-19, the government rolled out a robust response and testing regime, elevating the infectious disease alert level to the highest category.

Innovative healthcare facilities and reorganization of existing ones: South Korea developed drive-through testing facilities to meet the high testing demand and avoid widespread infections in hospitals. It also designated some hospitals for Covid-19 patients only.

Contact tracing: Two main mobile apps have been developed to track patients and help the public avoid outbreak areas. They provide information regarding Covid-19 patients’ recent locations and other details without revealing names or identities.

North Korea: North Korea’s response to Covid-19 is consistent with its past behavior during Ebola and MERS: closing its borders and shutting down domestic and international travel, then asking for international assistance a few months later.

  1. Singapore (May 14, 2020)

Despite early virus chains of transmission, Singapore has experienced no exponential rise in new cases for about three months until a recent surge took place, forcing the country to enter a “circuit breaker” period in early April. Benjamin Ang, Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), discussed the “ecosystem” of Covid-19 services and how various tools can assist human tracers and the public at large.

Contact tracing: The Government Technology Agency of Singapore developed the mobile app “TraceTogether” to aid the efforts of the contact tracing teams, thereby reducing the spread of Covid-19. TraceTogether does not track the user’s location but instead uses Bluetooth to determine if the user has been in close proximity with another user of the app.

Technological innovations: New technologies have facilitated business operations in different areas such as e-commerce, delivery services, wet market live streaming, and home-based learning. Robots are being used to encourage social distancing and monitor crowd density in parks.

Travel quarantine: Singapore has striven to simplify its 14-day mandatory quarantine system for travelers by presenting new arrivals with a pre-designated quarantine itinerary and utilizing existing infrastructure like empty hotels.

  1. INDO-PACOM (May 21, 2020)

Dr. John Wood, Director of United States Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) J9 Pacific Outreach discussed the Department of Defense’s perspectives on responding to the pandemic. His talk focused on INDOPACOM’s readiness to support the State of Hawaii, regional partners, and allies, and how the military will continue to contribute to the state’s economy.

Support for the State of Hawaii: INDOPACOM’s primary focus is to protect the health and safety of servicemembers while maintaining the force’s readiness to respond to challenges in the region and carry out its mission. It is also standing by to help Hawaii as well as Guam, American Samoa, the Compact of Free Association (COFA) states, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Maintaining friends, allies, partners, and readiness during the pandemic: The US Navy will host a modified version of the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises this year. USAID, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Defense are providing financial aid and equipment to countries in INDOPACOM’s area of responsibility.

Building up Hawaii’s non-tourism economy: While Washington has the lion’s share of resources, Hawaii’s strength is that it is home to the region’s leading authorities on Asia-Pacific affairs. Hawaii-based institutions excel in environmental stewardship, sustainable and renewable energy, and Pacific Islands relations.

  1. Japan (May 28, 2020)

Dr. Kazuto Suzuki, Vice Dean and Professor of International Politics at Public Policy School of Hokkaido University discussed Japan’s approach to managing Covid-19. Japan has successfully contained the number of deaths without introducing strict lockdowns and pervasive testing policies. Dr. Suzuki’s talk focused on three main themes: Japan’s overall strategy, testing and contact tracing, and cultural norms.

“Hammer and Dance” strategy: Japan’s strategy does not aim to eliminate the virus but to distribute its spread over a longer period, creating a sustainable balance between public health and the economy. The “hammer” refers to the imposition of draconian measures when there is an exponential increase in new cases, whereas the “dance” refers to the use of containment measures to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

Limited resources guiding testing and tracing regimes: The role of testing has been limited due to low supplies of testing kits and concerns over the accuracy of results. Local health centers in each community have conducted contact tracing by phone.

Role of culture and social stigma: Certain social norms in Japan support compliance with public health measures, such as good hygiene and high scientific literacy. In addition to low-contact gestures such as bowing, face coverings are widely used in Japan.

  1. New Zealand (June 1, 2020)

New Zealand has been able to contain the spread of Covid-19 imposing strict measures since the very outset of the outbreak. Its strategy has been successful, and Prime Minister Jacinta Arden declared the country “virus-free” in early June. Dr. Jane Rovins, Senior Lecturer and International Coordinator at the Joint Centre for Disaster Research (JCDR) at Massey University described New Zealand’s “go hard, go early” approach to managing the Covid-19 public health crisis and the nation’s emerging path to economic recovery.

Travel: New Zealand suspended domestic travel during its highest level of alert, then gradually eased restrictions on movement as the emergency deescalated. International travel remains limited to specific class visas, and all incoming travelers are placed in managed isolation facilities for 14 days.

Economy: New Zealand has elaborated financial support schemes to help businesses and their employees recover from the effects of Covid-19.

Community & social distancing measures: The measures adopted varied depending on the alert level. Measures included movement restrictions, school closures, and limited-to-no public gatherings. The government has left the choice of using masks up to citizens.

Public messaging, enforcement, and protecting vulnerable communities: Covid-19 multimedia messaging translated into numerous languages allowed the government to be open and transparent and connect with all community groups about the public health crisis.

  1. Australia (June 25, 2020)

Australia has been able to successfully suppress Covid-19, flattening the curve and significantly reducing the rate of transmission. Ambassador Jane Hardy, Australia’s Consul-General in Honolulu, discussed Australia’s strategy for managing the Covid-19 pandemic. Her talk emphasized the country’s highly internationalized nature and its holistic approach to recovery on both the national and regional levels.

Public health measures: Australia adopted a strategy of “suppression” as opposed to one of elimination, which included a complete lockdown followed by a phased opening of society divided in three steps. Contact tracing was supported by the adoption of a mobile app, and testing was expanded to include asymptomatic cases.

Travel and tourism: Domestic travel has increased as many Australians are traveling within the country’s borders. Australia and New Zealand have been discussing the possibility of implementing a “Trans-Tasman Bubble,” i.e., opening travel between Australia and New Zealand without requiring travelers to undergo 14-day quarantines.

Economic assistance measures: Australia’s government passed a suite of economic packages supporting the workforce and healthcare, including aid for aboriginal communities. Australia has also reframed aid and the capabilities of its programs supporting its Pacific Island neighbors and Southeast Asia as Covid-19 resilience and response efforts.

In summary, while there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to managing the virus, these countries took the challenge seriously with timely steps to mitigate the impact. Various factors have contributed to certain Asia-Pacific countries’ success, including definitive government action, experience with epidemics like SARS and MERS, and cultural norms, resulting in better timeliness, preparedness, and ability to adapt as circumstances changed. Asia-Pacific countries deployed efficient testing and contact tracing systems, tailored technological solutions, and community measures. The United States has contributed to the regional pandemic response by providing financial aid and equipment to countries in INDOPACOM’s area of responsibility. Visit our website for other Covid-19 related research and perspectives, such as a living document analyzing successful response measures of regional economies.

Eugenio Benincasa (eugenio@pacforum.org) is a resident WSD-Handa Fellow at Pacific Forum.

Crystal Pryor (crystal@pacforum.org) is Director of Non-proliferation, Technology, and Fellowships at Pacific Forum.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

PacNet #30 – South Korea’s Imperfect but Maturing Democracy

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May 18, 2020, marked the 40th anniversary of the Gwangju Uprising in South Korea, when South Korea’s military government killed hundreds of protesters in the southwest city of Gwangju. To this day, the full death toll is not known and it is a matter of great controversy, with many South Korean conservatives still claiming that the uprising was a communist-inspired rebellion backed by North Korea.

On May 17, just a day before the 40th anniversary, a member of South Korea’s progressive ruling party, Rep. Lee Gae-ho, said that he would introduce an amendment to the 2010 “Special 5.18 Democracy Movement Bill.”

His amendment, if passed through South Korea’s unicameral National Assembly, where the ruling party now enjoys an overwhelming majority, would punish those who “distort, slander, and fabricate historical truth” or “defame pro-democracy persons or agencies” by up to seven years in prison or a ₩70 million (US$57,000) fine.

Such laws are not unprecedented in South Korea. There are similar laws concerning “comfort women,” or the victims of Imperial Japanese wartime sexual slavery. In 2013, Sejong University Professor Park Yu-ha wrote in her book, Comfort Women of the Empire, that there was no evidence that the Japanese government was officially involved in forcibly recruiting the women from Korea into brothels to serve the Imperial Japanese Army. A South Korean court ordered Park to pay ₩10 million to each of nine women who had filed suit because she had “defamed the women with ‘false,’ ‘exaggerated,’ or ‘distorted’ content in her book.”

Although Park lost the civil lawsuit, a judge acquitted her in the criminal lawsuit a year later on the grounds of protecting academic freedom.

However, the message was loud and clear. It can be dangerous to challenge conventional wisdom in South Korea, especially when it comes to historically delicate issues.

Codifying the truth into law, naturally, sparks concern. Declassified documents released by the US State Department showed that some members of the US Embassy in South Korea in 1980 viewed the uprising as “a provincial insurrection” by “unidentified armed radicals who are talking of setting up a revolutionary government.” Records specify that “rioters have broken into armories and seized weapons, live ammunition, and demolitions.”

It is not implausible to imagine that someone who might say that the protesters who were killed in Gwangju were not unarmed martyrs who were sacrificed on the altar of democracy might face similar kinds of punishments and harassments. As Park Yu-ha proves, this is not unprecedented.

However, it would be wrong to be overly concerned about the “fragility” of South Korea’s democracy. Over the past few years, democracy has been on the retreat throughout the world. The Democracy Index, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, even demoted the US from a “full democracy” to “flawed democracy” in 2016.

However, unlike many democracies around the world, South Korea has bucked that trend. When populist leaders around the world burned the fires of nationalism, the South Korean public protested peacefully for months to end one presidency viewed as rife with corruption and incompetence and replaced it with one that promised to guarantee the rule of law. Having learned what not to do from former President Park Geun-hye, President Moon Jae-in’s government is the most transparent in South Korea’s history.

Democratic principles and the rule of law do not appear overnight. Forty years ago, South Korean military helicopters fired upon the people of Gwangju. There are people to this day who still live with the pain and scars inflicted by their government. Some don’t know what happened to their families. Today, South Korea is one of the most vibrant democracies in the world.

Compared to the US, where some states still had anti-miscegenation laws until 1967, South Korea’s democratization has been lightning fast, and been nothing short of breathtaking. If the US is the beacon of the free world, South Korea is one of its crown jewels.

Like many countries around the world, South Korea is currently grappling with the balance between preserving the right to free expression and stymying the dissemination of misinformation. Misinformation could be an ongoing part of a hostile nation’s military PSYOP campaign or merely the machinations of opportunistic partisans. Regardless of origin, what is undeniable is that people’s inability to agree on objective truths is an existential challenge that all democratic nations face today.

The argument certainly can be made that, as understandable as this challenge might be, the government might not be the best arbiter of truth. In 2015, when a different government was in charge of South Korea, it attempted to require schools to issue state-issued history textbooks that would allow students to “gain a balanced view on the country and its history without leaning toward any particular ideology.” The much-criticized measure failed because just before the textbooks were to be issued, the government found itself in a political scandal that would ultimately lead to its dissolution.

Democracy, as the world has come to learn, is fragile, and South Korea’s democracy is flawed. The challenge of having to balance the preservation of the right to free expression and the suppression of misinformation is an all too recognizable one. Most frustratingly, there is probably no easy answer that can satisfy anyone across the entire political spectrum.

However, one thing is certain. Regardless of what balance it ends up with, South Korea is not shying away from one of the most fundamental challenges of our time, which is truly admirable.

John Lee (johnwlee1013@gmail.com) is a blogger and freelance writer and columnist whose work has appeared in NK News. He has also been featured in Channel News Asia, the South China Morning Post, and La Croix. He lives in South Korea. Twitter: @koreanforeigner.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

PacNet #27 – Comparative Connections Summary- May 2020 Issue

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COMPARATIVE CONNECTIONS SUMMARY- MAY 2020 ISSUE

REGIONAL OVERVIEW

THE PANDEMIC SPREADS AND THE WORLD RESPONDS

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

The COVID-19 pandemic challenged the international community’s ability to respond, and looks to take a heavy and enduring toll on the global economy. International focus on the pandemic should not cause us to overlook other significant events: increased Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea and toward Hong Kong and Taiwan, growing China-Australia tensions, the non-summit between President Trump and ASEAN leaders, South Korean elections, and a dispute over host nation support which raised questions about the ROK-US alliance. Meanwhile, the disappearance of Kim Jong Un from the public eye raised questions about how prepared the world is for dealing with a sudden leadership change on the Korean Peninsula.

US-JAPAN RELATIONS

COVID-19 OVERTAKES JAPAN AND THE UNITED STATES

BY SHEILA A. SMITH, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS & CHARLES MCCLEAN, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN DIEGO

It took time for Tokyo and Washington to understand the scope of the COVID-19 crisis, as the virus continues to spread in both Japan and the United States. The routine that would normally define US-Japan relations has been set aside, but it is too early to draw inferences about what this pandemic might mean for the relationship, for Asia, or indeed for the world. At the very least, the disease confounded plans in the United States and Japan for 2020. COVID-19 upended the carefully developed agenda for post-Abe leadership transitions in Japan and threw President Trump, already campaigning for re-election in the November presidential race, into a chaotic scramble to cope with the worst crisis in a century.

US-CHINA RELATIONS

US-CHINA RELATIONS HIT NEW LOWS AMID PANDEMIC

BY BONNIE GLASER, CSIS & KELLY FLAHERTY, CSIS

The COVID-19 virus sent US-China relations into a tailspin as 2020 opened. Recriminations flew over who was responsible for the virus that killed hundreds of thousands of people and brought economic activity to a halt. The Trump administration took a series of measures against Chinese media organizations and journalists in the United States, which provoked Beijing to expel US journalists working in China. The Phase 1 trade deal was signed, and some tariffs were lifted, though the COVID-19 outbreak hampered China’s ability to purchase the promised amount of US goods and services. With the 2020 US presidential election picking up speed, Trump campaign strategists are actively targeting China.

US-KOREA RELATIONS

FAILING TO FIND COMMON CAUSE

BY ROB YORK, PACIFIC FORUM & HARRY KAZIANIS, CENTER FOR NATIONAL INTEREST

The US impasse with both Koreas carried over into 2020, with little official contact with North Korea and negotiations with South Korea over troop burden-sharing going into overtime. The global pandemic forced all three governments to make sharp adjustments, with President Trump reaching out to both Seoul and Pyongyang to either offer or solicit assistance. But in both cases, the rifts appear too deep to forget, even in the face of a shared catastrophe like COVID-19.

US-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

FIGHTING THE PANDEMIC, ASEAN BRACES FOR ECONOMIC PAIN

BY CATHARIN DALPINO, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

Many Southeast Asian countries’ growth rates have been stripped to near zero by COVID-19, and leaders expect a crisis that could exceed that of the Asian Financial Crisis. The pandemic defined Southeast Asia’s diplomatic relations from March, with high-level meetings moved to video conferences. The US-ASEAN summit, scheduled for March 24, was postponed but no new date has been announced. With US elections ramping up and questions about the COVID-19 pandemic outstanding, a 2020 US-ASEAN summit appears unlikely.

CHINA-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

FROM LOW PRIORITY TO HIGH TENSIONS

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

For most of the first four months of 2020, China’s generally low priority treatment of Southeast Asia featured cooperation on the coronavirus, standard treatment of South China Sea issues, and a visit by Xi Jinping to Myanmar. However, April saw tensions rise in the South China Sea, with an increase in US criticism of Chinese actions and US military moves against Chinese challenges as well as Chinese initiatives and ongoing provocations.

CHINA-TAIWAN RELATIONS

CORONAVIRUS EMBITTERS CROSS-STRAIT RELATIONS

BY DAVID G. BROWN, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES & KYLE CHURCHMAN, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY

After President Tsai Ing-wen won re-election and her Democratic Progressive Party retained its legislative majority, COVID-19 dominated the news, further embittered cross-strait relations, and provoked a sharp confrontation over Taiwan’s involvement in the World Health Organization. Beijing conducted more military operations near the island in response to concern that Taiwan is pushing independence, and the Trump and Tsai administrations strengthened ties. The opposition Kuomintang chose a younger, reform-minded leader following the latest in a series of defeats.

NORTH KOREA-SOUTH KOREA RELATIONS

TESTING TIMES

BY AIDAN FOSTER-CARTER, LEEDS UNIVERSITY, UK

Inter-Korean relations stayed frozen in the early part of 2020. ROK President Moon Jae-in’s outreach was hardly reciprocated by Kim Jong Un, whose sister snapped back when Seoul mildly criticized Pyongyang’s missile launches in March. For both Koreas the challenge of COVID-19 was overwhelming, yet the North refused any cooperation on this. In April Moon’s liberal party scored a big win in parliamentary elections; two DPRK defectors gained seats for the conservative opposition. Kim caused a global media frenzy by briefly vanishing from view. Moon has less than two years left in office, so Kim’s shunning of him looks short-sighted.

CHINA-KOREA RELATIONS

CHINA-KOREA RELATIONS UNDER QUARANTINE

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

The outbreak of COVID-19, first in China and then in South Korea, placed plans for a highly anticipated summit between Xi Jinping and Moon Jae-in on hold. Beijing and Seoul’s priorities focused on fighting the virus together through aid exchanges, a new inter-agency mechanism led by their foreign ministries, and multilateral cooperation with Japan and ASEAN. As cases spread across borders, political frictions emerged over entry bans and relief supplies. The public health crisis triggered efforts to mitigate its socioeconomic repercussions, raising questions over  long-term US influence. The virus also dramatically interrupted the normal diplomatic and economic interactions between China and North Korea.

JAPAN-CHINA RELATIONS

SINO-JAPANESE RELATIONS: IN A HOLDING PATTERN

BY JUNE TEUFEL DREYER, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI

Politically, the major news in Japan-China relations was that Xi Jinping’s long-anticipated state visit was postponed. While the coronavirus was a factor, the two sides had also been unable to agree on the text of the Fourth Communiqué, and there was considerable opposition within Japan to the visit due to issues between them. Several major Japanese companies announced major investments in the People’s Republic of China, even as the Japanese government agreed to subsidize companies to move their supply chains out of the country.

JAPAN-KOREA RELATIONS

PRAGMATIC STABILITY, LATENT TENSIONS

BY MINTARO OBA, WEST WING WRITERS & JI-YOUNG LEE, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY

In the first months of 2020, Japan and South Korea maintained pragmatic stability despite a brief flare-up over travel restrictions. The need to prioritize recovery from COVID-19 pushed both countries to focus on domestic issues. With the landslide victory of the ruling Democratic Party in April parliamentary elections in South Korea, it is not likely that Seoul’s approach to bilateral disputes with Tokyo will undergo fundamental change anytime soon. With the US presidential election six months away, stalemate in US-South Korea military cost-sharing talks and volatility surrounding North Korea form an important backdrop to uncertainties in the South Korea-Japan bilateral relationship. By September, we may know whether it is pragmatic stability or latent tension that is the defining force in South Korea-Japan relations in 2020.

CHINA-RUSSIA RELATIONS

ENDING STRATEGIC DISTANCING IN THE ERA OF SOCIAL DISTANCING

BY YU BIN, WITTENBERG UNIVERSITY

In the first four months of 2020, as COVID-19 raged throughout the world, Russia and China increased, and even intensified, their diplomatic interactions, mutual support, and strategic coordination. Patience for maintaining an informal entente, rather than an alliance, seemed to be running thin. This happened even as the city of Moscow’s own brief “Chinese exclusion” policy evoked sharp dissonance in China’s public space. These developments occurred against the backdrop of a Middle East crisis and political shakeup in Russia. As the rest of the world sank into a state of despair, disconnect, and devastation, the two large powers moved visibly toward each other amid an increasing backlash from the US, particularly regarding China’s early actions in the pandemic.

JAPAN-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

GREAT DISRUPTION: UNCERTAINTY OVER THE INDO-PACIFIC

BY KEI KOGA, NANYANG TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY

Japan and Southeast Asia faced completely different situations in 2019 and 2020 because of the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, Japan-Southeast Asia relations were continuously positive. One of the major developments among Southeast Asian states was the creation of the “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific,” (AOIP) which resonated with the principles in Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP) concept. As a result, Japan expressed explicit support for AOIP. Functionally, they made progress, particularly in the fields of defense, infrastructure development, and digital, as illustrated by various Japanese initiatives—“Vientiane Vision2.0,” “Initiative on Overseas Loan and Investment for ASEAN,” and “Data Free Flow with Trust.” As such, both Japan and Southeast Asian states began to synthesize their respective visions of the Indo-Pacific and to establish concrete cooperative mechanisms. Diplomatic momentum was put on halt in 2020 as COVID-19 spread. While Japan, Southeast Asian states, and ASEAN made efforts to coordinate counter-measures, share information and best practices, and provide mutual assistance through teleconferences such as the Special ASEAN Plus Three Summit on Coronavirus Disease 2019 in April 2020, each state faces different social and political situations, making it difficult to cooperate. As such, great uncertainty looms over Japan-Southeast Asia cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

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PacNet #11 – Two tasks for making US-ROK troop burden sharing sustainable

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Why have US-South Korean negotiations over a new military cost-sharing deal been so contentious? Yes, the size of the US “ask” is significantly larger than in the past. But negotiations also have been complicated by the fact that South Korea is nearing a legislative election on April 15. The latest meeting between US Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper and South Korean Minister of Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo at the Pentagon on February 24 failed to yield a breakthrough.

The US position is that the cost of common defense cannot fall disproportionately to US taxpayers. Yet without taking into account the political necessity of persuading the Korean citizenry that any increase is reasonable and justifiable, a hefty increase in South Korea’s contribution risks fraying this crucial alliance.

The Trump administration is aggressively negotiating a new framework for the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) that governs how the two countries split costs for maintaining 28,500 US soldiers based on the Korean peninsula. Demanding that allies make higher contributions for mutual defense costs has been a priority for the US president since the 2016 campaign trail.

The US “ask” reportedly began at nearly $5 billion annually, a five-fold increase from South Korea’s current contribution of KRW 1.039 trillion ($875 million), a request that shocked both the Korean negotiators and the Korean public. The US seeks to broaden the scope of the agreement to include funds for rotational troops and other military assets—which is far more expansive than the current framework. Enhanced transparency is especially important with an upcoming election so the Korean public can better understand the U.S. position.

Negotiations are now in overtime. The 10th and most recent SMA expired December 31 and the two countries face their seventh round of negotiations with a wide gap remaining. The US has stated that it will start furloughing thousands of Korean workers paid under the SMA if a new agreement is not reached. Never before has the US gone that far.

Often overlooked in discussions about these difficult talks is the need for broad South Korean political buy-in. Notably, a new SMA does not require US congressional approval, but it does require ratification by the democratically elected South Korean National Assembly, the members of which are highly attuned to public sentiment.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is not up for re-election in April (presidents are limited to a single five-year term), but all 300 National Assembly seats are in play.

If the Trump administration wants a deal it faces two tasks. One is political, to win over both South Korean public sentiment and the National Assembly. For that to happen, greater transparency in the American ask is necessary, and greater emphasis in explaining its logic to the South Korean electorate.

The stakes are high. The South Korean press has provided blanket coverage of the SMA negotiations and the US demands. As a result, anti-American protesters have staged rallies and one group even broke into the grounds of the ambassador’s residence.

Recent polls have revealed some incipient fissures in South Korean public opinion. In early December, a Chicago Council on Global Affairs poll found an overwhelming majority (92%) of the Korean public supports the US alliance and three-quarters (74%) support the long-term stationing of American soldiers in South Korea. The poll also revealed that “a clear majority (68%) believe South Korea should negotiate a lower cost than America’s new proposal, but most are willing to pay more than the current amount. One-quarter (26%), however, said South Korea should refuse to pay. If the two countries fail to reach a deal, a majority would be willing to see US forces in South Korea reduced, a potentially dangerous development that would be welcomed by China and North Korea.

South Korea can afford to pay more, and it should: more strategic assets are now required to defend South Korea and the East Asia region from North Korea’s increasingly potent missile and nuclear threats. As a share of GDP, Korea pays more than Japan and Germany for its own defense, but a higher price tag for the US military presence may be justified based on these changing conditions.  The task yet to be taken up by US negotiators is to clearly explain the new formula.

The second task is strategic. The Trump administration should agree to allow the SMA to once again become a multiyear agreement and not continue the process of annual renewals that it instituted last year. This would minimize disruption—and tension—in this important alliance. Former US Forces Korea Commander Vincent Brooks has gone on record arguing that one-year renewals cause “structural instability” and should be replaced by three-to-five year deals.

The US-ROK alliance has successfully deterred aggression from North Korea as well as China for nearly seven decades. It has led to a flourishing of economic and cultural exchanges that has significantly benefited both countries. Failure to find common ground is counterproductive to a shared deterrence posture and faith that the US and its ally will credibly deter in crisis. That, in turn, has broader ramifications.

The time is now for the United States and South Korea to come to terms on a deal that works for both sides. The smooth functioning of the alliance should not be impaired by an accounting impasse that loses sight of the incalculable benefits from 70 years of partnership.

Kathleen Stephens (president@keia.org) is the chair of the New York City-based Korea Society, the president of the Korea Economic Institute and a former ambassador to South Korea from 2008 to 2011.

Thomas Byrne (president@koreasociety.org) is the president of the Korea Society and was the Asia-Pacific regional manager for Moody’s Sovereign Risk Group.

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PacNet #10 – Why North Korean human rights is a regional security issue

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This article originally appeared at The Daily NK and is reprinted with permission.

Whatever the rationale, I had some tentative hope at the end of 2017 and start of 2018 that the Trump administration would do the right thing on North Korea. While President Donald Trump’s speech to Seoul’s National Assembly in November 2017 was mostly lauded for its praise of South Korea and their success in modernizing, as well as his relative restraint in threatening North Korea, he also used his speech to highlight the North’s mistreatment of its own citizens. His State of the Union address the following January highlighted not only the Warmbier family, who lost their son Otto to the North’s predations, but also North Koreans who risked life and health to escape.

Then, in February 2018, Trump met with escapees from North Korea. After listening to their “amazing” stories, he was implored to do more to bring attention to their plight, especially the repatriation of defectors back to the North from China.

North Korea’s crimes against humanity have been documented extensively by human rights advocates such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. And yet, such aggression against the rights, dignity, and even the lives of North Korean citizenry consistently takes a back seat to the threat posed by its nuclear and missile programs.

The closest human rights have ever come to centrality in discussion on North Korea took place in the latter half of 2014, following the release of the report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK. The report catalogued the state’s sustained assault on freedoms of speech, religion, and association, the routine sexual violence—particularly against women in its prison camps—and the government’s role in exacerbating the catastrophic famine of the 1990s. Its panel explicitly compared North Korea’s atrocities to the Holocaust. One member even suggested that the regime’s very nature was incompatible with human rights reform.

This led, later in 2014, to resolutions at the UN General Assembly and Security Council condemning these abuses. While Russia and China prevented actual punitive measures at the UNSC, the UNGA ultimately adapted the resolution after dozens of countries co-sponsored it.

More than five years removed from those votes, a pair of things stand out. One is how North Korea itself reacted to the news. While most observers saw China and Russia’s veto of the resolution at the UNSC as inevitable, Pyongyang appeared rattled by the proceedings, launching unhinged and personalized attacks on members of the panel and leaders supportive of the resolution. It attempted to articulate an alternative vision of human rights, and attempted to discredit defectors who served as witnesses (with mixed results).

Along the way, they revealed that the attacks on the “dignity of the Supreme Leadership” uniquely difficult to bear.

Secondly was how quickly a pair of engagement-minded leaders, former presidents Barack Obama and Park Geun-hye, embraced the resolution. Both had been elected promising a different (i.e. warmer) relationship with the North following a deterioration of ties under their predecessors. Both had reached out to Pyongyang with proposals—Park’s were (crudely) rejected out of hand; at least one of Obama’s was embraced in 2012, only to have its spirit violated shortly thereafter.

Obama and Park’s embrace of the human rights agenda for North Korea, late and half-hearted as it was, was the right thing to do. That they probably did so for the wrong reasons—diplomacy had gone nowhere and they appeared unsure of their next move—matters little in the end.

Except as a contrast to the actions of their predecessors. Moon Jae-in has shown no interest, and instead focused on an agenda of inter-Korean reconciliation. To the extent that he has shown a passion for human rights, it’s in those of Koreans victimized by Japan decades ago.

As for Trump, the exceedingly brief period between the end of 2017 and start of 2018 represents the totality of his engagement with the issue. Instead, he sought to strike a deal and rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons—a dilemma a generation of American diplomats failed to resolve before him. The reason for that is something North Korea seems to know, though its US and South Korean interlocutors appear not to—neither peaceful unification nor peaceful coexistence with democratic South Korea is possible while Pyongyang exercises the right to violate its subjects’ human rights at will.

As long as neither of those are possible, North Korea will defend itself with nuclear weapons. This realization does not mean ruling out negotiations, and it does not mean opening the door to war for regime change. It only means doing the right thing—giving a voice to escapees, supplying those in the country with information and a means of escape, and working with the international community to speak with one voice on the subject.

Since Washington seeks to avoid both war and the recognition of North Korea’s nuclear status, avoiding human rights means perpetual stalemate.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

YL Blog #27: Reinforcing the US Extended Deterrence in the ROK and Japan

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I attended the US-ROK-Japan Trilateral Strategic Dialogue on September 5-6, 2019 in Maui, Hawaii as a part of Pacific Forum Young Leaders delegation. In this piece, I would like to discuss key lessons of the dialogue session at Maui and lay out next steps for trilateral security cooperation.

Nuclear Policy Discussions among Allies

First of all, participants from the ROK and Japan expressed concerns over the credibility of the US extended deterrence with President Trump’s statements on downplaying the role of alliance. While the working level relationship is robust and alliance coordination mechanism is well in place, there were increasing concerns over the prospect of high-level decision to abort or undermine alliance commitment. As a result, a few participants from the ROK and Japan invoked an example of the US-NATO nuclear sharing to illustrate a way to enhance the US extended deterrence in East Asia.

On the other hand, the US participants expressed subtle opposition against the NATO style nuclear sharing on two grounds. First, the US side urged the ROK and Japanese counterparts to understand better what it takes to have NATO style nuclear sharing, both in operation and burden sharing. The US side questioned whether the ROK and Japan are ready to operationalize and plan nuclear weapons into its respective national security planning, while in mindful of public opinion and potential oppositions. Second, and less explicitly articulated during the discussion, the US participants expressed its concern over escalation control during crisis. The sharing of nuclear weapons, though neither the ROK nor Japan will be able to launch it without consultation with the US in advance, invites uncertainty of controlling escalation from the US side.

Requirements of Coordinated Nuclear Policy

Nevertheless, all three nations agreed in principle that there is a need to enhance allies’ nuclear policy discussions. Such discussion will have to bear in mind the following consequences. First, nuclear policy discussion requires responsibility for all actors, both in operational and financial terms. The US domestic decision making on nuclear sharing notwithstanding, the ROK and Japan should assess the pros and cons of NATO-style nuclear sharing option in terms of its implication on allies’ force structure and costs of such planning. Second, domestic opinion of each nation should be taken into consideration – in particular that of Japan. Co-operating nuclear weapons with the US can invite strong opposition from domestic factions, considering Japanese views on the role of nuclear weapons. Third, broader regional security situation – China and Russia – has to be considered to minimize the potential oppositions from regional actors. While nuclear sharing options may suffice as critical national interest, regional actors may beg to differ and advance its own nuclear posture.

At the same time, North Korea factor should be considered when measuring the pros and cons of nuclear sharing option. In other words, we need to calculate whether the marginal benefit of nuclear sharing option exceeds the negative costs of the DPRK’s enhancement of its nuclear weapons program. It is possible, without full confidence on the US extended deterrence, that the ROK and Japan will develop its own nuclear arsenal or take other measures necessary to compensate for lacking US extended deterrence. Such prevention of nuclear proliferation in the region itself is certainly a benefit. In addition, co-operation of nuclear assets in the region could bolster strong deterrence against adversaries including but not limited to North Korea alone. On the other hand, it has to be noted that the DPRK has expressed critical views on the US-ROK combined military exercises, with or without the US strategic assets such as B-52 bombers. It is certainly the case that the DPRK will respond in its kind on the ROK and Japan’s decision to co-operate the US nuclear weapons in the region.  

Will Coordinated Nuclear Policy Solve Allies’ Concerns? 

Separate, however equally important, issue is that the nuclear sharing option may not address the root cause of allies’ concern on the US extended deterrence. The nuclear sharing option may not address the concern over the credibility of US extended deterrence because such arrangement can be reversed by high-level political decisions, likewise the extended deterrence itself. While such mechanism of co-operating nuclear arsenal in the region offers aesthetic of firm extended deterrence, the fact does not change that the US can change its policy as it withdrew tactical nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula in 1990s. Furthermore, the nuclear sharing option does not allow US allies an option to launch nuclear weapons without explicit US consent. In other words, nuclear weapons may be a paper tiger without full US endorsement.

The credibility of extended nuclear deterrence is a puzzle that can never be solved easily. Nuclear policy discussions certainly will have marginal effect on strengthening the US extended deterrence in the region, both in the ROK and Japan. However, such arrangement comes with financial cost and adversaries’ aggressive responsive measures have to be considered. On top of that, a nuclear sharing mechanism may not address the root cause of concern over the credibility of extended deterrence. Considering aforementioned variables, nuclear policy discussions among allies have merits both in terms of minimizing misunderstandings among allies and increasing the credibility of extended deterrence. While it is uncertain how such policy discussion will conclude, the process of nuclear policy coordination will certainly offer a room to address allies’ concern over the US extended deterrence.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

YL Blog #26 – Extended Deterrence in the Age of Trump: Hardware, Software, and Malware

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2019 US-ROK-Japan Trilateral Strategic Dialogue offered an excellent forum to gauge the current strategic thinking and debates in Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul. The event comprised experts’ remarks apropos the extended deterrence in the Asia-Pacific and trilateral cooperation, as well as a two-move tabletop exercise (TTX) that brought alliance management issues to light.

The “hardware” component of extended deterrence was discussed at length, particularly the post-INF developments and implications for the region. The majority of participants agreed that INF withdrawal, albeit problematic in its execution and style, will positively contribute to countering Russian and Chinese previously unchecked advances. Putting aside the basing question, participants agreed that new missiles would strengthen the deterrence posture.

The second element, the “software,” which relies on assurance and credibility, needed more discussions and deliberations. Assuring allies that the United States will honor its treaty obligations in case of an attack is infinitely more challenging than developing a certain type of military equipment. This is what strategists and policymakers grappled with throughout the Cold War. They succeeded by supporting allies economically and politically, and by signaling unified positions despite serious disagreements that were dealt with behind closed doors. In regards to adversaries, the United States consistently communicated that an attack on an ally will automatically precipitate a devastating American response. This, indeed, is the underlying logic of deterrence: an aggressor-state is dissuaded from launching an attack on an ally, knowing that the United States will retaliate on its behalf which would negate any potential gain from launching an attack in the first place.

Since it is a part of the red theory of victory, it comes as no surprise that China, Russia, and North Korea are working hard to break the U.S. alliance structure. What is frustrating to watch is our commander-in-chief making comments that undermine allies’ confidence and play right into our opponents’ hands. For lack of a better analogy, I treat these comments as “malware.” One tweet might not unravel the alliance structure per se, but allow enough of them to roam in your system, and soon enough one will have to scrap the old and install a new infrastructure altogether.

In the recent past, few instances stand out. First, President Trump continues to downplay the importance of North Korea’s short-range missile launches, even though these missiles threaten Japan’s and ROK’s survival and security. Second, bickering over trade deals and troops cost-sharing underscores Trump’s transactional approach to foreign policy and skepticism of alliances writ large. Third, adopting North Korean lexicon and calling defensive military exercises “war games” is not just a diplomatic gaffe, but an insult to men and women in uniform. Put together, these blunders create a dangerous situation and invite aggressors to test our will to defend allies, particularly on the sub-conventional level.

As we are upgrading hardware, Trump unwittingly inserts malware into the trilateral relationship. Particularly unhelpful has been “public-shaming” of South Korea and its contributions for military cost-sharing. Koreans are already overly sensitive when it comes to the U.S. troops and the move to Camp Humphreys. Fueling the anti-American sentiments in the South facilitates North Korean long-held strategic thinking that once the U.S. troops out of the peninsula, South Korea will be ripe for reunification on the DPRK’s terms. Undoubtedly, Kim Jung Un is enjoying the new reality show.

TTX was designed to discern how the U.S., ROK, and Japan would react and respond to Beijing’s and Pyongyang’s coordinated assault on the rules-based international order. Japan and South Korea correctly calculated that the adversaries were seeking to alter the status quo, and that the situation merited a strong response. To demonstrate firm resolve and commitment to the alliance structure, all allied states, in fact, expressed willingness to “escalate to de-escalate.” Moreover, a component of the final move was North Korea’s wielding its nuclear card: a nuclear explosion in the Pacific Ocean as well as a missile launch over Japan. Allies unequivocally conveyed that they will watch the reaction and comments from the White House closely, and that their subsequent steps will be guided by what they observe.

Relatedly, neither Japanese nor South Korean delegates raised issues with Trump’s style of diplomacy, and only a handful of American experts acknowledged Trump’s malign effects on the U.S. standing in the world. One participant alluded that we need to brace ourselves for the partial or complete U.S. troop withdrawal from Korea, given Trump’s intransigence with cost-sharing and his record. The fact that the U.S. credibility was not openly questioned is perhaps a good sign. However, Trump’s foreign policy track record was the elephant in the room. (Remember Paris Accords? JCPOA?).

The extended deterrence framework has played an essential role in ensuring peace in Northeast Asia, but currently it is undergoing major shifts. Allies have a decent understanding of an appropriate response to revisionist states’ attempts to overthrow the status quo. However, Japanese and Korean participants (American as well, for that matter) remain unsure how to deal with self-inflicted wounds. Explicit signaling needs to be a priority; there should be no doubt in Beijing, Moscow, or Pyongyang that regardless of the domain and intensity, the United States and allies will respond and inflict unacceptable damage on the adversary’s forces. More hardware in the region will certainly alleviate some allies’ anxieties. However, returning to basics-updating the software and protecting it from malware-will deliver more bang for the buck.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

 

YL Blog #20: Pacific Forum Trilateral Strategic Dialogue Follow-up TTX

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Players: United States (U.S.), Republic of Korea (ROK) and Japan (JAP)

Move 1 

CHINA/HK

Into the spring of 2020 the Hong Kong protests remain well-organized and participant numbers are at an all-time high. Protestors utilize guerilla tactics, rising up in city districts and dispersing as the police arrive. They ignore the face mask ban, yet hundreds of protestors are arrested in their homes. The arrests only incite more protests and result in more extreme public demands, including for Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down and allow the Hong Kong people to directly elect their city government without interference from Beijing. President Xi continues to dig in, denouncing protests as foreign-inspired terrorism. Protestors appeal to the international community – and especially the U.S. – to aid Hong Kong in defense of its democracy.

China dispatches non-military personnel to Hong Kong to advise Carrie Lam and her staff. The next evening an outspoken Hong Kong protest leader’s house is raided and he disappears.

That week a radical group of students brutally assaults an armed police unit, leaving 2 policemen dead in the streets of Hong Kong.

In response, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army mobilizes along the Frontier Closed Area and increases security along the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border as a contingency plan. 

The Hong Kong government declares a state of emergency and demands that protestors to disband or face arrest.

DPRK

Working level US-DPRK Negotiations continued into the fall of 2019 and the two parties agreed to implement the first phase of a multi-step agreement. In phase one, they struck a formal agreement to freeze nuclear development and testing and IAEA inspectors entered Yongbyeon to oversee facility dismantlement. While there was no formal agreement to freeze missile development and testing, Chairman Kim extended his promise to refrain from long-range missile tests. In return, the U.S. agreed to freeze all combined exercises/drills during negotiations and extend partial sanctions relief on civilian use of energy products.

In the spring of 2020, the U.S. promptly expands negotiations from the nuclear to the missile domain. Media reports state that the US seeks a formal moratorium on all missile testing, a declaration of DPRK missile facilities, agreement to cease production, and IAEA verification of a production freeze. As the DPRK resists this demand, planned further sanctions reduction measures are stalled, and talks stalemate.

Recent “leaked” Japanese satellite intelligence reveals the presence of surfaced DPRK submarines–believed to be SLBM-capable–in the ROK EEZ approximately 100 km south of Ulleung Island.

Unverified Japanese sources confirm that the JS Oryu of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force has left port.

Time: 60 minutes

Questions for individual country teams:

  1. What information/intelligence do you need and how do you obtain it?
  2. What are your three diplomatic and three military actions? Prioritize them.
  3. What message would you send to China? 
  4. What actions would you request of your allies, the United States, Republic of Korea and Japan?

Move 2

China/HK

Several leaders from the Civil Human Rights Front are abducted by unknown persons, presumed to be the government police force.

A group of evacuating Chinese citizens are held hostage by the same student protest group.

The next day President Xi publicly states that the People’s Liberation Army is deploying a mechanized battalion of commandos into Hong Kong to “restore order and protect innocent Chinese people from terrorism and destabilizing foreign influences.” 

Lam’s statement urges the people of Hong Kong not to engage the People’s Liberation Army.

Ambassador Harris and USFK General Abrams state to Korean media that in light of precipitating events the U.S. is considering sending more forces ISR forces to the region, including airborne early warning and control systems, and bolstering U.S. naval presence in the East China Sea and South China Sea.

White House statement: “The United States will act to maintain stability and protect the autonomy of free societies in the region” as consistent with the 2019 Indo-Pacific Strategy.

The US 7th Fleet maneuvers to international waters near the East Sea. The USS Ronald Reagan leaves Yokosuka Air Base and enters the East China Sea past Okinawa. The USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group sailed from the Indian Ocean to just off the coast of Subic Bay.

The Chinese Southern Theater Command prepares for mobilization by recalling its troops to bases and Army Rocket Force mobilizes its short-range and medium-range missiles.

The spokesperson for the People’s Liberation Army’s Southern Theater Commander issues a public statement: “The Southern Theater Command and the Army Rocket Force are mobilized in response to rising threats from the US carrier groups in China’s near seas. The People’s Liberation Army will take all the necessary actions to preserve peace and order in the region.”

Chinese Foreign Minister states: “The US military presence is a threat to regional stability and emboldens terrorist acts in Hong Kong. China is being pressed to demonstrate its resolve to protect its people, its sovereignty, and its peaceful development with all forms of national power.”

US-DPRK

In response to the US fleet presence in the East China Sea, the DPRK Foreign Ministry demands that “threatening US assets leave the area surrounding the peninsula.” It declares negotiations void, accuses the US of “violating the spirit of the Singapore Declaration”, and tests an SLBM that lands in international waters about 50 km from the USS Ronald Reagan.

The DPRK Foreign Ministry states that a submarine was sunk and its 20 service members died in the East China Sea.

The ROK Ambassador to the United Nations informs the Security Council that the research center on the Socotra Rock collected data pertaining to the incident and that the ROK government will launch a formal investigation to uncover further details.

Time: 60 minutes

Questions for bilateral groups: U.S.-ROK, ROK-JAP, U.S.-JAP:

  1. What information/intelligence do you need and how do you obtain it?
  2. What are your three diplomatic and three military actions? Prioritize them.
  3. What message would you send to China? 
  4. What actions would you request of your allies, the United States, Republic of Korea and Japan, and the United Nations Security Council?

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

YL Blog #19 – GSOMIA vs. TISA: What is the Big Deal?

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Introduction

South Korea’s announcement to end the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan on August 22 marks the lowest of bilateral relations. Following the decision, Japan’s removal of South Korea (Republic of Korea, or ROK) from its whitelist of preferred trading partners took effect on August 28, for the first time since 2004. ROK also officially ousted Japan from its whitelist on September 18, signaling unyielding bilateral tensions.

While the United States (U.S.) has been encouraging ROK to reconsider its decision before the GSOMIA formally expires in November, prospects are grim. For instance, after North Korea launched ballistic missiles on September 10, the two countries did not utilize GSOMIA to share military intelligence. International media publicity regarding the potential termination of GSOMIA has also been gaining increasingly less public traction with time (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Number of Newspaper Articles on GSOMIA (in English, from July 1 – October 16, 2019) 

In weighing the benefits and costs of GSOMIA, many experts and scholars turn to the Trilateral Intelligence Sharing Arrangement (TISA) as its substitute. TISA, signed in late December 2014, enables both Japan and South Korea to access military information on North Korea through the U.S. Meanwhile, GSOMIA—the first military agreement between Japan and ROK since 1945—was signed in November 2016 to allow the two nations to directly exchange military intelligence. Since GSOMIA, “TISA has not been activated very much.”

The question, then, is whether TISA could serve as an adequate alternative for GSOMIA. The next sections provide a brief overview of both Japanese and South Korean perspectives on the issue in reference to the conference proceedings at the U.S.-ROK-Japan Trilateral Dialogue in Maui (hosted by Pacific Forum) in September.

Japan’s Perspective:

Operational Significance of GSOMIA: Is Military Intelligence Cooperation with ROK Really Necessary?

The view of GSOMIA’s operational value varies among Japanese intellectuals. Proponents support the extension of GSOMIA pointing the importance of comprehensive intelligence collection. For example, in the case of North Korea’s missile launch, ROK is in a better position to attain more accurate data of the boost phase in addition to detect signs of a launch from suspicious activities of personnel and vehicles. Furthermore, HUMINT collected by ROK claimed to be valuable by some government officials and experts. These types of information combined with U.S. intelligence such as gathered by Early Warning Radar will supplement each other and enable extensive and multifaceted analysis on DPRK’s military activities.

On the other hand, some experts question the value of GSOMIA arguing the alternative use of TISA and the superiority of Japanese intelligence capability. Japan currently has seven ISR satellites in operation, six Aegis BMD-capable vessels and four ground-based radars in addition to maritime patrol aircrafts and Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft. Some claim Japan has sufficient intelligence capabilities without relying on information from ROK which possesses much fewer equipment and assets related to intelligence collection activities.  Moreover, some argue Japan could achieve necessary information exchange through TISA instead of GSOMIA.

However, intelligence analysis based on information obtained only by Japan and the U.S. might overlook some important observables and fail to attain comprehensive picture. Also, as discussed in the section above, TISA cannot ensure timely and comprehensive intelligence sharing like GSOMIA. Thus, even though Japan has better ISR capability and TISA will partially facilitate information sharing with ROK, comprehensive intelligence sharing under GSOMIA is an effective countermeasure for Japanese government to address new regional challenges not only limited to the DPRK’s missiles and nuclear programs but also including the threats from China and Russia.

South Korea’s Perspective:

90-Day Window Until the Final Deadline: Time Won, or Time Lost for South Korea?

The domestic political divide is reflected in the way South Korean officials and intellectuals evaluate GSOMIA, its military value and strategic implications. Those who stand in favor of the Moon administration’s decision to end GSOMIA view it as a diplomatic card against Japan amidst continued bilateral trade disputes. They advocate ROK’s maintenance of “strategic ambiguity” throughout the 90-day window between the government’s announcement to end GSOMIA in August and the deadline to renew it in November. By neither confirming nor denying its withdrawal from GSOMIA, proponents believe that ROK can utilize the time to effectively weigh its costs and benefits.

With regard to GSOMIA’s military significance, advocates of the government decision claim that TISA is a valid alternative as an intelligence-sharing mechanism between Japan and ROK. They argue that TISA is reliable since it had been utilized in the past prior to the enactment of GSOMIA, and because “the [same] level of confidential military information” is shared by TISA and GSOMIA. More active supporters consider GSOMIA as a biased agreement since it provides Tokyo easier access to Seoul’s information on early detection of North Korean missile and nuclear threats. By splitting the U.S.-Japan-ROK trilateral alliance into two individual and competitive hubs-and-spokes, they suggest that Washington’s strong encouragement toward the renewal of GSOMIA may raise Seoul’s suspicion of its impartiality in addressing the two regional allies.

Perhaps the Moon administration’s announcement to withdraw from GSOMIA and its maintenance of “strategic ambiguity” throughout the three-month window following it are more strategically driven than they may seem. According to a survey conducted in late August, 54.9 percent of the South Korean public supported the decision end GSOMIA, showing a 7.9 percent point increase since earlier survey results. From the respondents, only 38.4 percent opposed the government decision. With continued Japanese boycotts in South Korea, public support is increasingly shifting towards GSOMIA’s termination.

However, time itself is a double-edged sword. While the administration has bought time to waver between renewal of and withdrawal from GSOMIA, prospects for reconciliation with Japan have further dimmed. As the deadline to renew the agreement approaches, ROK will have to arrive at a decision that will have lasting consequences on the U.S.-Japan-ROK trilateral alliance. In addition, time will be paid later if ROK decides not to renew GSOMIA. TISA will slow down the intelligence-sharing process for both Japan and the ROK with the U.S. as an intermediary source of information. Most importantly, once terminated, it may take decades before an agreement such as GSOMIA is re-enacted between the two countries.

Conclusion: GSOMIA vs. TISA

Overall, while TISA may function as a substitute to GSOMIA, it is more likely to hinder swift intelligence exchange and effective coordination for three reasons.

First, unlike GSOMIA, information sharing under TISA is limited to North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities. This limited focus weakens both Japan and ROK’s capabilities in addressing new regional challenges, such as North Korea’s SLBM. For instance, on October 2, DPRK launched the Pukguksong-3 into Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

Secondly, TISA provides lower intelligence confidentiality than GSOMIA. Under GSOMIA, Japan and ROK exchange information that is both confidential and legally binding. In contrast, under TISA, either Japan or ROK can reject the counterpart’s request for military intelligence if it detects the risk of information leakage. The issue of confidentiality, then, inevitably influences the two nations’ willingness to share information and especially valuable information.

Finally, information sharing between Japan and ROK through TISA will be operationally inefficient due to delays in information exchange. GSOMIA reduces this operational cost and facilitates swift coordination in intelligence gathering amongst the U.S.-Japan-ROK trilateral alliance.

During the U.S.-ROK-Japan Trilateral Dialogue in Maui, both South Korean and Japanese representatives—regardless of their respective political standing—either indirectly or directly suggested the need for continued bilateral cooperation. For instance, many South Korean participants inferred that the government would renew GSOMIA in so far as Japan initiates the reconciliation process. Japanese participants also showed willingness to share classified information with ROK through GSOMIA prior to receiving a formal request from Seoul.

Hence, what is necessary for the two parties at this time is mutual dialogue, which has been hindered by respective national pride. Deterrence against regional security threats require a cooperative effort based on a stable U.S.-Japan-ROK trilateral alliance; the termination of GSOMIA should be reconsidered before it is too late to nullify the decision.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

PacNet #2 – South Korea, Turkey, Ukraine: Three front-line nations we can’t let drift away

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This article originally appeared in The Japan Times and at the Canon Institute for Global Studies and is republished with permission

What do Ukraine, Turkey, and South Korea have in common? Until recently, these three nations have never been strategically related to one another. This year, however, they all seem to have started drifting into chaos after becoming trapped in the new reality of international politics in the 21st century.

Turkey was once an Islamic empire that ruled the Middle East and parts of Europe. South Korea is a Northeast Asian nation with strong Confucian traditions. Ukraine, a former republic of the Soviet Union, is an Orthodox Christian nation of Eastern European. And all three, ironically, have a history of loyalty to past alliances.

Whether in the US-South Korea-Japan security mechanism, NATO, or the Soviet Union, these three were model nations that played a crucial role in maintaining and enhancing those once robust alliances. Now, however, they are departing from where we thought they belong.

To make matters worse, the West, in particular the United States, is responsible for the plight of these drifting frontline nations. To put it more bluntly, we are probably losing at least parts—if not all—of Ukraine, Turkey, and South Korea over the long run.

Ukraine

After the demise of the Soviet Union, Ukraine became an independent nation again. A series of incidents that caused domestic political turmoil, including two revolutions in Kiev, however, gave Russia a golden opportunity. Moscow didn’t hesitate to interfere in Ukraine’s domestic politics and even annexed Crimea, which Russia had given to Ukraine in 1954.

For Russia, Ukraine has been and will continue to be one of its last lines of defense. Before the Orange Revolution took place in late 2004-early 2005, NATO had already expanded rapidly. Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary joined the alliance in 1999, and then the three Baltic states, Slovakia, Romania, and even Bulgaria followed in 2004.

Thus, by the mid-2010s Ukraine had become a fragile front-line nation trapped between Russia and NATO. Although Russian troops remain in eastern Ukraine, Moscow will not annex the area because this would only make the western part of Ukraine a NATO territory. What Moscow really wants is an unstable, but still unified, Ukraine.

Kiev, a non-member of NATO, of course needs more military assistance from the US. That’s the nation to whose leader, President Donald Trump, made several phone calls, even sending his personal lawyer to Kiev, to request a bribery investigation related to his potentially most powerful political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

The new president of Ukraine was caught in quandary. Washington probably sent the wrong signal to Moscow, once again. Naturally, Ukraine has become more vulnerable to pressure from Russia. In other words, the West may not be able to rescue Kiev from the Russian quagmire, at least not for the foreseeable future.

Turkey

Although not a founding member of NATO, Turkey joined the alliance in 1952 with Greece and has been a dependable member of the alliance founded to deter the Soviet Union during the Cold War era. The tragedy of Turkey is that the European Union has not accepted, and probably will never welcome, Turkey’s full membership.

By the turn of the century, Ankara, having learned that there would be no chance for Turkey to join the EU, must have modified its national strategy. Instead of trying to become European, Turkey, placing more emphasis on its Islamic traditions, must have decided to regain its influence, if not hegemony, in the Middle East.

The civil unrest since 2011 in Damascus and elsewhere gave Turkey a golden opportunity. Ankara started to implement its longtime ambitions, including eliminating Kurdish rebels in southern Turkey and northern Syria. By the time Turkey started to intervene in Syria, however, Russia and Iran were already there.

Thus, Turkey has become another drifting front-line nation for the West. Although it’s a member of NATO, Turkey has purchased the S-400 Russian air defense system. Washington was furious, but alas, it was the US president who allowed Turkey to launch a military intervention in northeastern Syria in exchange for a withdrawal of American troops from the area.

South Korea

Seoul, a faithful US ally in East Asia for decades, is now finding a golden opportunity to become the owner of its history—for the first time in the modern history of the Korean peninsula.

Having been driven crazy by their not-so-friendly neighbors for two millennia, the Koreans deserve their independence and political/cultural identity. South Korean President Moon Jae-in seems to believe in reconciliation with North Korea and China, while maintaining a robust security alliance with the  US—which for us is daydreaming.

Thus, South Korea has become a drifting front-line nation in East Asia.

Then, again, Trump, out of intuition, coincidence or misjudgment, decided in March 2018 to meet in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un—the “little rocket man”—who has no intent to denuclearize North Korea.

Now that he is talking directly to the US president, Kim sees no need to talk to the president of South Korea. This might have embarrassed Seoul in the negotiations for the denuclearization and normalization of the Korean peninsula. Once again, Washington managed to make the existing chaos even more chaotic.

French President Emmanuel Macron recently called NATO “brain dead.” He was wrong. The  US president said Macron’s comment is insulting, but it wasn’t. What is brain dead is neither NATO nor the other alliance systems the United States maintains. We all know what is brain dead, but I do not wish to waste time here going into that.

What we must do now is prevent Washington from making further mistakes out of intuition, coincidence or misjudgment. We must also save those three fragile front-line nations because they are too important for the West to lose. Let’s hope that Washington has enough wisdom to keep them on our side.

Kuni Miyake (kunimofa@hotmail.com) is president of the Foreign Policy Institute and research director at Canon Institute for Global Studies.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.