Security in Northeast Asia
Should Korea have some hopes?
November 9. 2012
Written by Wooksik Cheong (Representative of Peace Network)
The first African American president in the U.S. history, Barrack Obama, persuaded Americans to keep him in the White House for another term. Media all over the world reports how the reelection would affect the world and of course, Korean Peninsula is part of it.
Since result of the U.S. presidential election is in, the power-shift in participants of the six-party talk has passed the halfway point. After the death of Kim Jung-Il in 2011, Putin regained power in Russia and Obama was reelected.
Xi Jinping is expected to be the successor of Chinese government in China and in Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party is expected to win back the power in general election held next year. In addition, South Korea also has the presidential election this December.
All six participating countries of the six-party talk are going through the power-shift in power just in one year and it is unprecedented. Since there would be some changes in each participant, the year 2013 has great potential to overcome the exhaustion and pessimism and move forward.
Would the 2nd Obama be different from the first one?
Four years ago, many people saw Obama's election as the opportunity for the improvement in the Korean Peninsula situation. People also expected that the Obama administration's relationship with Lee Myung-Bak government would be turbulent since President Lee stuck to the hard-line policy toward the North. However those expectations are proven wrong. Korea-U.S. alliance has strengthened more than ever and circumstances in Korean Peninsula got worse.
Then, would the next four years be different? Above all, Korean government would have more initiatives and greater autonomy in North Korea Policies since Obama has been respectful to Korea's position. However, there would be lots of variables as well.
Knowing where the Obama Administration's policy toward North Korea is positioned is one of the primary concerns for Korea. During the presidential election campaign, the word 'Korea' rarely appeared because economic problems were the most important issue in the election and Iranian nuclear situation, Middle-east circumstances such as Syrian turmoil, and imbalance in trade with China dominated the diplomatic issues.
North Korea policy might be prioritized later if certain things happen. First, the U.S. would position the North Korea policy in priority if the North Korea does something provocative such as doing 'the 3rd Nuclear test' or launching the 'long range rocket'. If so, Korean peninsula's situation would become one of the primary concerns in the U.S. foreign policies, however, the direction of it would not be so good. As we can see from the Obama administration's saying "We don't buy the same horse twice", Obama administration's main goal of the North Korea policy is to end the patterns of the North Korea. Therefore, if North Korea does something provocative, the U.S. would strengthen the blockade and sanction toward the North.
On the other hand, if North Korea does not provoke and the next South Korean government takes the engagement policy towards North Korea, Obama might go for the negotiation with the North. Therefore, the crucial variables for the 2nd Obama Administration's policy towards North Korea would be the result of the Korean presidential election held on December and the South and the North relationship in the future.
Generally, the U.S. Administrations have put emphasis on the reelection during their first term and on the achievements during their second period. Because of that, how Obama thinks about the Korean peninsula issue as his presidential achievement is also important. 2013 is the 60th anniversary of the ceasefire in Korean Peninsula and 20th year since North Korea withdrew from the NPT (Nonproliferation Treaty) therefore causing nuclear issues. As South Korea actively establish the diplomatic relations with the U.S., possibility of Obama Administration putting the Korean Peninsula issues to the priority would go up.
'Pivot to Asia' and the Policy towards the North.
The U.S. tends to see the policy towards North Korea as the subordinate variable of the East Asia strategy. The key factor of the East Asia Strategy of the U.S. is China policy. Thus, it is important to figure out if the U.S. is going to take China as their strategic partner or the strategic competitor.
Unlike the first years, the Obama Administration has declared 'pivot to Asia' since 2011 forming the blockade for China. If the 2nd Obama Administration maintains and reinforces this basis, Korean Peninsula issues would be more likely to be the dependant variable of the U.S.-Chinese relationship.
The remarkable factors shown from the U.S-Chinese relationship during the 1st Obama Administration are these. Tthe U.S. thinks that they should poke the national security of China in order to make China tougher towards the North. Pushing ahead with the Korea-U.S.-Japan triangular alliances based on Missile Defense is the result of this strategic decision. On the other hand, China thinks that the U.S. is using the North Korean threat as its means to block China. The fact that the US, South Korea and Japan, its allies, have been very passive towards the talk with the North for last four years is causing more distrust from China as well.
There are also some variables outside the Korean Peninsula. Iraq War was the most influential factor for the North Korea policy of the Bush Administration. During the 1st Obama Administration, Iranian nuclear issues were prime concerns for the Administration. The closer Iran goes to the nuclear, the higher possibility of Israel's attack. If something like this happens, the U.S. would prioritize the Iran issues and the North Korea policy is likely to be back in the pages.
Korean Presidential Election: Vote for the Historic Moment!
Comprising variables mentioned above and considering other factors and obstacles, it seems that Korean Peninsula issue for the 2nd Obama Administration seems to be an equation with high degrees.
However, I believe that every high-degreed equation eventually reverts to the simple equation. If we eliminate degrees step by step, equation becomes simpler. Therefore, complicated as it looks like, having the will and detailed policy to solve it is important. Reverting this difficult high-degreed equation to the simple equation is only possible by South Korea.
In fact, the Lee Government was provided with the best international environment to solve the Korean Peninsula issues. The Bush Administration's change in the North Korea policy, progress in six-party talks, the Obama Administration which respected South Korean policy towards the North and put stress on the engagement-policy towards North Korea, and change of government in Japan: All these factors formed the helpful environment for the Lee Government. However, the Lee-Government blew this chance with the idea of 'unification by absorbing'.
Now that Obama succeeded in reelection, South Korea is given chance one more time. Reelection of Obama doesn't assure the bright future in Korea and Northeast Asia, but it is clear that it raises the possibility of it than Mitt Romney's election. Now we have the possibility and it is by South Korean citizens' action that can change this possibility to the reality.
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