Event ReportsPublished on Apr 22, 2013
South Korea has to be realistic in its approach to North Korea, according to a Korean scholar. He says South Korea still has time to negotiate as North Korea is still far from possessing "tactically meaningful nuclear devices".
South Korea need to be tough and open to North

How does South Korea view the escalating hostilities in Korean peninsula? What can South Korea do to deescalate tensions? What is the path to move forward and what is the role of US and China in this issue?

These were some of the questions that were discussed and raised during the visit of a Korean delegation to ORF on Monday, April 22, 2013. The delegation was led by Shin Jung-Seung, Director of Centre of Chinese Studies at The Korean National Diplomatic Academy.

Describing the behavioural change in the North Korean regime after Kim Jong-Un took over, Mr. Sueng said the regime not only looked stable it also showed a willingness to undertake economic reforms and transparency. Proof of this can be seen when the failure of a 2011 missile test was publicly announced. However, this stance soon began to change with the passage of time.

The Workers Party has once again moved to the centre of the North Korean politics and perhaps to legitimise his position, Kim Jong-Un began to tow the line of his father. Domestic compulsions may also be one of the reasons for the rhetoric of nationalism and a hardline stand against South Korea.

The fear in North Korea is that the power differential between North and South Korea is completely skewed in favour of the south and that the USA is now actively supporting South Korea. This has also made North Korea more hostile and a drive towards establishing itself as a nuclear power so that it can hedge its bets around the nuclear card.

According to Mr. Seung, South Korea has to be realistic in its approach. North Korea is still far from possessing "tactically meaningful nuclear devices" and experts conclude that North Korea still needs 3-5 years to develop these weapons. Hence, there is time for South Korea to negotiate. Also in the 68 years of history of mankind possessing nuclear weapons, the world has seen its use only once by the USA on Japan. It is difficult to believe North Korea will actually launch a full scale nuclear war with South Korea and be responsible for the destruction of the Korean people, Mr. Sueng said.

But then that doesn’t mean South Korea can’t prepare. Developing nuclear weapons isn’t an option that is available to South Korea since it will invite sanctions from the international community which its export driven economy can’t accommodate. Redeployment of US tactical nuclear weapons will lead to opposition from China. Hence the way forward for South Korea is to prepare itself for post nuclear warfare as well as conventional warfare, Mr. Sueng said. Apart from that, South Korea must develop a capacity to launch tactical strikes on North Korean nuclear sites if there is a need. The process of dialogue should continue so that eventually peace returns to the Korean peninsula. South Korea while being tough must open the doors of opportunity with North Korea for resolutions.

Responding to queries on China’s relation with South Korea Mr. Seung commented that relations between China and South Korea have become better since the normalisation of relations in 1992.The relations has particularly blossomed in the field of economics and investments with the volume of bilateral trade increasing by almost 35% in the past three years. Yet there are fundamental issues with this relationship. One is the issue of Chinese North Korean relations. The concern on the Chinese side is the South Korea -US relations. A third area of concern is the mutual rise of aggressive nationalist tendencies in both China and South Korea. The new regimes in both China and South Korea however have expressed willingness to work for better relations.

He said a major success has been achieved in China-South Korea relations in terms of China’s perception about South Korea instigating North Korea. China today acknowledges the fact that South Korea infact wants peace in the Korean peninsula. China’s concern with the US-South Korea alliance is not the alliance itself. The Chinese realise that during the Sino-Russia tussle the US-South Korea alliance actually prevented South Korea from going into the arms of Russia. The issue today with the US-South Korea alliance is the American policy of "pivot"

and how it is being seen in some circles as China containment strategy. Another major issue today is the agony among Chinas general population about North Korea’s brazen misbehaviour. Hence there is scope for further improvement of China-South Korea relations.

Responding to a query from the Korean delegation, Nandan Unnikrishnan, Vice President and Senior Fellow, ORF, commented that Indo-China relations, though economically strong, suffer from trust deficit at a political level. India however is not inclined to be part of any China containment policy even though there are issues like China’s support of the Pakistan nuclear programme. In a positive note, the recent stand of XI Jinping about problems difficult to solve being kept to be solved later is a welcome step to normalise Indo-China relations, he said.

Other contentious issues between India and China include the question of trade imbalance between India and China (which heavily favours China), the question of Arunachal Pradesh, the question of Dalai Lama and finally the question of South China Sea. In the end, however, India’s own infrastructural needs in the next few years and the Chinese willingness to invest in such projects will lead to a state of "interdependence" where the situation of tension escalating to a war will be very less, he said.

There has been a change in Indo-Japan relations as well. Japan has long been a partner and donor in India’s growth story, but now Japan is beginning to view India as a "strategic partner". The only reason that can be attributed to this is the growth of Chinese power and Japan’s need to strategically strengthen its position.

Abhijit Iyer Mitra, Programme Coordinator, ORF, raised the concerns of the Indian strategic community about China. Rapid increase in its defence budget alongwith a lack of transparency makes India worried about China. Also, China doesn’t believe in alliances since alliances also bring liabilities to partners and instead relies on its ability to put independent vectors like North Korea and Pakistan which bogs down the target region in instability.

Commenting on the nature of the R&D development in China, he concluded that a state driven R&D process which stresses only on specific sectors cannot compete with the West where research is more holistic and market driven. Hence the "technology denial regime" of China will seriously slow down the scientific progress of China.

Vivan Sharan, Associate Fellow, ORF, while commenting on the economic model of China, stated that the lack of transparency and information about Chinese investment and banking models make it very difficult to objectively assess Chinese economy. There is no risk declaration and neither are plans to combat risks announced. Perhaps the only thing discernable at this point is the fact that the Chinese are taking their infrastructure investments abroad since the domestic market perhaps has reached a point of certain saturation, he said.

The real challenge for the Chinese economy from what is visible is to integrate its growing population into new modes of production while rebalancing its export model as well as the model of domestic consumption. Hence the real question of the Chinese economy in the next few years is the question of the demography, he argued.

Commenting on how India views Russia-China relations, Nandan Unnikrishnan opined that it is only in the past few years the strategic community has woken up to the Sino-Russian equation. For long, the strategic community marred by historical legacy refused to acknowledge the growing Sino-Russian relation which is now at its highest point in the recent times. But this is slowly changing and there is growing realisation that India needs to evaluate the relations between Russia and China and how it will play into India’s own strategic interests.

(This report was prepared by Ibu Sanjeeb Garg, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation)

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