event BI

Asan North Korea Conference

September 26, 2013 / 11:00-12:30
Kim Hankwon, The Asan Institute for Policy Studies
Cha Du-hyeogn, Korea Foundation
Narushige Michishita, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies
Wei Zhijiang, Sun Yat-sen University
Alexander Zhebin, Institute of Far Eastern Studies, RAS


Session Sketch

Session six of the North Korea conference was opened by Dr Kim Hankwon of the Asan Institute. As the moderated Dr Kim introduced the speakers of the session. His introductions was followed by the first speaker of the session, Cha Du-hyeon of the Korea Foundation. The main theme or source of Cha’s presentation is why North Korea’s isolation and has desperate use of brinkmanship as its main strategy in its external relation has become conventional wisdom. According to Cha, North Korea’s strategy is now more sophisticated and evolved. North Korea has exploited its image of an isolated regime or system. What Cha tries to reveal is that, while North Korea was isolated from western bloc, it was, in fact, not isolated in its own bloc during the Cold War period. During this time, the foreign policy North Korea had were based on two pillars: bilateral relation with former Soviet Union and People’s Republic of China by maintaining a delicate balance between Beijing and Moscow to prevent entrapment in Sino-soviet dispute started in the late 1950s. It also managed external relations with other communist countries and non-alignment powers.

Cha’s presentation was followed by the Japanese perspective of the issue, represented by Narushige Michishita, an association professor of National Graduate Institute for policy studies. Michishita spoke extensively on North Korea’s game plan and potential provocations in the future. He also explained the Japanese view on potential normalization of relations with the DPRK. According to Michishita, the Abe administration is not thinking about normalization of diplomatic relations right away. In fact, the Abe administration is thinking about resolving the abduction issue as a separate issue from normalization. To resolve this the Japanese government sent Mr. Isao Iijima to Pyongyang and he met Kim Yong-nam and other foreign ministers in charge of Japanese affairs. What the Japanese government seems to be telling the North Koreans, according to Michishita is if North Korea return all live abductees right away, while Japan might not be able to normalize relations with you, they might willing to provide significant, meaningful amount of economic aid. The government position has been consistent unless nuclear, missile and abduction issues are solved, there will be no normalization.

The next speaker, Dr. Wei Zhijiang, then proceeded to talk about the the North Korean foreign policy and its trend after Kim Jung-un’s inauguration. Dr. Wei believes that after Kim Jung-un appeared on the stage,he consolidated his power over the party military and the political fronts. The big difference from his father’s era is that Kim Jong-un also rose up the leadership role for the labor party over the military. According to Dr Wei it is very unlikely that the new leadership will abandon the military first policy, however he thinks that the effective military policy will be weakened. Many observers think that the world does not think North Korea’s agenda is positive due to the fact that they are talking more about nuclear armament rather than economic development. However, Dr Wei emphasized that if one were to look deeper into their domestic activities behind the regime’s rhetoric of dual core policy,they are, in fact, focusing more on economic development.

The next speaker, Alexander Zhebin of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies dealt with two major directions of the relation of attempts to improve relations with United States and the inter-Korean relations. In his presentation Zhebin explains that North Korea foreign policy, contrary to widespread perception, of being unpredictable, irrational and provocative, has in fact, demonstrated a surprisingly high level of consistency, pragmatism and ability to compromise. Amidst all upheavals of international politics the country have to face after dissolution of its major ally, Soviet Union, Pyongyang has managed to ally successful Power transfers and ensured political and social stability. While crossing all red lines in development of nuclear and missile programs, North Korea has succeeded at keeping at bay all attempts to achieve a soft landing of the regime and preserved independence. Zhebin believes that Pyongyang leaders‘ have demonstrated area of diplomatic maneuvering by making four major world powers; United States, China, Russia, and Japan to negotiate with North Korea. In particular, during the last two decades, North Korea was rather consistent in efforts to reach some accommodation, or better relations with the US, because Pyongyang perceives the US policy as a major threat to the regime’s existence. History has proved that economic inducements are not sufficient to make North Korea to give up its nuclear ambition.

The question and answer session which followed Alexander Zhebin’s remarks focused mostly on how to bring North Korea back to the Six Party Talks and how China and Russia could play a bigger role in pulling them in. Alexander Zhebin and Wei Zhejiang both had very similar opinions in that North Korea has been fairly consistent with their demands to negotiate with the US. According to Zhejiang, without some compromise and some agreement with the US, the North Korean regime will not feel secure. Without an agreement with the US, for North Korea it will be very difficult to get access to world markets, where it needs to get necessary investments and trade deals to modernize the country’s economy. Without some economic independence granted by an agreement with the US, it will be very difficult for the regime to keep social and political stability in the country.