Park Geun-hye Takes the Reins (Page 2 of 3)

The best chance for bringing Pyongyang to the negotiating table and keeping it there probably lies in a similar combination of deterrence and engagement. Changing the mindset of North Korea’s leaders is far beyond the capabilities of any South Korean president. But there is always the possibility that Pyongyang — like Beijing and Hanoi — will one day acknowledge that greater engagement with the rest of the world serves its interests more than isolationism and militarism. If and when it does so, a consistent and pragmatic approach like the one that Park advocates will have the best chance of encouraging the DPRK’s peaceful evolution while minimizing backtracking.     

Rising tensions between China and Japan represent another potential danger for Park Geun-hye’s government. Koreans have long used an old adage to describe the impact of conflicts among their larger neighbors on the peninsula: When whales fight the shrimp gets crushed. Seoul has good reason to fear that this proverb will again prove relevant should Beijing and Tokyo come to blows over the disputed Diaoyu-Senkaku islands. The last time China and Japan forces clashed in the East China Sea was during the Sino-Japanese War of 1895 — a conflict in which Korea suffered even though it was not a combatant. During the war, Japan formally wrested Korea from China’s control but not before military engagements left Pyongyang and other Korean cities significantly damaged.       

For President Park, relations with China and Japan present a nettlesome quandary that will require her to strike a careful balance in her foreign policy. Popular sentiment will undoubtedly complicate the issue. On the one hand, Koreans have their own territorial dispute with Japan over Dokdo-Takeshima and, like the Chinese, have bitter memories of Japanese expansionism during World War II. On the other, Japan and South Korea are both important allies of the United States that share a common set of democratic values.  They are also both wary of China’s ambitions to assert itself as a regional power.

And yet President Park is not without leverage when it comes to handling this delicate situation. South Korea may not be the most powerful or wealthiest nation in the Pacific but it is among the most trusted. It has no history of territorial aggrandizement or hegemonic ambitions and is admired for its vibrant economy and dynamic popular culture. As a result, Seoul punches above its weight in international organizations. The key will be converting these assets into tangible achievements in trilateral relations.

To start with, Park needs to adopt a different strategy than her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak. Lee squandered much of South Korea’s political capital in the region by needlessly escalating frictions with Japan over disputed fishing islands and doing little to stop relations with China from deteriorating due to disagreements over North Korea policy.  Park points to slowing military arms buildups and strengthening multilateral regimes including trilateral summits as possible methods for reversing the decline in Seoul’s relations with its neighbors.

She will have a small window of opportunity to push for this agenda because the new Chinese and Japanese heads of state, Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe, have both sought a fresh start in their relations with the ROK. Even the wisest diplomacy is unlikely to break the impasses that exist between China, Japan and South Korea on some issues. Nevertheless, by seizing the opportunity to promote confidence building and cooperative security measures, Park can at least contribute to their resolution rather than allowing them to become a casus belli.

Kim's Uncle
March 1, 2013 at 06:51

A strong unified Korea under Seoul would be Chinese commies worse nightmare. No wonder they want to keep North Korea stunted and backwards. China has always been the main troublemaker in Asia. The dirty commie dictatorship in Beijing was the only power to armed the homicidal regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge! Chinese commies unmasked themselves as people with no scruples whatsoever!

[...] Read the full article here [...]

TV Monitor
February 26, 2013 at 01:24

Israel is urging the US to strike at North Korean nuclear facilities now in order to prevent NK nuclear technology from flowing into Iran.

The election of hardliners in ROK has made that process a lot easier.

February 25, 2013 at 14:12

"It’s time to unchain North Korea servitude towards China."

China can't even stop North Korea's nuclear tests. What servitude are you talking about? You should be talking about South Korea, Japan and U.S.

[...] optimistic, Park must do a lot to make this rhetoric a reality. Actually I don’t know what “spiritual ethos” is or how it [...]

Kim's Uncle
February 25, 2013 at 06:21

It’s time to unchain North Korea servitude towards China. If North Korea is freed and reunified with the dynamic south Beijing will be sweating bullets!

February 24, 2013 at 22:48

As long as North Korea exists, South Korea cannot afford to become liberal or left leaning. Look at what happened within South Vietnam before the war and the scandals of Taiwanese generals retiring in the PRC.

When Germany reunited there were over 40,000 East German spies operating in the West. There are many seeds of social upheaval within South Korea sowed by North Korean spies as well as collaborators.

Already in South Korea they have allowed North Juche praising politicians into the senate, they who refuse to sing the South Korean anthem and refuse to denounce anything related to North Korea.

A recent scandal in SK was when one of these famous North loving politicans who once visited the North in her youth to denounce the South and hug Kim Il Sung got in a drunken tirade against a North Korean refugee turned activist. She denounced him as a traitor to the cause. Who's cause?

If for example China had been split evenly with Southern China ie Guangdong having become a democratic capitalist state in contrast to the communist, they would also be having a similar situation as with the Koreans.

Conveniently Oversight Re The US Elephant In The Room
February 24, 2013 at 16:23

"On the other, Japan and South Korea are both important allies of the United States that share a common set of democratic values. They are also both wary of China’s ambitions to assert itself as a regional power"

Really?  What do you think is the US doing exactly this moment?  It is not only piling pressure on Seoul and Tokyo to "kow-tow" to Washington wishes, or it will ensure  that ruling S Korean and Japanese politicians will be deposed and never re-elected again.  That is how assertive Imperial Washington is.  And all you propagandists can only focus on Beijing, conveniently forgetting the elephant in the room which is imperial Washington.

February 24, 2013 at 15:25

If what you say is true, no wonder North Korea tested the bomb. Abe of Japan is also playing the hardline card. U.S is pivoting to asia pacific, they will fish in the troubled waters there to look for cards to use against China. 

There will be more trouble ahead. Hope that Israel will instigate some wars to distract the U.S and force them to re-pivot back to the middle east and away from China.

TV Monitor
February 24, 2013 at 12:48

The author doesn't seem to understand that Park is the most authoritarian politician in 25 years, since the last dictator president in 1988. When the conservative politicians meet the outgoing president Lee Myung Bak, they bow 10 degree and then shake hands. When the same politicians meet Park, the bow down 90 degree. People are wondering why this is, but the leading theory is that these politicians are seeing the ghost of her dictator father in her.

Not only that, the people who are being recruited in her administration are retired army generals who call for a hardline policy toward China and North Korea. The very fact that her secret service chief is an army general instead of a traditional high-ranking police officer is the proof of this, since the last time an army general held that post was during the military dictator era .Military dictator presidents only thrusted his subordinates on the roles of secret service and national intelligence service and this is why army generals held those posts.

What you are looking at is another 5 years of hardline policies in diplomacy and national defense by ex-generals surrounding Park, and Park herself was known for being uncompromising.

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief