Home Contact Us  

Peace Audit and Ceasefire Monitor - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#4969, 22 January 2016

East Asia Compass

Forecast 2016: East Asia on the Cusp
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University

In his new year speech in 2016, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed willingness to have talks with South Korea but just a few days later, conducted North Korea's fourth round of nuclear tests. The inconsistency in North Korea’s policy and action is not easy to decipher. North Korea seems to seek proposals for peace while escalating tensions. In the past one year, the dynamics in East Asia have also been quite similar.

There have been a few bilateral and multilateral proposals intended to bring peace but there have been simultaneous counter-actions by countries of the region, which have further heightened regional insecurity. There are indications of change in regional political and economic exchanges but there are equally strong trends underlining continuity. It seems that the region is passing through a cusp in which any clear trend is difficult to decipher, with a lot of activity, both positive and negative.

For the past few years, bilateral relations in East Asia have been characterised by mistrust, provocations and counter-actions on the surface and continued economic and other exchanges below, among the countries of the region. Shinzo Abe in Japan, Xi Jinping in China, Park Geun-hye in South Korea, and Kim Jong-un in North Korea have all been less compromising on their respective positions and this has led to the emergence of many security hotspots in the region. The only exception has been continuous improvement in China-South Korea relations.

Looking Back
In 2015, China became more overtly assertive in the region with the establishment of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), activities to establish the One-Belt One-Road initiative, constructing artificial islands in the South China Sea and its behaviour in the East China Sea. In the process, China had serious contentions with the US and Japan. Unlike the previous few years, it tried to reach out to North Korea in 2015 while maintaining good relations with South Korea. Chinese representative Liu Yunshan, who is ranked number five in the hierarchy of the Chinese Communist Party, participated in a celebration to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang. It has been the highest exchange between the two countries after the death of Kim Jong-il in late 2011.

Meanwhile, China was able to make South Korea join the AIIB as one of the founding members, keep Seoul away from the US-proposed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and also welcome the South Korean President Park Geun-hye to participate in the Victory Parade organised in Beijing to commemorate the 70th year of the victory over Japan in World War II.

The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continued his hard-line policies vis-à-vis history and territorial issues by evoking nationalist sentiments. However, on 1 November, Abe visited Seoul to participate in the three-nation summit meet, which happened after a gap of three years. On 28 December, Abe also conveyed his apology to South Korea on the comfort women issue and promised a contribution of US$8.3 million to create a fund for the victims. Japan wants to mend its relationship with South Korea but without softening its nationalist fervour and hard-line stand. The change in the Japanese approach is not a change of heart but an attempt to neutralise its isolation in regional politics.

South Korea in the past few years has been trying to walk a tight rope. It has been consistently cooperating with China in the economic sphere and also on the issue of the North Korean nuclear programme, and at the same time, has been trying to maintain close relations with the US. China’s strategy to reach out to Seoul has not been able to create any substantial gap in South Korea-US relations. However, Beijing has been successful in creating a gap between South Korea and Japan, though the gap may be attributed to Japan's aggressive behaviour more than Chinese efforts. The improvement in China-South Korea relations looks quite consistent. However, after North Korea’s self-proclaimed thermonuclear test and China’s reluctance to put forth tougher sanctions on North Korea via the United Nations Security Council, it would be difficult for South Korea to continue its tightrope walking strategy.

North Korea appears to be making all effort to reach out to other countries across the globe in the context of its relatively strained relations with China. In the past year and a half, the North Korean Foreign Minister and Prime Minister have visited more than fifteen countries with the intention to diversify economic exchanges, including India. North Korea’s uncompromising stance vis-à-vis China appears to be paying off, with China trying to placate North Korea again through high level visits and Xi Jinping’s message to North Korea. However, China and North Korea relations have had to face a few unpleasant developments: for example, when North Korean music band Moranbang returned to Pyongyang without performing in China because of a reported misunderstanding about the level of Chinese leadership participation. The so-called North Korean thermonuclear test is also going to be an issue between the two countries.

Looking Ahead
On the basis of these trends in the East Asia, the following projections could be made about the region for 2016.

First, even though China's economic attractiveness in the region has been acceptable, Beijing’s political assertiveness is going to be a cause for discomfort. Either China will have to change its course or the regional players will be compelled to more overtly create a network of resistance. The US, Japan, Australia, India and even South Korea along with some Southeast Asian countries are going to cooperate more closely to counter Chinese political and military assertiveness.

With the recent North Korean nuclear test, even South Korea has indicated that it might join THAAD, and this would definitely be a setback for China. China appears to be adamant in its demand to have ‘great power relations’ with the US, and Xi Jinping seems to want to continue his two-pronged policy of ‘economic allurement’ and ‘political assertiveness’ for some time.
Second, Japan will try to mend its relations with South Korea. Recently, both countries have reached an agreement on the issue of comfort women. If Japan and South Korea are able to improve their relations, it would be a positive for the US which has security alliances with both. After the North Korean test, it is obvious that the US, Japan and South Korea are in favour of tougher sanctions, but China seems to be returning to its old policy of protecting North Korea by asking for dilution of sanctions.

Third, the current year would be critical for South Korea, as it may have to choose between economic opportunities in China and the security imperative emanating from China’s assertiveness and North Korean nuclear and other brinkmanship. If China is unable to contain North Korean nuclear and missile programmes and its provocative behaviour, South Korea would certainly have to rethink its policy of cooperating with China, even at the expense of the US' displeasure.

Fourth, North Korea’s uncompromising stance on its nuclear programme makes it almost certain that there is only a thin possibility of denuclearising North Korea, and regional players have to reconcile themselves to a nuclear North Korea. However, continuous purges of political and military elite in North Korea along with its economic miseries makes it difficult to predict its future. A more provocative North Korea does not mean a strong North Korea but rather a weak and unstable state, and any implosion would have serious repercussions for the region.

Finally, it is going to be a critical year for US foreign policy in the region. With the growing positive and negative vibes created by China, the US also needs to come out with its responses in a more planned and coordinated way. It seems that the US has been reluctantly reacting to China - it needs to have a pro-active policy for the region. However, it is not sure whether the US has the willingness or the capacity to do so as a relatively weaker Washington is entangled in several other issues and regions.

Thus, in brief, it is going to be a critical year for East Asia, where the future course of the regional architecture will become clearer. All the countries of the region have to make critical decisions with regard to their foreign policies. There are enough political contests, which indicate an unstable time ahead. However, going by the economic interdependence and exchanges among these countries, there is a possibility that some modus vivendi might be evolved to not only co-exist but also co-prosper. Rapprochement between Japan and South Korea and a trilateral summit meet among China, Japan and South Korea are basically driven by these possibilities. The future of East Asia would depend on the choices made by the leaders of the region.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee


Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
Denuclearising the Korean Peninsula: US Policy and China's Role

'Comfort Women' and the Japan-South Korea Relationship

Denial and Provocation: Failure of US' North Korea Policy

Trump's Visit to East Asia

Shinzo Abe’s North Korea Strategy

North Korea: Testing the Limits of US-South Korea Relations

The US' Acrobatic Responses to the North Korean Riddle

Japan’s ‘New Approach’ to Russia: Is it Moving Forward?

India and the Koreas: Promises and Follow-ups

South Korea-North Korea: A New Version of Engagement

Trump’s North Korea Policy: Regional Implications

Park Geun-hye's Impeachment and South Korean Foreign Policy

US Tactical Nukes in the Korean Peninsula?

Forecast 2017: East Asia

Japan-China Contestation in 2017

Donald Trump and East Asia

PM Modi’s Visit to Japan: Prospects and Prudence

Future of the TPP and the US' Pivot to Asia

Russia’s Overtures in East Asia

China’s Game on North Korea

Six-Party Talks 2.0: Not for Denuclearisation but for Peace

Deadlock at Shangri-La: Is There a Way Forward?

North Korea’s 7th Party Congress: Context and Content

Japan’s New Security Laws: Context and Implications

What is the Efficacy of Sanctions on North Korea?

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 January  February
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.