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IPCS Columnists
East Asia Compass

Dr Sandip Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
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 Koreas 7th Party Congress: Context and Content
Japans New Security Laws: Context and Implications
What is the Efficacy of Sanctions on North Korea?
Brilliant Comrade: The Design in North Korean Madness
Forecast 2016: East Asia on the Cusp
Chinas Maritime Assertiveness and Repercussions
China-Japan-South Korea: A New Beginning?
India-Japan-US Trilateral: Indias 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?
On the 10th Anniversary of the East Asian Summit
Implications of Modis Three-Nation Tour in East Asia
Shinzo Abe: Changing his Stance?
South Korea: US THAAD or Chinese AIIB?
Russia and North Korea: Replaying Old Games
Japan-South Korea: Antagonism Despite Alignment
IPCS Forecast: East Asia in 2015
China-North Korea: Reasons for Reconciliation
Abe-Jinping Summit Meet: A Thaw in China-Japan Relations?
South Korea's Foreign Policy: More Rhetoric, Less Content?
India in East Asia: Modis Three Summit Meets
Modi's Visit to Japan: Gauging Inter-State Relations in Asia
North Korea: Seeking New Friends?
China-South Korea: Changing Dynamics of Regional Politics
Looking Northeast: A Foreign Policy Agenda for the New Government
Obamas Visit: Deciphering US Regional Intentions
North Korean Peace Gestures and Inter-Korea Relations
Japan: Implications of Indiscriminate Assertiveness
China, Japan, Korea and the US: Region at Crossroads
#5404, 5 December 2017
Denial and Provocation: Failure of US' North Korea Policy
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, SIS, JNU, & Visiting Fellow, IPCS
 

North Korea's Hwasong-15 missile test on 29 November 2017 reached an altitude of 4,500 km and flew around 960 km. According to estimates, the missile would have flown around 13,000 km had it been fired in the right trajectory. If true, this means that North Korean missile capability is now within striking distance of Washington, DC. The test took place after a lull of almost two and half months, a period that included US President Donald Trump's 12-day visit to East Asia.

North Korea watchers have been keen to figure out Kim Jong-un's reaction to Trump's visit. Although North Korea remained restrained during the visit itself, the recent missile test has proved that Pyongyang is adamant on its course and that US' policy has failed to achieve its objective. Through contradictory announcement and statements on the issue from Trump and his administration, the US has attempted a 'game of madmen' with Kim.

After the test, North Korea announced the successful completion of its nuclear and delivery programme-related targets. Rodong Shinmun, the official North Korean newspaper, noted that North Korea had “finally realised the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force.” This is an alarming state of affairs, and all options to deal with North Korea's nuclear progress must be considered. It is also important to analyse whether the North Korean announcement could be taken as its intent not to test any further. If North Korea has indeed achieved its targets, it may be ready to come to the negotiation table. This in fact could be an opportunity to talk to North Korea, though it cannot be guaranteed that such negotiations would necessarily lead to North Korea’s de-nuclearisation.

However, it seems that the US is going continue its policy of denial vis-à-vis North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes. A US official told a CNN correspondent that the “North Korean missile broke up upon re-entry.” This seems to be a continuation of a past tactic, which is to doubt North Korea's nuclear and missile advancements. Earlier, too, the US administration maintained that North Korea could not have sophisticated and miniaturised warheads, and that its missiles were not precise and reliable enough to travel beyond East Asia. Gradually, many of these claims have been proven wrong. However, the US administration has deliberately been moving the goal post or ‘redlines’ regarding North Korea.

Another standard response came from the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley. She said that if war comes, “the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed.” She further threatened that in case China did not restrict its oil supply to North Korea, the US would “take the oil situation into its own hands.” This is part of the larger pattern of threatening statements from the US administration in response to North Korean developments.

Within a week of the test, the US has begun its largest ever joint air exercise with South Korea, called 'Vigilant Ace'. The exercise will last five days, with the participation of 230 aircraft, including 24 stealth fighter jets (six F-22s and 18 F-35s). Although the US held a similar exercise in 2016, its timing and more significantly, the scale, are unusual enough for North Korea to characterise it as a grave provocation."

The US policy towards North Korea seems to be based on denying Pyongyang's capability and provoking it further until Jong-un makes a mistake. The idea is that if North Korea crosses the ‘redline’ by attacking South Korea, Japan or US territory, the Trump administration would be justified in undertaking military action to eliminate the Jong-un regime. If North Korea makes the first move, it will not be easy for China to come to the rescue. In fact, this policy will cost enormous human and material damage to South Korea as well as Japan, and is not a wise course of action. 

However, this adventurist US policy of seems to have been well deciphered by North Korea. The regime has been careful not to cross the ‘redline’ and is working within its limits. It has been able to concentrate on developing its nuclear and missile programmes without crossing the 'redline'. It could be said that because of the US policy, North Korea has been able to make huge strides in a very short span of time, which would otherwise have taken decades. It is high time to accept that not only is the US policy dangerous, it has been successfully used by North Korea to augment its nuclear and missile development goals. Only after this acknowledgement can a better policy option be considered.

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#5389, 7 November 2017
Trump's Visit to East Asia
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, JNU, & Visiting Fellow, IPCS
 

US President Donald Trump’s 12-day visit to five of the East Asian countries is quite ‘unprecedented’. But so are his style, posturing, statements and policies. Trump will meet not only the leaders of Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines, but also Russian President Vladimir Putin.

This ‘grand trip’ to the region both in terms of time span and the leaders Trump plans to meet is posited in an environment in which the leaders of these countries are almost at the peak of their domestic political popularity, which the US president does not enjoy in his own country. Although such factors do not necessarily make a big difference to the content of deliberations, they will definitely cast a shadow over it.

Another important factor is strong East Asian leaders taking aggressive positions on regional issues, except South Korea. Similarities in leadership personality may be helpful to the US in forging a common strategy on issues of mutual agreement. However, these similarities may also be an obstacle in making deals and driving bargains if these leaders disagree with Trump.

According to the US Department of State, Trump visit will focus on "North Korea, promoting a free and open region, and fair and reciprocal trade." The US-China equation will underpin all discussions, particularly the security and economic domains. Thus, to achieve anything substantial, it would be important to watch Trump’s visit to China. Trump is going to visit Tokyo and Seoul before Beijing for important regional backing before approaching China’s ‘strongman’ Xi Jinping. The content of his talks with Vietnam and the Philippines will be shaped by the gains and misses of the previous visits.

In Tokyo, Trump will seek to underline the long and trusted alliance with Japan and the commonality of their intent in the three pronounced focus areas. There is almost complete consensus between Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over regional issues and nothing new is expected to emerge from the visit. Talks with Seoul will be more nuanced because South Korean President Moon Jae-in does not agree with the US approach towards the North Korean issue, installation of missile defence, and revision of the US-South Korea free trade agreement (FTA). Trump will likely push South Korea for more open support of US' policy on North Korea and the installation of missile defence systems. In return, he may be willing to make concessions in the FTA revision process. However, experts are not certain that this will in fact be the bargain, and that Trump, as a former businessman, may make it the other way round.

Trump's brand of diplomacy will be put to its real test in Beijing, and it will be interesting to observe how he bargains on security and economic issues. Equally interesting will be the nature of his messaging to China - strong or soft - in terms of bringing Beijing on board to achieve US' foreign policy goals in the region. The prospect of any substantial outcome is weak, which is quite common for most of summit meets. In this light, any attempt to accommodate each other's interest will be significant.

Trump's visit to Vietnam will impinge on the expectation of injecting more content and trust in bilateral relations. Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc was the first Southeast Asian leader to visit Washington in May 2017 to meet Trump. Vietnam is unhappy with the US because of its abrogation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and is reluctant to have deep military ties because of the memories of the Vietnam War. Washington is definitely interested in placating Hanoi in its efforts to deal with China. Trump will also attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economic leaders' meet in Vietnam.

Trump will be in Manila, meeting President Rodrigo Duterte for the second time this year. Their first meeting in April 2017 went well - both leaders were ‘appreciative’ of each other. Unlike the Obama administration which raised concerns about the extra-judicial killing of drug dealers in the Philippines, Donald Trump has been able to bring about mutual acceptance between the two countries. The US has, to a large extent, neutralised China’s attempt to improve relations with the Philippines. There is a high probability of positive outcomes from Trump's Manila visit. Trump is scheduled to attend the East Asia Summit in Manila where he might have a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Overall, Donald Trump's visits to the region appear to be extensive and with a substantial agenda - the issue is whether they will be able to achieve anything significant from the point of the three expressed objectives. The probability of any such outcome is negligible, and this is so because success is generally achieved through consistent and continuous diplomatic effort, along with an interest in accommodating others’ positions. It is hard to do so by being inconsistent, episodic, and attempting to cover so much ground in one single visit. The visit might be ‘unprecedented,’ but the outcomes are most likely not going to be so. 

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#5378, 9 October 2017
Shinzo Abe’s North Korea Strategy
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, JNU, and Visiting Fellow, IPCS
 

North Korea's recent nuclear and missile developments pose arguably the highest threat to Japan. North Korea has tested more than 20 missiles in 2017 alone; and conducted its sixth nuclear test, reported to be a hydrogen bomb, on 3 September 2017. While these present a serious security threat for South Korea and the US, Japan might be North Korea's first potential target should the eventuality arise. The reliability of North Korean missiles to cause any serious damage to the US is still doubtful, and  Pyongyang’s threats to the US remain more in the realm of rhetoric than reality. Similarly, Pyongyang is not expected to attack Seoul as current South Korean President Moon Jae-in has extended several olive branches to Kim Jong-un. 

North Korea’s most likely target thus appears to be Japan. In 2017, North Korea tested two missiles that flew across Japanese territory, which has alarmed Japan substantially. In this context, Japan was expected to have a more nuanced view of the crisis to  try and avoid a regional armed conflict through all means available. Japan can play a constructive role by going along with South Korea in an effort to bring the US and North Korea on to the negotiating table, and say no to any armed conflict with North Korea. A common and coordinated Japanese and South Korean stand on the issue could put pressure on US President Donald Trump to not carry forward his irresponsible policy of escalation against North Korea.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is no doubt aware that a constructive policy may bring positive results, and that any escalation would have serious consequences for Japan’s security. However, Abe is willing to use the North Korean crisis to his own advantage in domestic politics and to strengthen Japan’s alliance with the new US administration.

Since most of Abe's electoral promises, including Japan's economic recovery, remain unfulfilled and there are chances of popular resentment, Abe needs an impending external threat to win the next election. North Korea’s dangerous behaviour has presented him with the required opportunity. The Japanese, in this hour of ‘crisis’, will want a strong and assertive leadership, and Shinzo Abe will pose himself as such a leader. In fact, China and North Korea are the two most important factors strengthening Abe's domestic political power. Abe announced pre-term elections in Japan, to be held on 22 October 2017, for this very reason. He appears certain of winning based on the current heightened domestic threat perception of the crisis on the Korean peninsula. In addition, by suddenly announcing the elections, he has not given enough time to most of the opposition candidates and parties to articulate their electoral visions.

Another way in which Abe has leveraged the North Korean threat is by developing an extraordinary level of trust with Trump. Abe has emerged as the closest to Trump among all other leaders of US' allies. During the US election campaign, Donald Trump expressed his dissatisfaction with allies such as Japan and South Korea, who, according to him, enjoy significant concessions from the US and must bear a equal share of their own economic and security responsibilities.

Abe was swift to meet Trump after he came to power, and did not object to Trump's decision to pull back from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which was quite important for Japan. Abe has also expressed agreement with not only the US policy towards North Korea but also with almost statement by Trump on the matter, which have often been contradictory and confusing. On 8 October 2017, Shinzo Abe said that he “fully supports the US stance on pressuring North Korea over its nuclear weapons programme, with all options on the table.” In fact, on 30 September 2017, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that “direct channels of communications with North Korea are open,” which was later contradicted by Trump, who tweeted, “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Rocket Man. Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done.”  Abe has also said that North Korea uses negotiations “to earn time so that they could develop their nuclear technology.”

In short, Shinzo Abe’s strategy is more focused on using the North Korean issue to advance his narrow domestic and foreign policy goals rather than on responsible regional leadership. This may turn out to be a shrewd and successful approach for Japan since the results will probably favour Abe in the short-term; however, in the long-term, it could damage Japan’s image and have serious negative consequences for regional politics.

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#5357, 6 September 2017
North Korea: Testing the Limits of US-South Korea Relations
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, JNU, & Visiting Fellow, IPCS
 

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un must be the happiest to see the state of South Korea-US relations. One of his fundamental desires is to create a rift between the US and South Korea, and he has been trying to achieve it consistently for years. In the last few months, he has found a very helpful friend in President Donald Trump. It seems that Trump has been contributing more than Kim himself to realise North Korea’s foreign policy objective. After calculated provocations by North Korea, the Trump administration resorted to mindless and inconsistent responses, like "fire and fury" and "ready locked and loaded." It led to serious discomfort in South Korea, which wanted to engage North Korea and resolve the nuclear and missile problems through negotiations. To restrain the US, in an extraordinary assertion, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on 15 August 2017 that “no one can make a decision on military action on the Korean peninsula without our agreement.” The statement was meant as a warning to US President Donald Trump.

Trust between the US and South Korea lowered when the US tried to install the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system in South Korea, at a time when South Korea did not have an elected leader in command in the interim period after the tenure of the previous President Park Geun-hye. During his presidential campaign, Moo Jae-in identified several problems in the process of installation of the THAAD in South Korea, but the US had taken the process to an irreversible stage. After taking oath as president in May 2017, Jae-in did not have much choice but to accept the THAAD system in South Korea.

When Washington, DC’s demand that Seoul bear the cost of the THAAD was met with resentment in South Korea, the US clarified that it would go by the initial agreed terms on the matter. However, the incident definitely raised suspicion within South Korea about the Trump administration’s intent. Similarly, when the US unilaterally deliberated reinstalling tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula, it was again refuted strongly by Jae-in.

Trump's unpredictability and inconsistency have created more concerns in South Korea than in North Korea. In a recent episodes, the Trump administration threatened to scrap the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with South Korea because it favours the latter. Given such incidents, the Jae-in administration is not sure about the reliability of US responses in any serious security and economic crises in South Korea. South Korea, which seeks dialogue with North Korea, is also worried that if an armed conflict initiated by the US occurs on the peninsula, Seoul will have to bear most of the costs. In spite of North Korean rhetoric, Pyongyang still does not have reliable capacity to hit US territories, and ultimately it would target Japan and South Korea where a substantial number of US troops are present.

North Korea’s Sixth Nuclear Test
Dissonance in US-South Korea perceptions and methods also became obvious after North Korea's sixth nuclear test on 3 September 2017. South Korea held National Security Council (NSC) meeting where it was expressed that it "will ratchet up pressure on North Korea until Kim Jong-un agrees to talk.” It is important to note South Korea’s insistence on talks with North Korea. In response, President Trump tweeted, “South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they (North Korea) only understand one thing.”

To resolve the North Korean issue, it is urgent to have a coordinated approach, at least among US allies. North Korea’s sixth test has been the biggest till date, of around 100-150 kilotons of yield. The North Korean state media claimed that this was a thermonuclear device, now ready to be used with inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBM). North Korea also tested the Hyosung-12 and Hyosung-14 in July and August respectively, the latter being supposedly an ICBM with the capacity to reach the US mainland. 

Unfortunately, Trump seems more interested in blaming South Korea’s ‘appeasement’ and making provocative ‘irresponsible statements’. After the North Korean test, the White House announced another warning, of a "massive military response" by the US against North Korean provocation. US Defence Secretary James Mattis said that the US does not seek the “total annihilation” of North Korea, but threatened that it has “many options to do so,” emphasising that the US response would be “both effective and overwhelming.” When reporters asked Trump whether he had plans to attack North Korea, he answered, “we’ll see.”

Provocative statements from the Trump administration have been so oft-repeated that they appear to be empty and simply irresponsible. In yet another tweet,  Trump said that "the United States is considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea." President Trump seems to be unaware that some of these countries would include China, India, Philippines, Taiwan, France, Russia, Brazil, Germany, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

In the heightened crisis on the Korean peninsula, it would be a challenge for the South Korean administration to deal with the US and the North Korean leaders simultaneously, but it would definitely have to do so. Left up to Kim Jong-un or Donald Trump, the consequences would be disastrous.

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#5337, 13 August 2017
The US' Acrobatic Responses to the North Korean Riddle
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Visiting Fellow, IPCS
 

North Korea has been consistent and uncompromising in its pursuit of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. In 2017, on an average, North Korea carried out missile tests every 2.6 weeks. The North Korean pursuit has brought unimagined success to its nuclear and missile programmes. It is undeniable that Pyongyang is quite close to having its Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM). North Korea already possessed the capacity to reach any part of the Northeast Asia; and its great leap in the past few months towards attaining the capability to reach the US would definitely change the security equation in the region.

Earlier, the US had the leisure to follow a policy of ‘strategic patient’ with North Korea, but now, North Korean belligerence has been increasing at an alarming pace and the Washington needs to formulate and execute its Pyongyang policy immediately.

Unfortunately, contrary to Pyongyang’s consistency, the US’ responses have till now been confused and insufficient. The US administration led by President Donald Trump has been attempting various strategies simultaneously in a highly incoherent manner. There are statements by US policymakers that do not give any sense of a policy. For example, the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, stated that the US was keeping all the options, including the military one, on table with regard to the issue of North Korea. On the other hand, in early August, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US is not pushing for regime change in North Korea. He said, “we do not seek a regime change, we do not seek the collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th parallel.” He acknowledged that confrontation with North Korea could be catastrophic and the US would prefer negotiations backed by economic pressure. Meanwhile, the Director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, who may become the next US National Security Advisor, does not seem to share Tillerson’s views. On 20 July, he signaled that regime change in North Korea would be a better option. Even Vice President Mike Pence indicated that talks with North Korea were not on table in the given circumstances.

In a more outrageous statement, US’ Republican Senator Lindsey Graham stated that Trump told him he was “willing to go to war with North Korea if they (North Korea) continued to try to hit America with an ICBM.” He further quoted Trump that "if there's going to be a war to stop him (Kim Jon-un), it will be over there. If thousands die, they will die over there. They're not going to die over here. If Graham’s revelations are true, it is quite contrary to Trump’s earlier stand in when he had said that he would be ‘honoured’ to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for talks. These flip-flops in the US policy on regime change, talks, and military actions and economic sanctions are unlikely to fetch any positive result on the issue. Rather it would make North Korea further suspicious about the US intent.

The next challenge for the US administration is regarding winning China’s support in the process of denuclearisng North Korea. Here too, US policy makers have been making contradictory remarks. In fact, Trump himself was quite appreciative of the Chinese President Xi Jinping and in April 2017, he said, “I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea.” However, in July 2017, Trump tweeted that “I am very disappointed in China… they do nothing for us with North Korea, just talks.”
Another incoherence in the US policy emanates from the fact that two of its important allies in East Asia – Japan and South Korea – appear to have different approach towards North Korea. Whereas, Japan under Shinzo Abe prefers continuation or rather augmentation of tough approach in dealing with North Korea; and South Korean President Moon Jae-in is placating North Korea for talks. The Trump administration needs to coordinate its policy with them and it has not been easy till now.

While North Korea is determined to acquire nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, the US administration has responded with acrobatic stances, which may look interesting and news-worthy but has had no positive impact on the ground. Actually, these stances of the US may further deteriorate the security situation in the region instead of improving it.

There could be two explanations for the US’ flip-flops: One, Trump has gathered incompatible people around himself and they are just fumbling in dark; or two, most policy makers in the Trump administration are basically hardliners who want military action on North Korea but since China does not allow it, they are in a fix. It is also possible that both explanations are simultaneously applicable. Whatever the explanation for the US’ flip-flops on North Korea, Washington must realise that unless its North Korea policy becomes consistent, coherent and coordinated, there could be dangerous consequences.

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#5320, 10 July 2017
Japan’s ‘New Approach’ to Russia: Is it Moving Forward?
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and Visiting Fellow & Columnist, IPCS
 

After over a year of deliberations, a team of Japanese officials and few business leaders finally visited the Russian-controlled Southern Kurils Islands on 27 June 2017. Japan calls them Northern Territories, but they have been under the control of Russia since World War II. The purpose of the visit was to explore the possibilities and modalities of joint economic activities on the islands by both Russia and Japan. Even though the five-day visit is claimed to be “a big step towards resolving the territorial issue” between Japan and Russia, a remarkably cold response from the latter makes it difficult to anticipate any substantial breakthrough on the issue in the near future. Moreover, the change in the regional power equations has also made it less likely that Russia would be still eager to cooperate with Japan as it promised earlier.

This has been one of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ambitious projects, part of his policy of rapprochement towards Russia. In May 2016, Abe announced this policy, called the New Approach to Russia, and said that Japan would like to resolve territorial disputes with it by utilising two mechanisms: economic cooperation and frequent high-level diplomatic exchanges. This policy is based on the premise that economic benefits to Russia would be able to buy territorial concessions for Japan.

However, it seems that political and other security variables were not taken into consideration in the formulations of this optimistic policy.

The potential economic benefits to Russia through cooperation with Japan cannot be denied. It was this reason that compelled Russian President Vladimir Putin to respond positively to Japan’s proposal last year. In December 2016, Putin visited Tokyo and agreed to undertake joint economic projects for the Kurils Islands after joint surveys and studies. He also agreed that these joint projects should be operated under a ‘special legal framework’. However, it was naïve on Japan’s part to believe that Russia would pursue its economic benefits devoid of security and strategic interests. 

From the very beginning, both parties have different perspectives about the deal. Russia considered this purely as an economic deal, which would not dilute its claim over the islands. But Japan publicised Putin’s agreement about the ‘special legal framework’ as Russia’s indirect admission that these islands did not come under its legal framework. It was, thus, perceived as a sign of Russia’s compromise on the issue of its sovereignty. This deal has not progressed well because of these fundamental differences in their respective perspectives. An initial survey was originally planned to be conducted in May 2017, but it was postponed by Russia.

Japan sent a special envoy to Russia and finally the survey dates were scheduled for late June 2017. 

Furthermore, in the past few months, there have been other adverse developments, connected to the different perspectives of the two countries. In recent times, a Russian research vessel was found to be operating in Japan’s exclusive economic zone and a Japanese lecturer was caught by Russian customs authority carrying Japanese language teaching material to the disputed islands. All these developments show that political and security considerations, which are the backbone of the bilateral differences to the proposed deal, are going to make it difficult for Japan’s ‘New Approach’ to Russia to succeed.

Constant changes in the US-China contestations in the region have also made Russia more reluctant to concede any potential advantage to Japan. US President Donald Trump's administration appears to be unhappy with North Korea’s persistent belligerent behaviour, and is ready to enhance security cooperation with Japan, which is unacceptable to Russia. 

On 1 June 2017, Putin underlined the importance of the islands, claiming that their transfer or even common use with Japan might lead to these islands being used for missile defence systems. Although, he did not name the US, his indication was quite clear. On 15 June 2017, the Russian embassy in Tokyo issued an appeal to Japan not to join the US missile defence system. Russia appears to be worried about Japan moving closer to the US in the context of the US-China contestations, which would not be conducive to Russia's national interests. 

Overall, it seems that Shinzo Abe’s ‘New Approach’ to Russia is unlikely to help in resolving territorial disputes with Russia on the Kuril Islands. Even though the initial survey has begun, given the different priorities of the two countries and broader geopolitical factors, the prospects of the 'New Approach' do not look positive.

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#5304, 21 June 2017
India and the Koreas: Promises and Follow-ups
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, SIS, JNU, & Visiting Fellow, IPCS
 

From the very beginning of its term in 2014, India's incumbent National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government showed decisive intent towards bringing more dynamism in India’s foreign policy. Good examples of this were its policies towards Southeast Asia and East Asia. India not only renamed the erstwhile Look East Policy (LEP) as Act East Policy (AEP), but also announced that more substance would be added into India’s relations with these countries. Apart from more economic and political exchanges, the new policy sought to invoke India's strategic and deep-rooted cultural connections with these countries. It was expected that the Korean peninsula, which comprises North Korea and South Korea, would also receive more attention. 

India-South Korea
India-South Korea economic exchanges, cultural and educational connections and political understanding have been spectacular from the early 1990s. For example, bilateral trade between the two countries, which was less than US$1 billion, reached over US$20 billion in 2011-12. India and South Korea signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) in 2009; and in January 2010, India and South Korea signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA). 

However, the momentum in India-South Korea bilateral relations slowed in the last year of the previous Indian government. After the first two years of implementation, it was alleged that the CEPA was creating hindrances rather than propelling bilateral trade. There were also differences of opinion between New Delhi and Seoul over investment and business issues. 

With the NDA government coming to power, it was expected that India and South Korea would be able to overcome these hindrances and invest renewed energy in their relations. Indian Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi visited South Korea in May 2015 and expectedly indicated a new and important beginning in bilateral relations. During his one-and-a-half day visit, India and South Korea signed a number of agreements and MoUs in all possible areas. The two countries agreed to hold annual meetings of their foreign and defence ministers. Cooperation in the fields of defence, defence production, cultural and educational exchanges and various other common concerns were addressed during the visit. 

Furthermore, both countries enhanced their SPA to Special Strategic Partnership (SSP) and declared that India’s constructive role in resolving the North Korean nuclear and missile issues along with the establishment of a peace regime in the region would be welcomed. India and South Korea also resolved to hold a review process of the CEPA and revise it. South Korea was invited to participate in the Modi government's flagship projects, ‘Make in India’ and ‘Digital India’. 

However, subsequent follow-ups have been far from satisfactory. There have been some minor achievements such as the commencement of daily flights between New Delhi and Seoul and clearance to export Indian mangoes to South Korea, but on most of the critical issues, a lot still needs to be done. The inability to bring momentum to bilateral relations is equally attributable to South Korea. For example, while India seeks more Korean investments in India’s manufacturing sector, South Korean companies carry out their manufacturing activities via a handful of connections with Indian companies.

Similarly, South Korea is ready to sell LNG tankers to India without sharing its technology and know-how. While South Korea is worried about decreasing bilateral trade, it is unwilling to help with India’s trade deficits. However, all this was expected and therefore it was upon the NDA government to bring political will to overcome these problems. It appears that India, under the NDA government, has also not been able to look at the broad and long-term reciprocity and the political leadership has left it to bureaucrats to decide foreign policy via their narrow and mechanical approaches. For example, the review of the CEPA was declared by the Indian PM in May 2015 and even after over two years, the process is far from over. It was reported in early-June 2017 that India is implementing the highest number of trade regulations against South Korea, which does not speak well of this bilateral relationship.

It is also important to note that the NDA government’s manifest closeness with Japan and a show of little reluctance to be part of an alliance against China make South Korea uncomfortable. Seoul might have a security alliance with Washington but it has strong economic exchanges with Beijing, and would not like to be in a situation where it has to choose between the US and China or Japan and China.

To South Korea’s further discomfort, the NDA government has also had some interactions with North Korea. Overall, India-South Korea relations during the NDA government continue to face hindrances that crept up right at the beginning. 

India-North Korea
India-North Korea relations have also been almost static during the first three years of the NDA government. In 2015, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong visited India, and India's Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju, after attending a function at the North Korean Embassy in New Delhi, expressed India’s intent to maintain good relations with North Korea. In fact, India has had consistent diplomatic relations with North Korea albeit the relations became cold after the revelations of nuclear and missile technology exchanges between North Korea and Pakistan. Relations strained further with economic sanctions and North Korea's diplomatic isolation by the international community. 

Notwithstanding these strains, India continues to provide humanitarian assistance to North Korea and maintains bilateral diplomatic relations. The few extra activities in India-North Korea relations in 2015 may be read as India’s intent to explore whether it could play a more active role in the East Asian region via North Korea.

There are also speculations that former US President Barack Obama's administration was in favour of a more active Indian role and that India’s actions were prompted by covert US support. However, India withdrew itself after it realised that the cost of flirting with North Korea would be huge and would be premature for New Delhi to venture into this. 

Overall, in the past three years of the NDA rule, India’s foreign policy towards South Korea has not brought any significant change in their bilateral relations. Similarly there is nothing new to say about India’s relations with North Korea.

Although India made good gestures in the first year of the incumbent government's term, follow-ups have been slow or non-existent on most issues. The blame for this stagnation is to be placed not on the diplomats and bureaucrats but on the political leadership of both the countries. It is urgent now for the NDA government to show that the dynamism promised in the AEP is not just loud and empty promises but that they indeed have substance and political will. This will not be achieved by leaders simply congratulating each other over Twitter.

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#5291, 6 June 2017
South Korea-North Korea: A New Version of Engagement
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, SIS, JNU, & Visiting Fellow, IPCS
 

On 9 May 2017, Moon Jae-in was elected as the new President of South Korea. The elections happened after the impeachment of the previous conservative President Park Geun-hye. It was almost certain that the Democratic Party candidate would have a clear victory in the elections because the conservative political groups were demoralised, divided and disorganised after the impeachment. Moon Jae-in’s victory has important implications for domestic politics in South Korea, especially in the domains of welfare, employment generations, transparency and accountability in governance. However, it would be interesting to see how the new President will operationalise his engagement policy toward North Korea.

Moon Jae-in was one of the main proponents of South Korean engagement policy toward North Korea that was practiced from 1998 to 2007 under the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations of South Korea. He was President Roh Moo-hyun's main confidante and played a key role in organising the Second Summit Meet between South and North Korean leaders in October 2007. Afterwards, during the two successive conservative South Korean administrations, from 2008 under Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, engagement with North Korea was practically abandoned. It is expected that Moon Jae-in will bring back the engagement approach vis-à-vis North Korea during his administration’s tenure.

In reality, the first phase of South Korea’s engagement policy, from 1998 to 2007, became less popular because it was not able to bring sufficient change in North Korea's provocative behaviour. North Korea had its first nuclear tests in October 2006, and the conservative leadership in South Korea proposed that a tough approach would be more effective in dealing with North Korea. The last two conservative administrations have preferred to put more economic sanctions, diplomatic pressures and even demonstrations of military strength to counter North Korea. However, the result has been worse than expected. North Korea conducted four nuclear tests and an average of seven missile tests per year during this period.

The tough approach could also be blamed for the discontinuation of several channels of communications between the two Koreas. During the first phase of the engagement policy, South Korea became North Korea's number one trading partner, and but now their bilateral trade has dropped to a negligible level. Since there is no North Korean dependence on South Korea, the leverage to influence North Korea’s behaviour is also non-existent. Overall, the containment or tough approach towards North Korea had been a definite failure in inducing a change in North Korean behaviour.

Thus, a new version of the engagement policy toward North Korea is keenly expected from the new leadership in South Korea. In fact in just three weeks of his administration, President Moon Jae-in has allowed several South Korean NGOs and citizens’ groups to re-establish contact with North Korea. In April 2017, the Foreign Minister-designate Kang Kyung-hwa siad that South Korea’s humanitarian assistance to North Korea should be provided separately from political considerations.  Moon Jae-in, who has been responsible in the past for various modes of contact between the two countries, including the summit meet between the leaders, has appointed the chief of National Intelligence Services (NIS), Most of the foreign and defence policy decision-makers who have been nominated by Moon Jae-in so far are ardent and consistent supporters of the engagement policy.

However, the new phase of engagement will have several obstacles in its way. First, North Korea is now a de-facto nuclear power that is ready to talk peace but is not ready to give up its nuclear and missile programmes. North Korea tested three missiles in the first three weeks of the Moon Jae-in administration, intending to show its resolve to maintain their nuclear and missile programmes. Second, the US under Donald Trump appears to be in favour of a tougher approach toward North Korea and it would be a big challenge for Moon Jae-in to convince Washington and ask for time and space in favour of his engagement policy. Third, China has also been quite unhappy with the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system in South Korea. It would be interesting to see whether China goes along with the US to put more pressure on North Korea or cooperates with THAAD-equipped South Korea to engage North Korea.

In sum, the new version of the engagement policy toward North Korea will definitely be tried by Moon Jae-in but its initiation will not be easy. Moreover, its course and results will be more complicated as there have been several significant changes in the regional calculus and in North Korea during the last decade.

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#5279, 1 May 2017
Trump’s North Korea Policy: Regional Implications
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, JNU, & Visiting Fellow, IPCS
 

US President Donald Trump has displayed an inconsistent and dangerous approach towards North Korean provocations, prompting even Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to advise restraint. This is because the consequences of a major conflict on the Korean peninsula, which would definitely have nuclear dimensions, are going to be disastrous for the whole region.

The present episode of crisis was caused by the Trump administration’s attempt to move the redline over the North Korean nuclear and missile programmes. Earlier, after North Korean nuclear and missile tests, the US used to bring more stringent economic and diplomatic sanctions on Pyongyang through UNSC resolutions. However, the new US administration is threatening to use ‘preemptive strikes’ on North Korean installations if any tests are conducted. Also, the US has been considering provisions of ‘secondary sanctions' on countries, bodies and individuals that deal with North Korea. If North Korea acknowledges and accepts this new redline, they will be unable to have more nuclear and missile tests. In all probability therefore the Kim Jong-un regime will not accept this proposition, at least not before some diplomatic gains are achieved through dialogue and negotiation. However, the US is not ready to accept any form of dialogue with North Korea, until the latter “refrains from these provocative tests.”

In dealing with the ‘unpredictable’ North Korea, Donald Trump has been trying to convey that he is also equally unpredictable. He also wants to show that his threats are not empty by firing missiles on Syria and detonating the ‘mother of all bombs’ in Afghanistan. The US has also brought back the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to the Korean Peninsula, along with the nuclear-powered submarine USS Michigan. Bilateral and multilateral military exercises between the US, South Korea, Japan, France and Britain are underway around the Korean peninsula. The US has also hastened to install the Terminal High Altitude Arial Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea. All these measures are meant to pressurise North Korea into accepting the new US redline.

Although the US has threatened to ‘go alone’ on the North Korean issue, Washington knows that the role of Beijing is going to be very critical. For the same reason, Donald Trump likely tried to reach some understanding with Chinese President Xi Jinping in dealing with North Korea during their recent summit meet in Florida, and over the phone conversations that followed. The US has been attempting to appease Beijing by promising trade concessions and taking Chinese security interests in the region into consideration.

However, the game that the Trump administration appears to be playing is devoid of any understanding of the complex regional context. Donald Trump needs to understand that ‘blinking first’ is not an option for North Korea’s belligerent regime. The North Korean strategy so far has been to defy any pressure and sanctions, and assert its independent security posture. Any moderation in this strategy in response to pressure would lead to the regime’s total strangulation and is thus not an acceptable proposition. Trump must also understand that North Korea is not Syria, for at least three reasons. First, North Korea possesses nuclear weapons along with their delivery systems. Second, North Korea’s survival is ensured by China. While China is not in favour of North Korean nuclear development or its provocative behaviour, it is definitely committed to the country’s survival. Third, any preemptive strike on North Korea would invite North Korean assured retaliation on Seoul, where one-fourth of the South Korean population resides, in addition to fifteen thousand US soldiers.

The US has also been unable to understand that China is not going to change its approach towards North Korea because of Donald Trump’s cheap inducements. Instead, it seeks bilateral trust based on a long-term common vision for the region. China has consistently been imposing economic sanctions on North Korea aimed at its nuclear and missile programmes, in tandem with the international community’s efforts. However, it also continues to have significant trade linkages with North Korea that help the regime survive. China’s recent ban on North Korean coal imports has more to do with its compliance with UNSC resolution 2321 and less with a bilateral understanding with the US. China’s approach was made clear by Foreign Minister Wang Yi in his speech at the UNSC on 28 April, when he called for dialogue and diplomacy on the North Korean crisis rather than military threats and arms build-ups. Trump’s redlines thus carry with them huge consequences.

The US administration’s approach has also irked South Korea, one of its allies in the region. South Korea feels that although Trump has unilaterally determined his North Korea policy, it will have far-reaching regional consequences. In addition, Trump has asked South Korea for US$1 billion for the deployment of THAAD, and has hastened the process of deployment when there is no elected leader in the country. The South Korean media has in fact emphasised that through his behaviour, Trump has threatened not only North but also South Korea. When the new South Korean leadership takes over in less than two weeks, it is likely that the very alliance with the US will be reviewed.

In this scenario, Trump’s unfolding game in the Korean Peninsula is, at best, not going to work, and at worst, may have devastating consequences for the region. Many in the region are of the opinion that the real danger is not from Kim Jong-un doing something catastrophic but Trump making a foolish move. It is only hoped that good sense prevails and a modus vivendi is evolved to deal with the crisis.

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#5260, 4 April 2017
Park Geun-hye's Impeachment and South Korean Foreign Policy
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, JNU, & Visiting Fellow, IPCS
 

South Korean President Park Geun-hye was impeached by the National Assembly on 9 December 2016. There were thirteen charges against her; these included bribery, influence peddling, and dereliction of duty. On 10 March 2017, the Constitutional Court of Korea unanimously upheld the impeachment, and sent Geun-hye to prison on 31 March.
In fact, the process of Park Geun-hye’s downfall began in October 2016, when it was reported that her old family friend, Choi Sun-sil, had access to government documents, took final decisions on government policy and appointments, and embezzled huge sums of money from Korean business houses by establishing various foundations. The widespread shock among South Koreans reflected in her popularity ratings, which reached a low of 4 per cent after these revelations.

Geun-hye's downfall has been perceived in South Korea as a positive moment in their democratic processes. An entirely peaceful people’s movement has shown that the South Korea polity is governed by the ‘rule of law’ and that nobody is above it. In the peaceful protests that took place across South Korea over the past five months and in which more than half of the Korean population participated, there was no report of violence, destruction of public property, or rioting. The South Korean polity, which was earlier supposed to be divided between the conservative and progressive parties, appears much more cohesive than is believed - less than 20 per cent favours conservative forces.

The impeachment, apart from having consequences for domestic politics, is also going to have some important implications for South Korea’s relations with the US, China, Japan and North Korea.

One of the most important issues for the next South Korean presidential elections scheduled for 9 May 2017 is the installation of the Terminal High Altitude Air Defence (THAAD) system in the country. South Korea's progressive parties are campaigning to review this decision. It has been alleged that Geun-hye did not allow enough public discussion on the subject and quite suddenly decided to deploy THAAD in early-2016, after North Korea's missile and nuclear tests. In the first three years of her term, Gen-hye was keen on engaging China and had annual summit meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, 2014 and 2015. In this period, South Korea joined the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Chinese initiative, in spite of Washington’s displeasure. Earlier, it officially denied, on multiple occasions, that they were discussing THAAD with the US. It appears South Korea did not conduct a sufficient cost-benefit analysis of the situation, as China's displeasure would have  serious implications for their bilateral economic and security exchanges.

For the same reason, the US sent its first major installment of THAAD equipment to South Korea when the process of impeachment was underway. The intention was to move forward to a point of irreversibility or no return. The tactic may work, and if the process of installation moves beyond the critical phase, it will not be easy for the next South Korean president to reverse the decision even if they undertake a review.

However, despite the unlikelihood of a reversal of the decision on technical grounds, the next progressive president may try to mend relations with China, which have deteriorated in the past year and a half owing to THAAD. Over two South Korean progressive administrations, from 1998 to 2002, the country forged close ties with China in the political and strategic domains, and this might be repeated.

Geun-hye's administration also reached a hasty ‘final deal’ with Japan in late December 2015 on the issue of comfort women. South Korea's progressive parties have been consistently critical of this deal, and the new president in all likelihood will review it. It has been alleged that in the first three  years of her presidency, Geun-hye held several South Korea-Japan bilateral exchanges hostage to  the comfort women issue, and she agreed to a less-than-satisfactory deal when this started having a negative impact on South Korea. Notwithstanding domestic contestation, Japan-South Korea relations may deteriorate if the next president tries to revise or scrap the deal.

The Geun-hye administration has been criticised by the progressive parties on the issue of North Korean missile and nuclear tests as well, and her policy to engage North Korea has been deemed a failure.  Although Geun-hye had initially proposed ‘trust politik’ with North Korea, inter-Korea relations and lines of communication worsened during her presidency. The next president may have a more genuine policy of engagement that would not demand mechanical or short-term reciprocity.

Overall, the South Korean president's impeachment will lead to a significant shift in South Korea's foreign policy orientation with implications for East Asian regional politics.

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#5242, 6 March 2017
US Tactical Nukes in the Korean Peninsula?
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; and Visiting Fellow & Columnist, IPCS
 

On 4 March 2017, The New York Times reported that the US national security deputies discussed the option of redeploying tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula. The expressed purpose was to give North Korea a ‘dramatic warning’. It may not be easy to make a final decision on the issue as it would also need consent from South Korea; but bringing the option on the table itself is an important move by the Trump administration, with serious implications. 

The US' tactical nuclear weapons were withdrawn from the Korean peninsula in September 1991. Washington's policy has been consistent and clear that neither US tactical weapons are needed on the Korean peninsula nor is South Korea allowed to develop its own nuclear arsenal. The current deliberation, if taken forward, would be a fundamental departure from the US' nearly three decades-long posture.

There could be three reasons for the US to opt for this change. One, presence of the tactical nuclear weapons would give parity to South Korea in its negotiations with North Korea. Two, it would send a clear message to North Korea that the policy of the new administration would be very different from the ‘strategic patience’ of former US President Barack Obama's administration. Third, it would push Beijing to be tougher with North Korea as these tactical warheads are going to be stationed in the close vicinity of Chinese territory. The US' move is also posited in the Trump administration’s recent opinion that it is too late to talk to North Korea and China is not doing enough to end North Korean nuclear ambition, which it can do 'very quickly and easily'. 

The US' desperation vis-a-vis the North Korean nuclear programme is understandable but its strategy and course seems to be less informed about the recent developments in China-North Korea relations and China-South Korea relations. In fact, China has recently shown willingness to apply more pressure on North Korea. On 18 February 2017, China cut off one of Pyongyang's very few revenue lifelines by banning North Korea’s coal imports for the rest of the year. China has also been concerned about the Kim Jong-un regime in North Korea which has had 40 ballistic-missile and three nuclear tests during his five-year reign, including four missile tests on 6 March 2017. Furthermore, Jong-un has purged senior officials who allegedly had close links to China, including his uncle Jang Song-thaek. 

It is also suspected that Jong-un fears a possible Chinese conspiracy to replace him; and that the recent killing of Jong-un's estranged brother Kim Jong-nam in Malaysia is also a result of this fear psychosis towards China as he was living in Macao under Chinese protection. Although, North Korea denies its role in the killing, the use of the nerve agent VX would definitely alarm China about Pyongyang's chemical weapons capacity. For the same reasons, Chinese President Xi Jinping met his South Korean counterpart on multiple occasions after assuming office, but has so far denied meeting with the North Korean leader. On 28 February 2017, North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Ri Kil-song began a five-day visit to China but reportedly the visit failed to re-establish communication between the two countries. 

However, it would be premature to conclude on whether China will be irreversibly tougher towards North Korea because it fears that a collapse of North Korea may lead to a wave of refugees and also the disappearance of a geopolitical buffer to US forces under a unified Korea. However, obdurate North Korea poses difficult choices for Beijing, and China has increasingly adopted a tougher approach towards North Korea.

Already, the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Air Defence (THAAD) missile system in South Korea has been an unacceptable proposition to China. Even though South Korea has explained to Beijing about it being meant for North Korea multiple times, China does not seem convinced. In the past few months, it has taken tougher actions on South Korea by curtailing Chinese tourists to South Korea and punishing Lotte Stores in China, which in South Korea is proving space for the THAAD installation. 

In the above context, the recent deliberations over redeployment of US tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula seem to be an act of over-doing. It comes at a timewhen Beijing appears to be ready to do more to stop North Korea’s nuclear ambition. China seems to be convinced that North Korea's dangerous provocations in the form of nuclear and missile tests along with its clear defiance to China’s national interests could not be tolerated indefinitely. However, it needs space and excuses to be tougher on North Korea. Over-reaction by the US or South Korea would not provide China the space or excuse to do so. 

US moves in the East Asia, including its approach towards North Korea under the Trump administration, appear to be based on the tactic of unilateral pro-action, and friends and foes are pushed to make their own reactions. Several experts who have been dissatisfied with the Obama administration’s ‘inaction’ in Northeast Asia may read Trump’s moves positively. However, even from this perspective of pro-activeness, it would be more appropriate to give sufficient time to others to react. 

This week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit China, South Korea and Japan, and hopefully, his deliberations would lead to a rethink over the US' deliberation on tactical nuclear weapons. Otherwise, it seems that the US has moved from being inactive to overactive vis-a-vis North Korea and neither of the strategies may be able to bring desired results.

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#5232, 6 February 2017
Forecast 2017: East Asia
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Sandip Kumar Mishra Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; and Visiting Fellow & Columnist, IPCS
 

Among others, at present, the East Asian theatre could be characterised by two key distinctions. First, with Donald Trump as the US president, regional politics is led by a squad of ‘aggressive’ leaders. The leadership in each East Asian country - namely, China, Japan, South Korea, and North Korea - was already in the hands of aggressive leaders, and the US has joined this phenomenon with the Trump's victory. Second, the ‘rising power’, China, and existing superpower, the US, both take this region as their non-negotiable influence zone and have been at loggerheads with each other.

In the above context, it could be said that East Asia is going to be the most significant theatre of international politics in 2017. It is interesting to note that in the region, neither the countries that want to maintain ‘status quo’ nor those who want to ‘revise’ it have sufficient capacity to do so. However, all of them appear to be adamant to retain their aggressive orientation; and the implications for the region will be dire. 
 
China
Scholars like David Shambough have raised questions about China's future by conducting a survey of China’s economics, politics, society, and foreign policy. However, China's President Xi Jinping has been more aggressive in projecting himself as the ‘core leader’ in domestic politics and has been asking for a ‘great power relationship’ with the US. China has been overtly assertive in the South and East China seas, albeit its ‘soft power’ in the region is on a decline. Beijing is talking about its One Belt One Road (OBOR) project and has established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) but appears to spend more attention on strangulating the US' regional allies and friendly countries. China’s recently published White Paper on Asia-Pacific Security outlines strategies to deal with these issues but appears to be tilted towards a non-compromising attitude. 
 
US
The US under the President Donald Trump's administration also appears to be determined to challenge Chinese aggressiveness. The US' priority regarding East Asia in general and China in particular could be gauged from the fact that in the first foreign visit by the new administration’s representative, US Defense Secretary James Mattis went to South Korea and Japan and assured its allies. President Trump has indicated that on trade issues, South China Sea, cyber security and North Korea, China has to listen to Washington, or else Taiwan or other issues that are considered as settled may be brought on board again. Having a phone conversation with the Taiwanese President immediately after his election might be a glimpse of this policy. It seems that although President Trump had initially demanded more burden-sharing of the alliances from Japan and South Korea - which may have created a drift in the relations - the administration has realised that these allies are extremely important to Washington's counter-strategy against Beijing, and have therefore decided to postpone burden-sharing issue.
 
Unfortunately, by announcing the end of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), by announcing ‘America First’ by trade protectionism, and by restricting immigration, Trump is going to necessarily hurt these allies. Overall, it seems that the US has neither the domestic means nor a detailed external strategy in place to check China but yet, it's eager to do so.
 
Japan
Japan’s search for its ‘pride place’ is going to be another important variable in the East Asian regional politics in 2017. Japan's Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is determined to retrieve Japan's economic viability and military strength, under his leadership. Prime Minister Abe has been gradually working to make required changes in the Japanese constitution and other legal documents. Furthermore, he seeks to challenge China, maintain good relations with the US and reach out to the Southeast Asian countries. Tokyo wants to challenge Beijing not only in the East China Sea where the two countries have a dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and Chinese Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), but also in the South China Sea. In doing so, Tokyo needs to forge better relations with the Southeast Asian countries. However, it may be noted that Japan’s aggressiveness is equally alarming for the Southeast Asian countries and South Korea. Furthermore, Prime Minister Abe’s military posture must be supported by Japan's economic recovery; and despite all the hype of ‘Abenomics’, that is still not taking place. 
 
South Korea
For South Korea, 2017 began with political crisis in which President Park Geun-hye's impeachment by the National Assembly is being vetted by the constitutional court. There is strong possibility that she would finally be impeached, and the next president - who would be elected in mid-2017 or in the latter half of the year - would not be from the conservative party. Perhaps this is why South Korea's Acting President, Hwang Kyo-an, has been trying to push the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea and military intelligence sharing agreement with Japan to an irreversible stage. It would be a tumultuous year for South Korea both in the domestic politics as well as its foreign policy, which has to position itself in the great powers’ contest in the region along with ongoing aggressive posturing of North Korea at its doorsteps.
 
North Korea
Although, Pyongyang is determined to continue its provocative and aggressive behaviour, an active US involvement would make it difficult for North Korea to do so. President Trump has announced to change former US President Barack Obama’s policy of ‘strategic patience’ vis-a-vis North Korea. Even though he does not get enough support from China in resolving the North Korean issue, he would take bilateral actions or steps with its regional allies, Seoul and Tokyo, to cap Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs. China would utilise President Trump’s desperation on North Korea as a bargaining chip with the US. In all probability, North Korean foreign policy as well as domestic politics would witness significant change in 2017. If the US and China are unable to deal with the North Korean issue, there would be stronger demands by South Korea and Japan to go nuclear along with continuous increase in their defence expenditure.
 
Overall, 2017 will be a determining year in geopolitical relations in East Asia as well as globally; and unfortunately, it appears that there will be more overt contestations and face-offs between the regional countries. It will be a big test for the quest for a liberal order in the region and regarding the arrival on a modus vivendi of coexisting with differences.

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#5221, 10 January 2017
Japan-China Contestation in 2017
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, JNU, & Visiting Fellow, IPCS
 

2017 is set to be a consequential year for East Asia in general and Japan-China contests in particular. Beijing and Tokyo's growing assertive postures would continue in 2017 and it is likely that the Japan-China contestation in the region would be more direct and scary. Both countries have been extremely uncompromising under the leaderships of Japan's Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, and China's President, Xi Jinping. Both have been incrementally crossing mutual permissible lines and the trend portends further worsening. There are concerns that in 2017, both with further test the policy of ‘offence’.

In the past few months, there have been significant developments, which point in this direction. Chinese coastal guards have significantly increased their patrolling near the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. In 2016, China also submitted over 50 applications to the Sub-Committee on Undersea Feature Names, part of the Monaco-based International Hydrographic Organization, to give Chinese names to underwater topographic features that had Japanese or other non-Chinese names. These applications were double in number than those submitted in 2015. Although 34 Chinese names were rejected, the move shows Beijing’s intent. Over the past six years, China has successfully gotten 76 names approved. It also must be underlined that in 2013, China unilaterally declared the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea and there are allegations that it has gradually been becoming stricter in its implementation. 

Japan also keenly observes China's behaviour pertaining to the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, the One-Belt One-Road (OBOR) project, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and its fierce opposition of the installations of the US Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system in the East Asia. On most platforms of bilateral and multilateral exchanges, the Chinese approach has been overtly non-compromising. China has been flexing its muscles at the East Asian Summit, ASEAN, and the ASEAN+3, ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), among others, which makes Japan concerned.

Similarly, Japan too has been equally uncompromising in its approach. Tokyo increased its military budget again, which is the fifth consecutive increase in a row and its latest defence paper openly mentions islands' security and the East China Sea as the main contexts of the increase. Japan’s procurement of naval ships and submarines are the main focus of the defence expenditure; and this was evidently done bearing China in mind. In early December 2016, two Japanese F-15 fighter jets allegedly interfered in the training of Chinese Air Force in the Western Pacific, which irked Beijing.

Additionally, Japan has a plan to establish an organisation of the Japanese Coast Guard, which would help Southeast Asian countries ‘improve maritime safety’; and this organisation is slated to become operational from April 2017. In a more recent move, Japan added the name Taiwan to its de facto embassy in Taipei on 28 December 2016, which will certainly annoy China. Actually, China may read Japanese overtures to Taiwan as part of Tokyo and Washington's joint plan because the US President-elect, Donald Trump, has also shown a glimpse of his intent to review the status quo of the US' ‘One China Policy’. Trump received a phone call from the Taiwan's President, Tsai Ing-wen, and justified his conversation strongly. China would consider it a Tokyo-Washington joint plan to alter Taiwan's status in their diplomacy. 

On 29 December 2016, Japan's Defense Minister Tomomi Inada visited Yasukuni shrine to again emphasise Japan's intent of non-compromise. Furthermore, in early January 2017, the defense minister had visited the NATO headquarters to deepen NATO-Japan defence cooperation and along with the Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, participated in the two-plus-two talks with France on security issues in the East China Sea and the region. Japan has also been trying to placate Russia's President, Vladimir Putin; and during his visit to Japan in mid-December 2016, Tokyo assured many economic concessions to Moscow. Observers connect Japan's extra efforts to improve relations with Russia with the Japanese efforts to isolate China in regional politics.

Although, there are uncertainties over the Trump's approach towards Japan, Abe’s special meeting with the US president-elect in December 2016 indicates that the US commitment to Japanese security would continue. It is also because even though Trump has some reservations regarding Japan’s ‘free-ride’, he is overtly challenging China and for that, he needs Japan’s support.

Overall, the contestation between Japan and China is intensifying, and if neither party carries out a course correction in 2017, it may reach a critical point. Incremental quantitative changes are likely to bring qualitative transformation in the Japan-China bilateral this year. The course may be otherwise, if the following three variables intervene in the process: huge economic exchanges between the two countries; a decrease in Washington’s support to an aggressive Japan; and constructive intervention of concerned middle powers of the Asia-Pacific.

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#5199, 5 December 2016
Donald Trump and East Asia
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, JNU, & Visiting Fellow, IPCS
 

During the US elections, visualising Donald Trump as the next president was a daunting prospect. China, Japan, and South Korea wished for Hillary Clinton’s victory. Now, however, they have no choice but to accept and recalibrate their options and policies according to this new reality. 
It would be wishful thinking to assume that whatever Trump said during his campaign was just to woo voters and that they will not translate into policy. These expectations are also based on the premise that if the Trump administration begins to implement his stated policies, it would cause huge upheaval in East Asian regional politics and the US would therefore not like to do so. It is too premature to predict the shape of Trump’s East Asia policy. However, as a first step, in the region's politics, he has created stir by talking to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen over the phone. This is the first time that a president-elect of the US has talked to a top Taiwanese leader and has addressed her as President. This has, expectantly, caused outrage in China. Many analysts opine that it was unnecessary. However, if it is part of a coming tectonic change in the US approach towards East Asia, then it may be seen as a predictable beginning. 

By enraging China, Trump probably wants to emphasise that he will have a tougher approach towards China’s manipulation of its currency and its taking advantage of American businesses. Trump also promised that he would take a hard-line on Beijing’s aggressive actions in the East and South China Seas. On 4 December, Trump repeated these charges on Twitter. Trump's willingness to have a more aggressive posture vis-à-vis China is understandable but if his pronouncements about other countries of the region are taken together, it becomes obvious that there are fundamental contradictions in his position. 

Trump has recognised that the US has a capacity and its global presence cannot be continued at the cost of domestic sacrifices. He has said that Japan and South Korea are not contributing enough to the regional security architecture and are taking US security assurances as a free-ride. This would mean that South Korea, which is paying around US$860 million for the presence of 28,000 American soldiers, and Japan, which is paying around US$2 billion for the presence of 50,000 American soldiers, would have to bear the full cost for this military presence. This means that South Korea and Japan, both historical security allies of the US, would have to pay almost double of what they have been paying. 

This is indeed a difficult proposition for Japan and South Korea to accept. Trump’s calculations are based on the understanding that Japan and South Korea need US' security assistance and if they are not ready to pay the full cost, the US should withdraw. However, the US presence is not because of their generosity towards these age-old allies; it is part of its global strategy to have a foothold in East Asia. If Trump is going to be stubborn, Japan and South Korea could decide to force US soldiers out of their soil. In Japanese and South Korean domestic politics, many have articulated the need to secure their interest with US' help.

Trump appears to be less committed to Japan and South Korea’s security and has said that it is time they think about their own nuclear options. This is again a superficial understanding of the East Asian conundrum. One of the main reasons that Japan and South Korea have not developed nuclear arsenals is because of US pressure, in spite of occasional domestic demands to do so. If the US security commitment to Japan and South Korea gets diluted, they would probably not be hesitant to develop their own nuclear weapons. The presence of China and North Korea in the region, states that they consider hostile, would be a justifiable excuse.

Trump’s approach towards North Korea is not clear, except that he said that he would like to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for direct talks. Direct talks with Kim Jong-un would be a welcome development, as the present policy of the US to isolate, neglect and pressure North Korea has not brought any positive results. However, any such direct negotiations with North Korea must also be communicated to and coordinated with South Korea, Japan and China. 

Overall, it seems that Donald Trump wants to counter China without enough good will from Japan or South Korea, and in a situation where the US does not have enough capacity to do so alone. Trump Japan and South Korea to bear the full cost of the US presence in the region but does not recognise that these countries provide a foothold for the US in East Asia. He does not appear to have a problem if Japan and South Korea go nuclear, but may try to denuclearise North Korea, which does not indicate a clear approach towards global nuclear non-proliferation. He wants to have direct talks with North Korea and wants China to play a positive role but also seeks to take a tougher approach towards China.
 
These are some of the basic contradictions in Trump’s positions on East Asia that he has expressed until now. Although East Asian countries are expecting him to resolve these contradictions, his phone call with the Taiwanese president is not a good sign. However, that is still an act of the president-elect. Once his foreign policy team is constituted and he formally takes over the presidency, the picture will be clearer. Till then, it is a moment of great uncertainty in the minds of regional leaders.

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#5171, 8 November 2016
PM Modi’s Visit to Japan: Prospects and Prudence
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, JNU & Visiting Fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS)
 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to Japan, 11-12 November 2016, is eagerly awaited in India for an almost certain civil nuclear deal between the two countries. This would be an important achievement, as until now Japan has been firm on its stand of not having nuclear technology exchange with any non-NPT signatory. Both the countries had broad consensus on the deal during Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe’s visit to India in December 2015 and in the subsequent months the details have gradually been carved out. The deal will boost bilateral economic and security ties and facilitate leading US-based players to set up atomic plants in India. The deal has been important not only because Japan is one of the most important players in the nuclear energy sector but also because some of the American nuclear plant makers have Japanese investments in them and without Japan’s consent they were not able to reach the Indian market.
 
There have been important high-level contacts between India and Japan in the recent past, which which may be seen as a prelude to Modi’s visit and would bring more comprehensive partnership between the two countries in the future. On 3 November, a Japanese parliamentary delegation visited India and had a meeting with Modi and on 5 November, Japanese National Security Advisor Shotaro Yachi met his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval in New Delhi. In several other exchanges, both the countries have shown their strong willingness to collaborate on various issues of mutual cooperation such as tax convention to cover banking information, disaster management, high speed trains, Japanese investment in India and so on. In fact, after two years of talks, India’s Defence Ministry has approved the purchase of 12 ShinMaywa US-2i amphibious search-and-rescue/maritime surveillance aircraft from Japan. Though, it’s not clear if Japan has agreed to the Indian demand of buying only two of them and building the remaining ten in India, the deal per se is an important step forward. This would be the first time that Japan would export arms to India and it underlines the growing proximity and trust between the two countries. India and Japan have identified the importance of each other not only for bilateral cooperation and gains but also for their mutual interests on most of the regional and global issues.

In the changing economic and security dynamics of the Asia-Pacific region, which is largely shaped by the rise of China and its “assertive” moves in the regional politics, it has been imperative for Japan to reach out to India and ask for a more active role. Recently, the Deputy Director of Japan’s Foreign Ministry’s regional policy division, Yuki Tamura said that that “we are encouraging India to speak up on issues related to South China Sea because maritime security is important.” In the upcoming East Asia Summit in Japan, which will be held in December 2016, there is all probability that Tokyo would insist on India having a more proactive role on issues related to the maritime security of the region. 

The US is also in agreement with Japan that India must be supported and brought into the network of countries which are concerned about an “assertive China” in the South and the East China Sea and beyond. For the same reason, in June 2016, the Malabar Naval Exercise among India, the US and Japan took place near Okinawa in Japan. 

India-Japan friendship has a long history, which has gradually deepened with the course of time, though not without disagreements on India’s nuclear tests in 1998. However, under the leaderships of Modi and Abe, the pace and content of friendship has increased substantially. 

Although the growing “special strategic global partnership” between the two countries is an important achievement, which is going to be further strengthened by the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Japan, India should tread carefully on three counts. 

First, New Delhi needs to be cautious in prematurely over stretching its role in the regional politics. Although, India’s growing economic and military prowess is fact but it must take an incremental approach rather than committing itself beyond its capabilities.

Second, India should also be clear about its own national interests and carefully assess that by becoming part of the great game in Asia-Pacific, which has unleashed with decline of the US and emergence of China, India does not become a pawn of any vested interests. India shares a long unsettled border with China along with cultural and historical ties, which are absent in the cases of both Japan and the US. Thus, India’s approach towards China must also be different and more nuanced.

Third, in the process of building proximity with Japan, India must also remember that Japan has its own historical and colonial baggage with other countries of the region such as South Korea and Taiwan. India needs to assure them that the India-Japan ties would not hamper New Delhi’s bilateral relations with these countries. This would be possible when India does not solely and narrowly focus on its bilateral relations with Japan but also keeps in mind its integrated regional objectives.

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#5146, 4 October 2016
Future of the TPP and the US' Pivot to Asia
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, JNU & Visiting Fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS)
 


In the first round of the presidential debates in the US, it became certain that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is still far from being realised. While the Republican candidate, Donald Trump reiterated his opposition to the TPP, even the Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton stated that she is not in favour of it in its present form. This stance is understandable for Trump, who has been a supporter of protectionist policies, but more salient is the shift in Clinton’s approach, who worked for the conclusion of the TPP when she was the Secretary of State. In fact, current US President Barak Obama has still been trying to get the deal ratified by the US Congress. 

Hillary Clinton’s shift is posited in a domestic environment of growing unrest in the US over the TPP. It is alleged that the TPP is going to be less beneficial for US’ small and medium businesses and for the employment scenario and it has become politically difficult for any candidate to support the TPP as it would have adverse implications on their electoral success. 

TPP is a trade agreement among twelve countries of the Pacific Rim, which, after numerous rounds of discussions, was finally signed in February 2016 in New Zealand. Its ratification is still in process, post which it would come into force. The TPP was incorporated in US policy in 2008 to reengage with the Asia Pacific by excluding China. Later on it was considered to be an important component of the US pivot to Asia. The TPP was supposed to conclude in 2012 but it got prolonged because of both political and technical reasons. After a topsy-turvy journey, in February 2016, it appeared that the TPP would finally become a reality but the recent mood in the US seems to point to the fact that the process is far from over. 

The change in the public disposition appears to be an important reason for the US presidential candidates to distance themselves from it. If the deal is not ratified by the US, it means that the US’ influence and connections in setting up the economic rules of Asia Pacific is going to be seriously reduced. In July 2016, the US Trade Representative admitted, “a failure to ratify TPP would give China the opportunity to boost its exports and set labor and environment standards in the fast-growing Asia Pacific regions through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)”. Even the US President Barak Obama said “if we don’t pass this agreement – if America doesn’t write those rules – then countries like China will”. 

Many US allies in Asia-Pacific, such as Japan, Singapore and Australia, look forward to a greater role of the US in the regional economic architecture and they would be deeply disappointed by the current political atmosphere in the US. If the TPP does not materialise, the ties with the US would not hold much value for them, except for empty words and past performance, at least in the economic domain. Singaporean PM Lee Hsien Loong’s statement to Obama sums up the general sentiment of the American allies in the region, “your partners, your friends who have come to the table, who have negotiated, each one of them has overcome some domestic political objection, some sensitivity, some political cost to come to the table and make this deal. And if, at the end, waiting at the altar, the bride doesn't arrive, I think there are people who are going to be very hurt, not just emotionally but really damaged for a long time to come”.

Contrary to the US, China has improved its economic clout in the region very decisively. China, which is the number one trading partner of more than 112 countries in the world, certainly has taken the task of being the economic pivot of Asia-Pacific. China’s initiatives such as One Belt One Road (OBOR) and Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) appear to be future frameworks along with the RCEPs that would shape the rules, norms and institutions of economic exchanges among the countries of the region. 

Even though there are significant concerns about the China’s political and military assertion in the region, US’ allies had no option but to somehow, reluctantly, deal with the attractive economic propositions by the Chinese and wait for the TPP to conclude. Japan is going to take up the TPP ratification issue in its ongoing 66-day extraordinary session of the parliament. Shinzo Abe tried to convince Hillary Clinton about the TPP in his recent visit to the US. Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull, in his September 2016 visit to the US, also urged the US congress to ratify the TPP as soon as possible “as it goes beyond economics”.

Here it is important to underline that though the US government is aware of the significance of the TPP and is willing to get it ratified however it is the current domestic disposition that hampers the process by not allowing any presidential candidate to support the deal. It indicates the existing reality, that even though the US government is interested in a pivot towards Asia, it’s capacity to do so is increasingly getting reduced. It may prove to be an advantage for China but Beijing also needs to be aware about spoilers such as its own political and military stances and the picture is still not clear. 

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#5119, 5 September 2016
Russia’s Overtures in East Asia
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, JNU & Visiting Fellow, IPCS
 

The Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) was held in Vladivostok, Russia, on 2 September 2016, a day before the G-20 Summit Meet in Hangzhou, China It was attended by the Russian President Vladimir Putin, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the South Korean President Park Geun-hye and the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. On the sidelines of the EEF, a bilateral meeting between the leaders of Russia and South Korea was also held. During this meeting, the Russian leader surprised his South Korean counterpart by giving her a special gift. It was a work of calligraphy, written in Chinese, by Park's father, the late former President Park Chung-hee in 1979 (the year he was assassinated), which read, “with strong teamwork, let's move forward together.” It was indeed a special gesture from Putin. Ahead of the bilateral talks, South Korea was concerned that its consent for the US-led THAAD battery on the peninsula meant that Russia-South Korea relations would be strained beyond repair. It was a pleasant surprise for the South Korean leader that even though Russia had gone along with China in its criticism of the THAAD installation on the Peninsula, it wanted to continue economic and other cooperation with South Korea.

Putin stressed after the meeting that he “had in-depth discussions about the current situation on the Korean Peninsula and reached an agreement that the two nations do not accept the self-proclaimed nuclear status of Pyongyang.” Furthermore, both the leaders also agreed to begin negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA) between South Korea and the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which consists of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. The feasibility study on this has already been concluded and the process of negotiations may begin in October 2016. In addition to this Russia and South Korea signed 24 MoUs, thereby expanding the range of their bilateral cooperation.
 
Japanese leader Shinzo Abe was also bold in proposing an annual summit meet with Russia’s top leader and appealed him ‘to act as a visionary’. This proposal by Japan was encouraging for Russia as most of the G-7 nations have shunned Putin since imposing sanctions over the Ukraine crisis in 2014. It is also interesting to note that the two leaders had a summit meeting in May 2016 and Putin has planned to have another summit meet with Japan on 15 December 2016 in Yamaguchi, Japan. The upcoming visit is going to be special as Yamaguchi prefecture is Shinzo Abe's home. There are definite positive vibes between Japan and Russia in recent times and it may lead to the resolution of their long-running dispute over a group of islands, which Russia calls the Kuriles and Japan, the Northern Territories. After a resolution of the island dispute, it would be easier for both countries to sign a peace treaty. The Russian leader, however, did not commit on the Japanese proposal of an annual summit meet. 

The EEF was attended by the current as well as former Prime Ministers of Australia and this means that Russia is willing to get involved and engaged with Australia at least through economic exchanges. It is obvious that Putin has been working on an economic and political strategy to foster economic ties with South Korea, Japan and Australia and appears to be ready to provide an alternative to China's economic dominance, while increasing trade in sanction-hit Russia.

In various scholarly speculations, it has been presented that Russia is ready to go along with China and be part of the China-Russia-North Korea-Pakistan nexus. However, the pictures and pronouncements of the EEF, just one day before the G-20 Summit, weaken this proposition. Russia appears to be distancing itself from a confrontational and assertive China. It seems that Russia may have an uncompromising stand in its western neighbourhood though it is ready to work with US allies in the eastern theatre. It is important to note that Putin’s deliberations with President Barack Obama over the Syrian issue on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting did not produce any substantial results. 

Although it is still premature to say that the new phase in the Russian overtures in East Asia is a permanent shift in its foreign policy, the continuation is definitely going to worry China, which would get more isolated in the regional politics. During his meeting with President Xi Jinping at the G-20, Putin tried to reassure China with all the right gestures but a gap between Russian and Chinese policies in the East Asian region is quite visible. Although China wants to have Russia on its side, Putin seeks an independent approach for Russia. For example, in an awkward move, China announced just few days before the G-20 summit that the Russian President would be the “number one guest”. However, it was not able to dissuade Russia to not discuss geopolitical issues at the Summit against the Chinese wish and to discuss only economy and environment. In this context, it should be keenly watched how both the countries calibrate their foreign policies as most of the countries of East Asia would try to take advantage of this gap. 

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#5092, 2 August 2016
China’s Game on North Korea
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
 

It was a strange moment of diplomacy in Laos when North Korea tried to bring about a revision in the chairman’s statement issued at the 23rd ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). The statement was issued on 27 July after the conclusion of the two-day meetings of foreign ministers of the 27 member countries of the ARF. The chair country Laos, which has good relations with North Korea, tried to explore the possibility of revising the statement but had to finally reject it because all other countries were in opposition. In fact, in the usual manner, ARF’s statement this year expressed concern over North Korean nuclear and missile programmes. Almost similar statements were issued at previous ARFs in 2015 and 2014 in Malaysia and Myanmar respectively, at which North Korea had not brought up the possibility of such revision.

In another interesting move, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho stayed two more days in Laos after the end of the ARF. This could be seen as a move to consolidate North Korea's friends in the Southeast Asian region. However, it also may not be totally delinked from the ARF dynamics. Even though more sanctions and pressures on North Korea have been put by the international community after its fourth nuclear test in January this year, North Korea seems to be becoming increasingly confident. The secret of this renewed confidence is basically China’s U-turn in its policy towards North Korea.

In the last few years, the South China Sea and East China Sea have emerged as an arena of tension and for power projection. Aggressive Chinese moves and the uncompromising stands of the other involved countries, including the US, had led to a worrisome situation in regional politics. China under Xi Jinping apparently has fully abandoned the old dictum of ‘build your capacity and hide your strength’ and now demands ‘great-power relations’ with the US. Earlier, China tried to placate some US allies such as South Korea, through diplomatic means and aspired to outsmart the US in the region. However, in the process, it distanced itself from North Korea without being successful in creating any gap in the US-South Korea alliance.

Two recent developments - the US success in persuading/pressuring South Korea to have Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system installed on the Korean peninsula and the judgement of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on the South China Sea - have been major setbacks for China. Now, China can either move backward and yield or it can move forward more aggressively in regional politicking. At present, it seems that China has opted for the second and initiated a more overt policy to dominate the region. In the process, the significance of North Korea in Chinese foreign policy has become more salient. In 2016, China has been trying to accommodate North Korean ambitions and repair its bilateral relations with Pyongyang, though North Korea has not shown any sign of compromise on most Chinese demands, such as economic reforms and abandoning nuclear weapons. China entertained the former North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong in Beijing in May 2015 and arranged his meeting with the Chinese President Xi Jinping despite no change in North Korean behaviour.

China’s game with regard to North Korea has become more obvious with the foreign ministers of China and North Korea arriving together, in the same airplane, from China to Laos, to participate in one of the region's broadest multilateral fora, the ARF. Furthermore, to make this camaraderie even more obvious, the two leaders stayed in the same hotel. It was done deliberately by China to show the international community about its non-compromising intent in regional politics.

China's new game is going to be responded to by the big players in the region, such as the US, Japan, Australia and India, by their moving closer to one another in military-strategic cooperation. In fact, China is not oblivious to this fact, and in spite of knowing these counter responses, is ready to escalate the matter.

Both sides must remember that a full-scale war or conflict between the big players cannot be a pragmatic option given the cost attached to it. A military solution to any of these regional issues is next to impossible. The escalation of hostility and non-compromising stands would create a dilemma for the smaller, more responsible countries of the region to take sides, and provide space for irresponsible and ‘rogue’ countries like North Korea to manoeuvre. It is important that the big players understand this reality and be more imaginative and accommodating in pursuing their national interests.

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#5072, 4 July 2016
Six-Party Talks 2.0: Not for Denuclearisation but for Peace
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, & Visiting Fellow, IPCS.
 

North Korea seems to be adamant to seek further sophistication in its nuclear weaponisation programme, despite international pressure and sanctions to the contrary. Through its fourth nuclear test in January 2016, it wanted to demonstrate to the international community that its nuclear programme was non-negotiable. The UNSC Resolution 2270 and all other previous resolutions and sanctions appear to be ineffective.
 
On 22-23 June 2016 North Korea’s participation in the Annual Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue (NEACD) in Beijing, a platform for nuclear envoys from the six countries of the Six-Party Talks, is indicative of North Korea softening its stand. Although the platform is an informal gathering, since the formal Six-Party Talks have not been held after 2008, it is the only mechanism that brings nuclear envoys from these countries to one table. North Korean participation in the dialogue happened after a two-year gap as it did not send its envoys for the dialogues in 2014 and 2015. In the June 2016 dialogue, Choe Son-hui, Deputy Director for North American Affairs at North Korea's Foreign Ministry and the Deputy Chief Envoy for the Six-Party talks participated in the deliberations. 

However, on the very first day of the dialogue, it became clear that none of the parties had any creative plan to move forward. While North Korea refused any compromise on its nuclear programme, the five other countries repeated their commitment to denuclearising North Korea. It was reported that the North Korean envoy very forcefully stated, “The Six-Party talks are dead.” This means that North Korea is quite firm in maintaining that it will not give up its nuclear programme.
 
The deadlock on the North Korean nuclear issue has been one of the destabilising factors in regional politics. There are, broadly, three positions represented by the six parties involved in the negotiations. First, South Korea, US and Japan stress that North Korea must first give up its nuclear weapons to have any other discussions and exchanges with the outside world. These countries have been, bilaterally and multilaterally, trying to further isolate North Korea and arm-twist it into abandoning its nuclear programme. Second, China and Russia are also in favour of North Korean denuclearisation but they do not support South Korea, US and Japan’s isolationist methods. Third, North Korea itself is stubborn to retain its nuclear programme and further enhance it. According to the subjective perception of North Korea, abandoning its nuclear and missile programmes would mean an end to the North Korean regime. 

It is interesting to note that all the other five countries seek a denuclearised North Korea. The US and China, who otherwise contest each other on several issues in the Asia-Pacific, seem to be in agreement on the final goal of a non-nuclear North Korea. Consequently, if these countries take a more accommodative approach it would be easy to reach a common understanding to achieve this objective. Since, arm-twisting and sanctions have not been very effective in stopping North Korean nuclearisation, South Korea, US and Japan may need to go along with China and Russia. This means that they need to have a common engagement policy towards Pyongyang. It must be underlined that this common engagement policy should be based on transparency and mutual trust. More so because after the third nuclear test by North Korea in early 2013, China was cooperating with the international community in putting pressure on North Korea. However, after the fourth nuclear test, in January 2016, the US and South Korea squarely blamed China for being unable to stop it. As per China’s perspective, they were doing enough to discourage North Korea and the test was not because of China but in spite of China. This blame-game has distanced the five countries on the North Korean nuclear issue and it must be avoided for any future common engagement process to be effective.
 
In recent years, through several pronouncements and diplomatic moves by North Korea, it is clear that Pyongyang is also willing to interact with the international community. It would be better to have a 2.0 version of the Six-Party Talks among these countries in which broader peace and confidence-building measures would be discussed. The North Korean nuclear issue should not be part of its agenda at least in the first few rounds. It is impractical to follow a ‘nuclear issue first and peace and all other issues later’ approach when it is not moving forward. The sequencing should be reversed as ‘peace and other issues first and nuclear issue later’. Rather than blaming North Korea for being adamant on its position, it would be wise for the other five countries to move beyond their diplomatic stubbornness. This change in stance might lead to the positive outcome that is being sought.

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#5055, 6 June 2016
Deadlock at Shangri-La: Is There a Way Forward?
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, & Visiting Fellow, IPCS.
 

The discussions at the 15th Asian Security Summit (3-5 June 2016), popularly known as Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore were indicative of the existing deadlock among the countries about Asia’s future security architecture. Overall, the discussions were quite pessimistic. The two most important players in the regional politics – the US and China – openly alleged each other on the issues of escalations in the South China Sea as well as the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system on the Korean peninsula.

US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter warned China that it was at the risk of ‘erecting a Great Wall of self-isolation’ if it continues its current policies in the region. Carter criticised the Chinese military buildup in the region and said he hoped that “this development doesn’t occur because it will result in actions being taken both by the United States, and actions being taken by others in the region that will have the effect of not only increasing tensions but isolating China.” Japan too made stern statements about Chinese activities in the South China Sea.

In response to the China’s claim that the US and Japan are ‘outsiders’ in the region, Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said no country could be ‘outsider’ when it comes to regional stability. Responding to the US’ stern words, the Chinese representative at the Dialogue, Deputy Chief of General Staff, People’s Liberation Army, Admiral Sun Jianguo, claimed sovereignty in the region and said China “had no fear of trouble.” He claimed “we were not isolated in the past, we are not isolated now, and we will not be isolated in the future.” He suggested countries, indirectly indicating towards the US, to come out of the ‘Cold War mentality’.

Similarly, on the issue of THAAD, the US defense secretary claimed that the issue of THAAD deployment would be raised during his discussion with the South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo. Another defence official of the US even claimed that the US and South Korea would make a ‘public announcement’ about the deployment of a THAAD unit. However, in his bilateral talks with the South Korean defense minister, the Chinese representative Sun Jianguo warned South Korea that “it would destabilize the Asia Pacific region.” Sun said that it would “infringe China’s strategic interests.” Although, South Korea responded by stating that “China is overestimating THAAD” and that his country has “the will to allow THAAD deployment,” in another statement, he denied the US defence secretary’s claim that Seoul would discuss the issue during his meeting with Carter in Singapore.

Actually, it seems that the US and China are not ready to compromise and accommodate each other’s security concerns and a game of ‘staring at each other’ is going on. In the sidelines of the Summit, defence ministers of the US, Japan and South Korea held a trilateral dialogue and stressed their collective efforts to pressurise North Korea via UN resolution 2270 – passed in March 2016 after the fourth round of North Korean nuclear and missile tests. The leaders representing Washington, Seoul and Tokyo were in agreement that a diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang is fruitless, and demanded more cooperation with Beijing towards the implementation of UN Resolution 2270.

It is interesting to note that China appears to be moving in an entirely different direction. Just a few days before the Shangri-La Dialogue, Chinese President Xi Jinping met North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong in Beijing. This is an important departure from Xi’s approach towards North Korea after he assumed office in 2013. Previously, he had avoided any direct high level contacts with Pyongyang but now there are speculations that he may have a summit meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the coming months.

Thus, the intensity of the contest in the regional politics was demonstrated at the Shangri-La Dialogue. Although around 500 defence and diplomatic officials and experts from 52 countries, including defence ministers from 23 countries participated in the dialogue, the contest between the US and China was clearly the main theme of the conference.

Unfortunately, a ‘third opinion’ remains almost ineffective in the process.

Washington and Beijing are scheduled to hold their annual high-level Strategic and Economic Dialogue (6-8 June 2016) in Beijing. Hundreds of US and Chinese officials will conduct further discussion on regional issues. The US Secretary of State John Kerry, the US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi, and China’s Vice Premier Wang Yang will to participate in the dialogue. However, it appears that both the parties are not ready to budge from their respective positions.

Thus, the 2016 Shangri-La Dialogue showed that great power contests are going to overwhelm peace and security concerns of other countries. It is high time to ask if the great powers of the region remain adamant on the stubborn positions, would not it be correct to articulate a ‘third opinion’? In the cacophony of contests that seems improbable; but if countries like India take the lead in articulating such an ‘opinion’, it would be a positive move for regional security and would also enhance India’s stature and position in regional politics.

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#5025, 10 May 2016
North Koreas 7th Party Congress: Context and Content
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, JNU, and Visiting Fellow, IPCS
 

After a long gap, North Korea is holding the 7th Workers’ Party Congress from 6 May. There are more than a hundred journalists from various countries who have been invited to report the event - but there is not much reporting about the actual context and reasons for the Party Congress. The Congress, which was supposed to happen every five years, has earlier been quite irregular after the third edition. The last three Party Congresses were held in 1961, 1970 and 1980 after an interval of ten years each. However, the current one is happening after a gap of 36 years.

The first concern is the reason for such a long gap. Generally, it is attributed to the decline in the North Korean economy, increasing isolation after the demise of socialist allies, the death of Kim Il-sung, natural calamities of the mid-1990s, political instability of the Kim Jong-il regime and so on. The consensus is that since North Korea was facing one crisis after another, the Workers’ Party Congress could not be held. The explanation is not satisfactory as there were many other state and party activities that continued during the period. However, it needs to be underlined among all other events, the Party Congress witnesses the largest participation and any mishap means a huge embarrassment for the ruling regime. Furthermore, in the Party Congress, the future policy orientation and leadership are decided. Since the North Korean leadership has not been very clear about their future orientation in these years, the leadership has normally avoided any such gathering. Also, Kim Jong-il’s political weakness warranted that he should bring together leaders in relatively smaller gatherings than in the Party Congress.

The next important issue is, why has North Korea decided to hold the Party Congress now when the situation is, if not worse, at least similar? Is there any shift in North Korea’s path, which might be announced in the Party Congress? These questions are not easy to answer since there is limited information about North Korea. However, it would be pertinent to flag a few points and predictions, which might be helpful in understanding the Party Congress.

First, Kim Jong-un wants to show his confidence and stability to both domestic as well as international audiences by having the Party Congress. Even if no big outcomes are announced, the very occurrence of the Congress means that the leadership has a strong grip on the country. By having a Congress, Kim Jong-un wants to project ‘normalcy’ in North Korea.

Second, there is optimism that North Korea through the Party Congress wants to announce some kind of a roadmap for economic reforms. Kim Jong-un has modified his father’s ‘military-first’ policy to byungjin policy, which means emphasis on both military and economy. North Korea has had two rounds of nuclear and several missile tests in the Kim Jong-un era and it is time to venture into the difficult but dire issue of economic reforms.

Third, the pessimist may argue that since the Party Congress was not held for many years and North Korea had no option but to organise it now. Thus, expecting something dramatic or even important to emerge from the Party Congress would be over-ambitious. Generally, even the smallest moves by North Korea are over-analysed and debated but ultimately they do not result in any significant changes in North Korea.

Fourth, North Korea is going through its worse phase of international sanctions because of its nuclear and missile tests and the regime wants to convey that these sanctions have no effect and North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes are non-negotiable.

Fifth, it is also said that when North Korea announced last year that it would have its Party Congress in May 2016, there were possibilities that North Korea-China relations would improve, and a breakthrough in the inter-Korea relations was also imminent. During those months, North Korea was trying to reach out to as many countries as possible and the North Korean Prime Minister and Foreign Minister visited more than a dozen countries including India to diversify Pyongyang’s relations with the outside world. At that point, North Korea expected that after these important achievements along with its progress in nuclear and missile programmes, it could have a Party Congress that would consolidate regime. Even though all these calculations have gone wrong, North Korea has no option but to have the Party Congress as any withdrawal would show weakness.

Having enumerated these explanations for the timing and context of the 7th Workers’ Party Congress, it is difficult to say which one is more appropriate. However, the Party Congress must be seen at least as a search for future stability and confidence for the Kim Jong-un regime. The new leadership is trying to move beyond the Kim Jong-il era and establish an image of Jong-un similar to Kim Il-sung period, when the leader was considered to be supreme, confident and overt. In the past five years, Kim Jong-un has tried to achieve this objective by being bold in his moves, including punishing and rewarding military and political elite and also by incessant and aggressive nuclear and missile tests. It is hard to say whether he has been successful until now, but it would not be inappropriate to see the 7th Workers’ party Congress in the light of this objective.

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#5009, 4 April 2016
Japans New Security Laws: Context and Implications
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi, and Visiting Fellow, IPCS
 

On 29 March 2016, Japan’s new security laws came into effect. The laws were passed in September 2015 despite not being favoured by the opposition parties and many Japanese people. The new laws allow the Japanese Self Defense Forces (SDF) to participate in foreign conflicts. In fact, it broadens the notion of ‘self defence’ of Japan to a ‘collective self defence for allies’. Effectively, the change to the country’s security laws is part of a broader strategy. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been trying to amend Article 9 and Article 96 of the ‘peace constitution’ to reorient the Japanese armed forces according to his aggressive postures. There are all probabilities that Abe would try to amend Article 9 after the July 2016 Upper House elections in Japan.

Following the incident wherein the Islamic State (IS) beheaded two Japanese nationals, the new security laws have been justified on the grounds that Japanese citizens abroad too must be protected. Abe’s other important motivation is the fact that in Japan’s contest with China vis-à-vis regional politics, it is important for Tokyo to have more seamless and close military cooperation with the US; and the erstwhile laws put several limitations to it. The third reason Japan opted for the new laws is its long quest to become a ‘normal state’, with an interpretation that Japan must have military capabilities equal to its economic might.

From the very beginning of his term in 2012, Abe has appeared to be clear that Japan needs to adjust its posture given the changing realities of regional and global politics. With an assertive China under President Xi Jinping in the East China Sea, the South China Sea and the neighbourhood, Abe got a valid excuse for his venture. Consistent North Korean provocations in the form of nuclear and missile tests as well as aggressive rhetoric further helps Abe in altering the country’s security posture which becomes palatable domestically as well as abroad.

Actually, Japan has been undergoing a transformation in which its ‘peace dividend’ that is earned by being a peace-loving country and a benefactor to many countries in the economic development via its Official Developmental Assistance (ODA) is considered insufficient. A stagnant economy with an increasing ageing population do not bring much hope to common people. There are opinions that since these limitations appear insurmountable in the near future, Japan needs a different strategy to maintain its regional and global stature. The new strategy indicates that Tokyo has been getting itself geared up to be a military power and is not satisfied with the stagnant economic or ‘peace dividend’. Last week, results of a survey conducted by Japan’s Kyodo news agency showed that around 39 per cent Japanese were in favour of the new security laws. Yet, a majority of the Japanese citizens feel the country should adhere to its peace constitution; but Abe’s popularity and the growing support for the Constitutional amendment indicate that irrespective of the justification, Japan is poised to be become a military power in the region.

As expected, China strongly objected to these security laws. China’s state-owned news agency, Xinhua, published several news items and opinions that condemned Japan for ‘lack of prudence’ and ‘violation of the country’s pacifist Constitution’. It was also urged that Japan should learn from its history. The Beijing-Tokyo bilateral – that was expected to improve following the November 2015 China-Japan-South Korea trilateral meeting – again appears to be an impossible proposition. At the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, Abe and Xi avoided each other during photo sessions and had no bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Summit.

In contrast, the US, Japan and South Korea had a trilateral meeting and discussed issues related to their common concerns. Throughout the process of the ongoing transformation in the Japanese posture, the US has not raised any objection. Instead, Washington feels that its regional allies becoming more active is better at a time when its own capabilities and reach are getting less assuring. Had Japan’s new security laws been implemented a few decades ago, the US would have viewed it rather differently. South Korea may have some historical memories to overcome before welcoming Japan’s new aggressive posture but it appears that gradually, Seoul’s Park Geun-hye administration is accepting it as fait accompli.

Thus, the implementation of Japan’s new security laws is not a one-off incident, and instead indicates a trend in Japan’s transformation. This transformation has its domestic and external contexts and justifications but will definitely have a bearing on the regional political equations. It would be a matter of judgment to state whether Japan is moving in the right direction or not. However, it could be safely said that in the contest in East Asia, none of the parties are ready to compromise and Japan is definitely not an exception.

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#4999, 15 March 2016
What is the Efficacy of Sanctions on North Korea?
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor at the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi
 

The United Nations Security Council decided to impose more sanctions on North Korea on 2 March 2016. This time, it took around two months for the UN to agree on ‘tougher sanctions’ on North Korea after Pyongyang conducted its fourth nuclear test on 6 January. While the international community was deliberating the nature of the sanctions, North Korea conducted a satellite launch that was alleged to be long-range missile, and fired short several short-range missiles. Even after the sanctions, North Korea does not look ready to change its behaviour. In fact, there are reports that North Korea may mount a nuclear attack without warning and that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered more nuclear tests in the near future.

The North Korean nuclear conundrum has become South Korea and the US' Achilles Heel. The leaders of both the countries have no clue how to deal with the situation except their blindfolded belief that a tit for tat action is the right choice. Every incident of provocative behaviour is seen as a product of North Korean desperation, and more sanctions are considered the right choice in being able to force the North Korean regime to either change its behaviour or for it to collapse.

It seems that both South Korea and the US are still not ready to review their North Korea policy. Even after the recent episode, they were adamant to impose more sanctions and pressure on North Korea. When the UNSC took longer to deliberate the issue because of certain Chinese and Russian reservations, both Seoul and Washington went ahead with their bilateral sanctions. On 18 February, US President Barack Obama signed new sanctions on North Korea into law for its nuclear and missile tests and also because of suspected cyber attack incidents. Similarly, South Korea declared the closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) in February, and on March 8, blacklisted dozens of North Korea entities and people for the first time, along with banning ships that have visited North Korean ports.

In addition to sanctions, South Korea and the US have been more direct in criticising China for its failure to contain North Korean provocative behaviour, indicating the frustration in Seoul and Washington. However, in China’s perspective, South Korea and the US obdurate stands is also to be blamed for North Korea’s behaviour. Furthermore, it may be said that these antics are not because of China but rather in spite of it. In fact, both the US and South Korea accepted that China cooperated with the international community in putting sanctions on North Korea in an unprecedented manner after the third North Korean nuclear test in February 2013. China has nothing to gain from aggressive North Korean nuclear and missile programmes.

North Korean provocation, on the other hand, would only help the US make its presence in the region more elaborate and stronger. For example, South Korea’s desire to join the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system and the increasingly significant annual joint military exercise between the US and South Korea are against the national interests of China. Open criticism of China after the North Korean nuclear test was therefore premature and could have been avoided. China may think that it has not been appreciated for what it has done, and instead been blamed for not doing enough. Such an approach runs the risk of pushing China closer to North Korea, and the delay in the passing of the UN resolution on the North Korean test could be attributed to China’s reluctance to cooperate. In the case of Chinese and Russian reluctance to implement sanctions on North Korea, there may be doubt about the success and effectiveness of the policy.

It is time to re-think the efficacy of sanctions: despite increasing the quantum of sanctions with every instance of provocation, why has the international community  not been able to achieve satisfactory results? The answer to this question is that sanctions hurt a country if and to the extent it is connected and interdependent with other countries. North Korea has less than US$8 billion external trade and around of half of it is with China. Since the North Korean economy has negligible connections with the outside world, putting more sanctions may not be as effective as they are considered in other cases. Even if sanctions have some small impact on North Korea, it would be felt more by the common people and not by the ruling elite.

Thus, a regime of more strict sanctions on North Korea, which has been sought by the US and South Korea, does not have potential to change North Korea's behaviour. Rather, it may lead to a more hostile North Korea and any miscalculation or accident would lead to disastrous consequences for the Korean peninsula.

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#4979, 1 February 2016
Brilliant Comrade: The Design in North Korean Madness
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University, and Visiting Fellow, IPCS
 

On 06 January 2016, North Korea conducted its fourth round of nuclear tests, and there are speculations that it soon going to conduct another rounds of missile tests. Generally, it is understood to be part of North Korea's reckless behaviour, which hardly has any rational explanation. However, a close observation of Pyongyang's behaviour over the last few years make it clear that there is a method in its madness. Following the death of its death of its leader Kim Jong-il in 2011, North Korea had to face an increasingly drifting China; and especially after Chinese President Xi Jinping took office, Beijing overtly tried to engage Seoul and placate it from the US alliance system.

China desires to reach out to South Korea in a more substantial way for several reasons. First, Seoul would be a vibrant economic partner for Beijing as both the economies have several complementarities. Second, by forging a ‘trust’ relationship with South Korea, China could have a strategic achievement in the context of its growing contestations with Japan and the US in the regional politics. Third, if Beijing assumes a neutral position vis-a-vis inter-Korean disputes, its regional stature and attractiveness would significantly increase, and that would be quite imperative for China to emerge as the centre of unipolar Asia.

The change in Chinese policy towards the Korean peninsula has been evident, with annual summit meetings between the leaders of Beijing and Seoul from 2013; the signing of Free Trade Agreement; and South Korea becoming one of the founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). In contrast, there has been hardly any substantial exchange between China and North Korea during this period. The rift in Beijing-Pyongyang relations became obvious when China cooperated with the international community in imposing sanctions on North Korea after its third nuclear test in February 2013; and no meeting between the top leaders of the two countries; and the execution of Chang Sung-thaek, who was considered to be the point person in North Korea to China.

North Korea hardly had any option to deal with this challenge. From Pyongyang's perspective, there are three important goals that must be pursued in the context of its relations with Beijing. First, the North Korean nuclear and missile programs must not become negotiable as China might try to bargain it for Beijing’s broader foreign policy objectives in the regional politics. Second, China should not be allowed to interfere in the North Korea's domestic politics or economic reform. Third, Beijing's growing proximity with Seoul must be stopped and the China-North Korea bilateral must be reverted to the old days. Pursuing all these objectives together appeared to be extremely ambitious and impossible given the meager material and diplomatic capabilities North Korea had.

However, after the fourth round of nuclear tests and the current scenario, it appears that North Korea has been able to achieve most of these goals. By consistently taking a non-compromising position on its nuclear and missile issues, it has almost made its de-nuclearisation non-negotiable. China has probably realised this obvious fact and not keen to get another round of sanctions passed by the UN Security Council. It is the first time that there is no UNSC resolution in sight even after over twenty days of the North Korean nuclear tests. By being adamant to keep its domestic politics autonomous from China, North Korea sends a clear message to Beijing by its many acts that it would not blink in any tug-of-war. By executing Chang Sung-thaek; Kim Jong-un's refusal to participate in the Victory Day Parade in Beijing; recalling its all-female band Moranbong from Beijing after some disagreements with China; and by carrying out its fourth nuclear test, Pyongyang's message to Beijing is extremely clear and is probably also heard by China.

Last but not the least, North Korea has successfully made it almost certain that South Korea would join the US' Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system - South Korean President Park Geun-hye has openly expressed her intention to do so - and resultantly, Seoul's relations with Beijing would suffer. It would leave China with no choice but to revert to its proximity with North Korea. In fact, there were fierce debates in South Korea on whether it should be satisfied with the Korea Air Missile Defense system, which is effective against low-flying ballistic missiles, or if it should deploy the THAAD, which is effective in high-flying ballistic missiles. In the past two years, North Korean missiles tests have deliberately been conducted to render South Korea insecure. Pyongyang tested its Rodong missiles in March 2014 by firing them vertically, thereby reducing its range of 1000-1500 kilometers to 650 kilometers or less. North Korea also tested its Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile SLBM in May 2015 to push South Korea towards the THAAD.

Thus, so far, Pyongyang has been successful in its foreign policy goals despite the particularly limited resources it possesses. If South Korea joins the THAAD, it would be a success for North Korea. It will be interesting to see whether China and South Korea will be able understand the North Korean design or remain naive in their engagements, resulting in a possible contestation ahead.

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#4969, 22 January 2016
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.

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#4940, 7 December 2015
Chinas Maritime Assertiveness and Repercussions
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University
 

With Chinese President Xi Jinping’s aggressive posturing in regional politics, Beijing appears to have moved beyond its old doctrine of‘hide-your-strength-bide-your-time’ and gradually trying to dominate the region. China has a comprehensive plan that encompasses economic,strategic and cultural strategies, to raise its stature in the globaland regional politics. Along with other strategies, Beijing’s maritime plans and behaviour in the recent past have been an issue ofdiscomfort in the Asia-Pacific.

Similarly, its increasingly non-compromising posture in the South China Sea (SCS) is also cited asits plan to dominate the regional waters. China has been trying to thwart any attempt by the regional countries or the US to have a code of conduct for the SCS; in fact it has created over eight new artificial islands in the region over in the past one-and-a-half years. It is said to be a clear violation of the Declaration of  Conduct (DoC), which was agreed to by China in November 2002. Apart from aggressiveness on security and strategic issues, Beijing has also been trying to inculcate its maritime charm by talking about the Maritime Silk Route (MSR) initiative. In a way, it part of Beijing’s efforts to neutralise the perception of its assertiveness in the regional waters by coating it with economic opportunities.

Chinese assertiveness is apparently meant to be part of its contest with the US for the regional and global dominance. Hardliner Xi received a setback when his proposal of a new model of ‘Great-Power Relations’ between the US and China in 2013 was not given enough credence or hearing in Washington. Xi wants to demonstrate its growing all-round prowess to Washington, and many observers feel that China’s growing maritime assertiveness might be part of this strategy. China feels that a relatively weak Washington is entangled in West Asia, and its ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy has been largely assigned to its allies in the Asia Pacific. Beijing therefore thinks it an opportune time to extend the limits of its influence and extents of its dominance in regional politics. This would put pressure on the US to accept the Chinese proposal.

However, it is quite evident that the US is not willing to concede its primacy in the region. In October 2015, a US warship challenged the territorial limits around China’s man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago; and in November 2015, two US B-52 bombers flew over the new Chinese-built artificial islands in the SCS. The US claims that it is part of right to freedom of navigation and over-flight in the region.

Beijing might have its own justification for its contestation with the US but its behaviour is inconsistent with its stated neighbourhood policy that seeks peace and stability in the region and promotes agradual acceptance of China’s place in regional politics. Recent Chinese maritime moves have made neighbouring countries across the broad restless; and most of them have been looking to devise their counter-strategies. These countries, with the interesting exception of South Korea, have not been attracted to the MSR or other Chinese economic opportunities. They have been looking for alternate optionsand equations. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines have expressed their concerns more emphatically over the recent Chinese behaviour. It is interesting to note that rather than being scared of an increasingly nationalist and aggressive Japan under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Southeast Asian countries and even India and Australia are rather ready to work with Tokyo.

Bilaterally and multilaterally these countries have been trying to contest China. During Xi’s November 2015 visit to Vietnam, Hanoi raised the issue of peace and stability in the region; and in late-November 2015, top military officials of Australia and China had “direct and blunt” encounters over the SCS issue. During the 22 November 2015 East Asian Summit in Kuala Lumpur, despite China’s open stand that delegates should not deliberate about the SCS,the issue was centre stage and five of thirty-one paragraphs in the chairman’s statement were devoted to it. Furthermore, it was underlined that a binding code of conduct must be evolved and implemented for the SCS. At the 17 November 2015 APEC Forum – a general platform to talk about trade and commerce – in Manila, the issue was quite central in the discussions, and US President Barak Obama assured regional countries that Washington would be doing more for the turbulent waters of the SCS.

China’s growing maritime assertiveness in recent years appears to be becoming counter-productive for Beijing, as it has led to an evolution of a broader network to deal with China. Beijing needs to review its maritime strategy in the region as it has strengthened the US position in the region, and the regional countries, despite several discordant links amongst themselves, seem to have no option but to come together. The more China tries to be assertive, the more realistic it would be for other countries to put aside their differences and oppose such moves. Beijing also needs to rethink its strategy, as there are speculations that the recent slump in its rate of economic growth is also going to continue and that it may weaken Chinese economic attractiveness for these countries. The next Chinese moves would be critical in the coming months and it would decide the course and contours of the Asia-Pacific in a very fundamental way.

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#4928, 2 November 2015
China-Japan-South Korea: A New Beginning?
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University
 

On 01 November 2015, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and South Korean President Park Geun-hye met for their sixth trilateral meeting in Seoul, South Korea. This meeting took place after an approximately three-year hiatus. Previously, from 2008 to 2012, they had held five trilateral meetings annually to discuss and coordinate their economic relations in the wake of the global financial crisis. In 2012, these countries also began negotiating on a trilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA). However, the arrival of three new leaders in these countries also brought strong rhetoric and actions between Japan and China and also between Japan and South Korea, which resulted in a growing discord between them – and this annual meeting got discontinued.

There are at least three important positives of this trilateral meeting that may have important implications for the region. First, the very meeting of the three top leaders of the region is a welcome development. For the past three years, China, Japan and South Korea were unable to come together and discuss their mutual perspectives and disagreements with one another. China and Japan have been at loggerheads on issues related to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands; China’s unilateral announcement of the Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea; and disputes on history. Even though these three leaders held meetings with one another at some multilateral fora, their postures have been most awkward and uncompromising.

The hostility has also had economic implications and their bilateral trades have been facing several problems. China under the new leadership seeks to exert more weight in the region and that has resulted into growing discomfort in the neighbouring countries. Similarly, Japan under Abe also evokes strong nationalism to have an assertive policy in the region along with revision of its ‘peace constitution’. The ‘unapologetic’ and ‘assertive’ Japanese policies have not only worsened its relations with China but have also had implications for Japan-South Korea relations. Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine; Japan’s stance on the Dokdo/Takeshima islands, comfort women and issues of history have led to growing rift between Japan and South Korea. In this context, it could be said that even though this meeting may not have great outcomes, the meeting itself is definitely an important step in the right direction.

Second, the three leaders agreed during the trilateral meeting that a nuclear North Korea is unacceptable and all of them would try their best to restart the Six-Party talks that has remained stalled for almost seven years. The joint statement gives priority to the North Korean denuclearisation issue and it would put further pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear weaponisation programme. In fact, China has not been happy with new North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s frequent provocative behaviours and escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula and the region. China thinks that the North Korean nuclear threat would bring more role for the US in the regional politics and it would be detrimental for Chinese national interests.

The growing distance between Beijing and Pyongyang could be understood by the fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping has held two summit meets with his South Korean counterpart Park Geun-hye in 2013 and 2014 but there has been no top level meeting between the leaders of China and North Korea.

After a long gap, Liu Yunshan, the fifth ranking Chinese Communist Party leader visited North Korea in October 2015 to participate in the 70th Anniversary of the establishment of North Korea Workers’ Party. Although China has been trying to mend its relations with North Korea, the strong message emanating from the trilateral meeting makes it clear that China has not conceded to North Korean ambitions. If the regional countries and the US could have a coordinated common stance on the North Korean nuclear issue, it would be difficult for North Korea to continue with its nuclear weaponisation programme.

Third, the leaders of these three countries expressed that their trilateral FTA must be concluded as soon as possible. The eight rounds of mutual talks on the FTA issue have not been quite successful until now and the matter has progressed sufficiently. It is important to note that the combined GDP of these three countries is almost US $15 trillion and they collectively constitute almost 20 per cent of the world trade. The trilateral FTA would thus be an extremely important development.

It might bring the possibilities of a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – that China has proposed for the East and Southeast Asian countries and that is understood in its contrast with the Trans-Pacific Partnership – closer to realisation. The inclusion of the FTA issue in the trilateral meeting and a closer possibility of the RCEP is an important achievement for China. It seems that Japan and South Korea too feel that the proposed arrangement would be valuable for them.

Overall, the trilateral meeting appears to be a wise move as it avoided discussing all mutual controversial issues in detail and only discussed those issues on which all three could begin their cooperation on. However, how much these leaders are ready to restrain themselves on controversial issues in future and carry forward the good vibes created during the summit for the peace and prosperity of the region, remains to be seen.

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#4917, 5 October 2015
India-Japan-US Trilateral: Indias Policy for the Indo-Pacific
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University
 

In an interesting first, the foreign ministers of India, Japan and the US had a trilateral dialogue on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on 29 September 2015. The foreign ministers underlined the strategic convergence of their interests in the Indo-Pacific region, specifically mentioning peaceful settlement of disputes, freedom of navigation and over flight, and unimpeded commerce in the region, along with the creation of a rule-based regional order. In another interesting twist, the leaders talked about the centrality of the ASEAN and the significance of the East Asia Summit in dealing with the key political and security issues of the region.

Although the dialogue does not name China, it undoubtedly points toward it, of which Beijing is certain to take note. India has avoided, for some time, its participation in any trilateral or multilateral dialogue that Beijing views as a target against itself, and it was probably for the same reason that the India-Japan-South Korea track 1.5 annual meeting was not able to continue after its first meeting in 2012. India has also been reluctant to make its annual Exercise Malabar a multilateral naval exercise targeted against China. Thus, this is an important shift in India’s policy for the Indo-Pacific, a glimpse of which was shown when the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his first state visit outside South Asia to Japan and that too for a five days. During his visit, Modi openly expressed India’s stand against any ‘expansionist’ state in the region. The shift is getting more obvious with India taking more specific steps to be part of an alliance that includes the US, Japan and Australia.

Being part of a multilateral network to create disincentives against China’s assertiveness may be the right choice for India. However, India should be careful when seeking to secure its interests through these arrangements. It would not be prudent to join Japan or the US who are articulating a confrontationist approach in their dealings with China. India should rather steer Japan and the US to adopt New Delhi’s approach to deal with China, which has been more nuanced and constructive. India’s approach in the trilateral dialogue with Japan and the US must be informed by this subtle understanding, otherwise India could become a pawn in the big power rivalry in the Indo-Pacific.

India should also try to make this platform wide and open. There cannot be any proper justification in leaving South Korea out of such a dialogue. South Korea, which is quite similar to India, has a multifaceted policy vis-à-vis China and its inclusion in the dialogue would have given more strength to the Indian position. Similarly, since the foreign ministers mentioned ASEAN and the East Asia Summit, it would have been better if a few representations from Southeast Asia had also been there. India must realise that rather than getting caught in great power politics, which is essentially a contest for dominance by one or another, the future of the Indo-Pacific would be more peaceful and prosperous if and when middle powers take centre-stage. Such a possibility in the changing landscape of the Indo-Pacific is not utopian; it can be realised, and India should try to articulate this option to further its national interests.

It seems that the Indian policy for the Indo-Pacific is focused around the big players such as the US, Japan and China. The approach does not capture the complex realities of the regional politics. A more detailed role for the middle must be understood and pursued in India’s scheme of things. India’s growing stature and role in the Indo-Pacific would not be determined only by the way it deals with the big players of the region but also by the way New Delhi connects with the middle powers of the region.

It seems that India has failed under the current foreign policy establishment to have a more detailed and interconnected foreign policy for the region. India needs to consider all important bilateral relationships in the region and try to devise a mechanism to coordinate among these in the fulfillment of its national interests. For example, India upgraded its bilateral relations with South Korea to a ‘Special Strategic Partnership’ during Modi’s visit to Seoul in May 2015. However, India’s growing unconditional support and proximity with Shinzo Abe would definitely put limitations on India-South Korea relations. Similarly, the much-publicised participation of the Indian Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju in North Korea’s Independence Day celebration in New Delhi is also likely to raise suspicions in South Korea.

Thus far, it seems that the foreign policy establishment in India under the new government is not able to completely decipher the complex diplomatic scenario of the Indo-Pacific region and has either been following the designs of the big players or making confused moves. Otherwise, how should one understand a trilateral dialogue with Japan and the US that talks about ASEAN’s centrality without any participation from the region? India needs to look beyond easy rhetoric and options and formulate a more informed foreign policy for the Indo-Pacific that is centered on its own national interests.

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#4909, 8 September 2015
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University
 

A Victory Day Parade in Beijing was organised on 3 September 2015 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, in which one of the most important spectacles was the top leaders of China, Russia and South Korea waving together at the crowds. This is the third occasion in the past three years when the Chinese President Xi Jinping and the South Korean President Park Geun-hye have met with each other, apart from a few other meetings in third countries. The participation of the top leader of South Korea in the parade is undoubtedly an important shift in East Asian inter-State relations. South Korea, which is one of the closest allies of the US in the region, appears to be moving closer to China, when another ally, Japan, is in loggerheads with Beijing. It would be incorrect to infer at this point that South Korea has drifted away from the US alliance but it does indicate that the coordination among the US, Japan and South Korea in regional politics is not the same as it was earlier.

The changing South Korean approach towards China was also quite obvious when Seoul decided to be one of the founder members of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), even at the cost of some displeasure from the US. At one point of time, the US wanted South Korea to join their Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) project and hold itself back from joining the AIIB. Then, the US indicated that if South Korea joined both as a balancing act, Washington would not have any problem. However, at present, South Korea has joined AIIB and its decision to join THAAD is pending. China has serious reservations about South Korea joining the THAAD. Geun-hye’s participation in the Victory Parade could be read in the context of these recent developments and it definitely indicates a shift in the South Korean approach towards China.

There could be three main explanations for this shift. First, South Korean business and economic interests in China are very substantial and are growing. China is South Korea’s number one trading partner and their bilateral trade is more than South Korea’s combined bilateral trade with the US and Japan. More importantly, South Korea enjoys sufficient benefits in trading with China, which is very rare. Even though there has been a slowdown in the Chinese economy, it is very important for South Korea to maintain the best possible political relations with China to harness more benefits.

The second reason for South Korea’s growing proximity to China is related to North Korea. It could be said that China enjoys the highest leverage over North Korea. Chinese assistance to South Korea in dealing with North Korea has been and would be the most critical strategic asset and South Korea by moving closer to China has been trying to articulate this possibility. There are definite sign that North Korea is getting increasingly upset with the South Korea’s growing closeness with China and Seoul would like to pursue this line of actions to further isolate North Korea.

The third reason has to do with the growing Japanese assertiveness and the US unwillingness to cease Shinzo Abe’s provocative gestures. South Korea has not been happy with Japan’s approach on the issues of history, comfort women, visit to the Yasukuni shrine, attempt to change the peace constitution, and repeated claims over Dokdo islands. However, the US has remained either silent or indirectly supported Japan on many of these issues. Perhaps, by becoming closer to China, South Korea wants to send a message to Washington that its silence on Japan’s behaviour and bias towards Tokyo must be reviewed and changed.

From China’s point of view, having South Korea in most of its regional initiatives means that it has gradually started to strip the US from its allies in the region and emerged as a more acceptable leader in regional politics. It also means that in China’s contest with Japan, Tokyo may not have support from Seoul in the wake any crisis. It might also mean that China would have less smooth relations with North Korea in future. Improved Beijing-Seoul relations would have far-reaching consequences for China’s acceptance as the key player in the region, replacing the US.

Thus, Park Geun-hye’s participation in the Victory Parade and the growing ties between South Korea and China mark an important shift in regional politics. Although many scholars would caution against reading too much into one incident, a study of inter-State East Asian relations in recent years shows this to be just one of many such developments. There is a clear trend that is gradually but definitely emerging in East Asia and it is impossible not to connect the dots. However, it is another matter whether this shift has reached a critical point from where it would become irreversible.

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#4903, 3 August 2015
Many Pivots to Asia: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University
 

The US President Barack Obama announced his new strategy for the Asia-Pacific - ‘pivot to Asia’ - in 2011. It was also called ‘strategic rebalancing’ which emphasised that the US was ‘here to stay’ to and it would re-inject fresh energy into its security and economic presence in the region. The US appeared to contest the growing influence of China by revitalising its partnerships with its old allies in the region and also reach out to other like-minded countries for their support for US initiatives.

In the subsequent year, the US tried to reinvigorate its alliances with Japan, South Korea, Philippines, and Australia, and tried to reach out to countries like India to have a larger and effective grouping to support US positions in regional politics. Even in the economic arena, an ambitious project in the form of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was given more importance. As mentioned earlier, the US ‘pivot to Asia’ was less a strategic balancing and more a counter-measure to China’s growing political and military might, and a last attempt to maintain the US position as the prime mover in the Asia-Pacific. However, it might be said that the US re-entry has not been impressive because of the lack of intensity as well as many internal rifts between the US allies such as mistrust between Japan and South Korea, lack of consensus among other countries of the Asia-Pacific such as India and ASEAN countries on the US move, and more than anything else, decline in US capacity. It has led to the ‘pivot’ being less appealing in subsequent years. A meeting is Hawaii a few days ago to chart the course of the TPP was not able to make any clear headway - it seems it will take more time to realise the TPP on the ground. It may be contrasted with the Chinese project of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which has been successfully launched with wide participation by the countries of the region, including South Korea.

There is another unsaid but equally if not more significant ‘pivot to Asia’, which has been gradually but very decisively taking more space in the political and economic landscape of the Asia-Pacific: China’s ‘pivot to Asia’. China’s growing influence in the region is undisputable, especially in the economic sphere. China has emerged as the Asia-Pacific hub, being the number one trading partner of almost all the countries. With the successful launch of the AIIB and One-Belt One-Road (OBOR) initiative, China has almost become a pivot of the entire region in the economic sphere. In security affairs also, undeterred by US moves, China has become more assertive and has been making its intent and design more open. It has deliberately discarded its old policy of ‘hide your capabilities’ and asserted its foreign policy goals. It has made it clear that it would not accept any code of conduct for the South China Sea and in 2013 declared an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea. China probably wants to make its claim for the ‘pivot’ known and open at this point of time, though not it might not be eager to execute them immediately.

Japan, under the current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has also its own ‘pivot to Asia’ intent. An important shift in Japan’s approach in recent years has been an aggressive policy to erode its peaceful constitution and unlock all the restrictions on Japan’s military role in regional politics. By citing China’s growing assertiveness and the need for an Asia-Pacific response, Japan has been able to convince the US that a changed Japanese posture is a much needed stance. Japan is aware that the neighbouring countries would not be happy with this attempt to become a ‘pivot’ to Asia and has thus been trying to reach out other, distant countries in Asia, including India, to garner support.

In the past one and half years, more specifically after the Ukraine crisis, Russia has also been trying to engage more with Asia. At this point in time, Russia has neither capacity nor intent to become a regional pivot in the security sphere, though it has been trying to be a player, at least, in East Asia via its cooperation and connections with North Korea. Moscow has signed a nuclear agreement with India and has been strengthening its relationship with China. Russia’s renewed interests in Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam are also reported to be part of its agenda to build a Russia’s ‘pivot to Asia’. Russia is more interested in the economic landscape of the region, and in April 2014, Moscow announced a special economic zone in Vladivostok to reach out to Asia-pacific countries.

Few other ‘pivots’ such as ASEAN’s as a collective entity, which tries to offer a ASEAN way in regional politics, as well as India’s growing regional interests, could also be cited as important variables that are going to shape the future of the region. However, they are nascent and less influential at this point of time.

Amidst all the ‘pivots to Asia’, the region has become an arena of contest between the various players of ‘pivot politics’. A multiplicity of ‘pivots’ means that there is no one who has substantial influence over the regional security and economic dynamics, leading to complex scenarios. It has resulted in less predictability and more instability in the region. The interplay of these ‘pivots’ - their contest as well alliances – is going to shape the future of regional political and economics, and must be keenly observed.

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#4897, 8 July 2015
On the 10th Anniversary of the East Asian Summit
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University
 

In November 2015, the tenth anniversary of the East Asian Summit (EAS) will be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The last ten years of the EAS has been less than satisfactory in bringing together the 18 member countries on important issues of regional politics and economics. However, at the same time, it has provided a platform for the top leaders of the region to meet once a year. The survival of the EAS for these ten years could itself be cited as a success in the first phase of existence.

For a round-up of the first phase and to chart out the course of the next, in May 2015, a roundtable was organised in Seoul, South Korea. It was a part of a track-II process in which two representatives from each member country were invited. The platform was important as many high-level diplomats and academicians participated and the report of the roundtable was sent to the EAS for its consideration.

The deliberations at the roundtable were generally positive and underlined the fact that with all its limitations the EAS has been a constructive and productive grouping. Since the region lacks any other formal network, the EAS is a commendable initiative. The discussions also stressed that the Asia-Pacific has been getting increasingly tied up in the rivalries between China, the US and Japan. It is indeed pertinent that a neutral and innovative agenda be articulated by the EAS countries to address the growing tension between the big regional players.

The EAS process, it was agreed, has been an open, transparent and inclusive forum to discuss broad strategic, political and economic issues of common concern, and it aims to promote “peace, stability and economic prosperity in the East Asia.” There may be differences of opinion about the modalities but there cannot be differences on the broad goals that were envisaged by the EAS. Four issues constituted the core of the deliberations about the future of the EAS.

The first issue was whether the EAS would become an all-equal platform or remain primarily an ASEAN-led initiative. Until now the process has been largely dominated by the ASEAN and the EAS needs to decide how it would like to move forward. The centrality of ASEAN has both its pros and cons and it would not be easy to make a choice. Generally, the participants agreed that in the next phase ASEAN should play the key role, without which, great power dynamics may derail the process. The chief of the Indian delegation, Amb Skand R Tayal stressed that the “EAS should continue to be ASEAN-centric. However, all its 18 members should participate equally in its preparatory, organisational and implementation activities.” It was also underlined that as per the 2011 EAS declaration, the EAS would remain an integral part of the evolving regional architecture, which includes other mutually reinforcing processes such as ASEAN+1, ASEAN+3, ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM+).

The second important issue pertained to regional trade. There were appeals to hasten efforts to arrive at the regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia (CEPEA), even though it may not happen in the near future. The discussion appreciated bilateral FTAs and CEPAs between the countries of the region and they were considered as launching pads for the CEPEA in the future. The general mood was that sub-regionalism must be promoted to arrive at a broader regional trade regime. There are lots of other areas as well where member countries could cooperate and benefit from such as energy, education, health, disaster management, and connectivity.

The third issue was about the construction of an East Asian community, on which some basic disagreements emerged. The delegates of the ASEAN countries in general thought that with the geographical expansion of the EAS, it is plausible to carve a community from the EAS. However, other participants argued that it is possible to have an East Asian community in the agenda of the EAS. For that, the notion of ‘community’ must be broadened to include people beyond its geographical proximities. As the notion of ‘region’ has transcended geographical distance, the notion of ‘community’ must also. By diluting or giving up the goal of an East Asian community, the EAS would not be able to move beyond political and economic imperatives, and this would not be able to deliver in the quest for peace, stability and prosperity across the region. An East Asian community would mean more people-to-people integration, which could become a driving force for the EAS in the future.

The discussion on the EAS and its future course was held back by the lack of institutionalisation of the EAS process. The leaders of the member countries meet for less than a day in a year and there have not been satisfactory follow-up mechanisms thereafter. There was almost a consensus that the EAS should consider reintroducing leaders’ retreats and organising leaders’ summits via the sherpa system. Unlike the present, a separate EAS administrative unit must be established within the ASEAN Secretariat and staff positions should be open to even non-ASEAN countries. The roundtable demanded that the sequence of meetings be reversed as to an EAS meeting, ASEAN+3 meeting, and then ASEAN+1 meeting. In this way, the EAS would be able to provide a comprehensive agenda in the beginning itself.

There were several other deliberations during the roundtable such as division of issues in the priority and non-priority areas, cap of the new membership, and more importantly, the establishment of track-II networks in the region. Furthermore, a chain of universities, which would be called East Asia Universities in the member countries, was also proposed by one of the participants. 

Overall, the EAS must enter a new phase with a modified strategy to realise its alternate vision for the regional political and economic order. It has been able to sustain its existence amidst lots of problems and limitations in the first ten years. However, if it does not reconsider and re-chart its course in the next phase, it would not be easy to sustain its relevance. Any stagnation or decline in the EAS process would not only be detrimental to the efforts to establish a peaceful, stable and prosperous East Asia, but would also invite sharper great power politics in the region. The success or failure of the EAS would not be the success of failure of a process but of all the countries involved. Now, it is to see in which direction the leaders of these member countries are ready to move.

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#4883, 2 June 2015
Implications of Modis Three-Nation Tour in East Asia
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University
 

To understand and evaluate the outcomes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s East Asian tour of China, Mongolia and South Korea, it would be useful to separate them into at least three domains: popular, economic, and security-strategic.

Overall, it can be said that Modi was able to create sufficient public attention on his visit to China. This may not appear important but by connecting India and China through various mediums such as Twitter, a momentum for people-to-people exchange between the two neighbours could be created. India and China both are rising powers in Asia and have big information as well as perception gaps - these gestures cannot therefore be called superficial. In Mongolia, which no other Indian PM has officially visited before, Modi’s first stop was Gandan Monastery where he gifted a Bodhi Tree. He talked about India and Mongolia’s historical linkages and addressed the Mongolian parliament, which was a first. He also talked about Buddhism and democracy as two important connectors between the two countries. In South Korea also, Modi visited the War Memorial and remembered the Indian soldiers who helped South Korea during the Korean War and referred to other historical connections. His visit to South Korea got remarkable coverage in the local media.

On the economic front, India and China signed 12 different agreements along with a promise of US$20 billion Chinese investment in India. India has been looking at possible investors for its infrastructure sector, which needs around US$1 trillion. China has a foreign reserve of around US$4 trillion, and during his visit to China, Modi tried to communicate India’s needs and opportunities for Chinese investments in a win-win dynamic. Modi also raised the issue of the imbalance in India-China bilateral trade which has reached around US$48 billion and which must be corrected. India is an eager partner in the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and looks forward to benefitting from this Chinese initiative.

India and China realise that the economic opportunities are immense and must be realised. Modi’s visit to China thus was largely in line with this understanding and trajectory. His visit underlined that economic cooperation must increase even if both countries are not able to reach consensus on political and security issues. During his Mongolia trip also, Modi’s visit resulted in several agreements in the economic, trade, transport, highways and energy sectors. He laid the foundation for an Information Technology Centre in Mongolia and gifted a Bhabhatron to the National Cancer Centre of Mongolia. Cooperation in the minerals sector was also sought; this includes cooking coal, copper, rare earths and uranium. The economic outcomes of Modi’s Mongolia visit may not look very impressive quantitatively, but they are definitely strategic. India, during Modi’s trip to South Korea, signed 7 agreements along with other several other proposals to connect economic and trade institutions of both countries. South Korea promised to invest around US$10 billion in India and both countries are going to revise their Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) by next year. Modi took special interest in South Korea’s shipbuilding sector and visited a Hyundai plant in Ulsan. Modi appears to be convinced that the role of South Korea would be crucial in India’s ‘Make in India’ project and this visit was also an attempt to display India’s commitment to it.

The third set of issues are related to security and strategy. In China, Modi had little success, though many observers were expecting ‘historic’ steps. India shares a long and disputed border with China and but nothing significant emerged on this front. Several other issues such as Chinese trade routes proposed under the One Belt One Route (OBOR) project, growing proximity between China and Pakistan and regional issues such as the South China Sea were not taken up during the visit. Modi’s Arunachal Pradesh visit before the China trip, his indirect reference to China during his Japan visit in 2014 and India’s common vision document with the US for the Asia-Pacific, there have been clear indications that there is little possibility of improvement in this area between the two countries. There are allegations that Modi’s diplomacy vis-à-vis China in particular and East Asia in general have been too loud and thus his visit to Mongolia along with China was given a special context by some observers. It is said that Modi is interested in forging a closer partnership with Mongolia on strategic issues and his visit brought out this dimension of India’s objective. On the security and strategic partnership front, Modi’s visit to South Korea can be considered quite successful. He raised the bilateral relationship to the ‘special strategic partnership’ level, with the provision of annual summit meets between the respective leaders and annual 2-2 meetings between the foreign and defence ministers. That the same provisions that are present in the India-Japan relationship have been incorporated into the India-South Korea relationship would be to the latter’s satisfaction.  

Overall, it seems that Modi’s three-nation tour in East Asia has been successful in connecting their historic and popular bonds with India as well as forging more dynamic economic cooperation. The energy invested in the visits should hopefully bear positive results in the future. However, from the security and strategic points of view, only his South Korea visit might be called a success. Another important aspect of these visits are going to be the follow-ups, which are equally if not more important to realise these agreements. It would be interesting to see how India is going to implement these economic partnerships and whether they are going to have a spill-over effect in the security and strategic domains.

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#4870, 8 May 2015
Shinzo Abe: Changing his Stance?
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi, and Visiting Fellow, IPCS
 

In the latter half of April 2015, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with both Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barak Obama. There were some speculations that he may change his course of being unapologetic on the Japanese colonial past but nothing of that sort happened. On 22 April 2015, Abe met the Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia African Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia. It was expected that it would be a better exchange between the two leaders than November 2014 when they encountered in Beijing in a very awkward way.

Optimists believed that in the wake of the 70th anniversary of the end of WW2, Abe might make a statement in August 2015 in which he would change his course of being unapologetic on history issues and his address in Jakarta would be a precursor to that. However, optimists should not have neglected the fact that just a week before his Jakarta visit, Abe sent an offering to the Yasukuni shrine, knowing quite well how it would be received in neighbouring countries. In Jakarta too, Abe stopped by just expressing ‘deep remorse’ for Japan’s role in WW2 and did not make a formal apology – that was made during the same meeting in 2005 by the then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
 
During his week-long visit to the US from 26 April, Abe addressed the Joint Session of the US Congress – the first by any Japanese prime minister. It was again expected that he might say something that would be soothing to the countries that have gone through Japanese colonial exploitations and humiliation. But Abe emphasised the supreme importance of the Japanese alliance with the US and also underlined the strategic significance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). In his speech in the US, he again assiduously avoided language related to Japan’s colonial past – which has been convention.

Abe probably feels that his consistent ‘aggressive’ approach and unapologetic behaviour would gradually become more acceptable in regional politics and even if it does happen, his stance is very successful for the Japanese domestic politics. He is quite convinced that a declining US would like to have a partner in Asia Pacific, one that fully supports their policy of Asian ‘re-balancing’ or ‘pivot to Asia’ and takes a lead in regional politics. In the process, if Tokyo takes lead and becomes ‘assertive’ vis-à-vis Beijing, it would reduce Washington’s burden and provide them with negotiating space in dealing with China. In the process, Abe feels that an apologetic stance does not go well with an ‘assertive’ Japan.
 
Abe is also quite consistent in being unapologetic on history issues, uncompromising on territorial issues, and aggressive in dealing with neighbouring countries. Abe feels that if the US support continues, he could carry forward his approach without much problems. From his speech at the US Congress, it also appears that he is interested in invoking democracy as common meeting point to connect Japan with India and Australia. Abe also assumes that even though it is dangerous to have a military confrontation in the region, it is useful to keep the situation ‘warm’ and utilise it for his political purposes.

However, he is mistaken and even if his policies may buy him popularity in Japan’s domestic politics, they would not succeed in producing desired results in its external relations. First, his approach may strengthen the US-Japan bilateral but it has led to the emergence of serious mistrust in the US-South Korea-Japan trilateral. It is not surprising that South Korean President Park Geun-hye is ready to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un unconditionally, but prefers to get Abe’s apology on the ‘comfort women’ issue before any bilateral talks with him. Second, Shinzo Abe’s policies have been pushing South Korea closre to China over the past few years. Incidentally, a conservative party government is in power in South Korea, one that has strong bonds with the old and reliable ally – the US; but if there would have been a progressive government in South Korea, the entire equation would have been markedly different.

Third, the Japanese behaviour provides breathing space to North Korea, which was feeling pinch of economic sanctions, especially after its third nuclear test in February 2013. Any problem in the Japan-US-South Korea trilateral gives North Korea manoeuvring chance. Fourth, Japan’s expectations that India and Australia as democratic countries would necessarily go along with Japan may not be correct. Democratic values include tolerance, peace, stability and common prosperity. If Tokyo’s unapologetic behaviour does not appear to move in this direction, New Delhi’s and Canberra’s supports cannot be unconditional and as a given.

Lastly, there is no fool proof mechanism to keep political and strategic relations in the regional politics ‘warm’. There is always a serious chance of miscalculation and such strategies must be avoided.

Thus, it would be right to disagree with optimists who keep imagining a changed Shinzo Abe in near future, especially if the US does not change its foreign policy course or regains its huge relative prominence. Since both the options appear either remote or impossible, with all the changes, Abe’s approach will remain the same.

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#4857, 6 April 2015
South Korea: US THAAD or Chinese AIIB?
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University
 

It is not an easy choice for South Korea to decide about participating in two initiatives, one spearheaded by the US and the other by China. The US insists on South Korea joining its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which is said to be a missile defence system to protect South Korea against any military adventurism by North Korea. However, the THAAD may allegedly be used to spy on China and Russia, and so the latter forbid South Korea’s participation in any such system. In another move, China has been quite active in the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which has been seen as a serious challenge to the existing international and regional economic arrangements that are largely dominated by the West and Japan. China is being quite persuasive in getting South Korea on board by offering it a founding member status. However, the US is not happy with the AIIB initiative and would like South Korea to keep away from it.

The contest between the US and China for the Asia-Pacific has made it difficult for South Korea to choose between THAAD and AIIB purely on the basis of its self-defined national interests. South Korea, has been trying to emerge as a middle power in regional politics since 2009, and finds it regressive to go back to either/or choices between the US and China. Under the rubric of its middle power diplomacy and as part of its ‘New Asia initiative’, South Korea became active in providing Official Development Assistance (ODA) to some of the poorest countries in the world, participated more actively in the various international organisations, and more importantly, tried to inject new positive agendas in regional politics by supporting ‘green growth’ etc. The global presence of South Korean companies and the popularity of South Korean cultural products in neighbouring countries, known as as ‘Hallyu’, have provided further impetus to South Korea’s rising stature in the region. South Korea’s attempt to balance between the US and China also emanates from its desire to play a more autonomous and constructive role between them, and this is considered a sine qua non of its emergence as a middle power.

Pragmatic realities also demand that South Korea should avoid taking sides between the two countries in any disagreement between them. The US military presence in South Korea and its security commitment to Seoul has been an undeniable fact for decades. However, China is also emerging as an important partner for South Korea by being its number one trading partner, in addition to its key role in South Korea’s dealings with North Korea. South Korea would thus like to maintain good relations with both the US and China for these practical reasons as well.

However, the dilemma South Korea faces on the THAAD and AIIB front is a difficult one. The best option, which has been prescribed by many scholars and even policy-makers and politicians in South Korea, is that it should join both initiatives. By doing so, South Korea would not be seen as defying either the US or China, and will be a position acceptable to both. Already, the US has diluted its position on South Korea joining the AIIB from ‘being unacceptable’ one year ago to ‘South Korea could decide by its own’, and there are chances that China would also come to terms with South Korea joining the THAAD.

However, the AIIB with China and the THAAD with the US do not go well with South Korea’s behaviour as a middle power, which would suggest a relatively more autonomous space in its policy-making. The AIIB is an economic platform and network led by China with whom South Korea already has massive economic exchanges; joining the AIIB therefore would not bring any fundamental shift in its bilateral relations with China or the US. Already, many close friends of the US such as the UK have declared their participation in it, and it would not be a big issue if South Korea also decides to joins. However, THAAD is different. Many scholars disagree with the claim that it is aimed at North Korea - they claim that its real targets are China and Russia. The skeptics say that the THAAD would not be very effective in averting the North Korean threat as the geographical proximity between South and North Korea is very close. Moreover, it is also said that South Korea has been trying to develop its own indigenous Korean Anti-Missile Defense (KAMD) system. For all these reasons, at the beginning, South Korea said that it was not interested in the THAAD. Furthermore, joining the THAAD would strain South Korea’s relations with both China and Russia and thus would hamper South Korea’s middle power diplomacy.

So, a rational choice for middle power South Korea would be to join the AIIB but to refuse the THAAD. But the choice for South Korea as an American ally would be to join the THAAD and not the AIIB. South Korea announced its decision to join the AIIB on 26 March 2015 but is yet to make its position clear on the THAAD. It would interesting to see what choice South Korea makes, as it would determine South Korea’s approach to regional politics in the future as well as its own place in its emerging dynamics.

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#4842, 2 March 2015
Russia and North Korea: Replaying Old Games
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi
 

It has been announced that Kim Jong-un will be participating in the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II, to be held in Russia in May 2015. Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have been facing isolation of differing degrees and wish to assert their determination in the face of such sequestration. The visit was finalised in November 2014 during the visit of the Secretary of the North Korean Workers’ Party Choe Ryong-hae to Russia, who is considered to be the number two in the North Korean power hierarchy. In May 2014, Choe also made similar visit to Beijing to arrange a summit meet between the leaders of China and North Korea but did not succeed. If Kim Jong-un’s visit to Moscow happens, it will be the first foreign visit of the North Korean leader after assuming power in December 2011.

It is still too early to say whether Jong-un’s visit will actually take place, as other regional countries such as South Korea would not be willing to participate in the celebrations alongside Kim Jong-un. However, if it happens, it would be indeed an important episode in East Asian affairs, presenting the leader of the reclusive State an opportunity or compulsion to meet or face the leaders of many countries. It would therefore be interesting to explore the intentions of both Russia and North Korea in making these overt gestures, which are also intrinsically linked with North Korea’s relations with China.

North Korea has sought to maintain equidistance from its two closest allies - the USSR and China - from the days of the Cold War. The North Korean leadership has successfully played China against the USSR and in the process, has been able to garner economic and military help from both. In the recent sequence of events, North Korea had its third nuclear test in February 2013 along with several other provocative steps and statements, which have deteriorated the security situation in the region. North Korean behaviour has given an excuse to the US and South Korea to strengthen their security posture and preparedness in the region, which is definitely not good for China. As a result, China has shown its open displeasure with North Korea and has minimised its exchanges and support for North Korea. China has gone along with the international community in imposing various sanctions on North Korea. The Chinese President Xi Jinping has had two summit meets with the South Korean President Park Guen-hye in the last two years, but has held no such meeting with Jong-un. China has also reportedly been suggesting Chinese-style reforms to North Korea but this has not moved the latter yet – in fact, North Korea, in response, sent a strong message to China by executing Jang Seoung-thaek, probably the closest North Korean leader to China.

In this growing environment of isolation, Kim Jong-un has been looking at other openings. In 2014, Jong-un sent Kim Yong-nam, Chairman of the Presidium of Supreme People’s Assembly to Mongolia in the garb of participating in the Winter Olympics. However, by accepting Russian offer to visit Moscow, Kim Jong-un has decided to reuse North Korea’s old tactics and which is that when China is unhappy, go to Russia and vice versa.

From the Russian point of view, their presence and role in East Asian affairs would only be possible via North Korea. In the 1990s, when the Boris Yeltsin administration had very cold relations with North Korea, Russia had no opportunity to be part of the politics of the region. Russia had no role in the Nuclear Accord of 1994, the establishment of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organisation (KEDO) and the Four-Party Talks of 1995-96. Putin realised the mistake, and North Korea was his fourth foreign visit after coming to power in 2000. In the last few years again, it seems that Russia has become a non-player in East Asia and has been much busier in its western neighbourhood. Putin probably wants to rectify this imbalance and send a strong message to the West by demonstrating his connections with North Korea.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong visited a hydroelectric power plant in Russia in October 2014, and in January 2015, Russia has announced its assistance to North Korea in repairing and improving is power grid in exchange for rare earth metals from North Korea. Russia also announced in early February a joint military drill with North Korea.

The developments between Russia and North Korea are more significant for China as Beijing may have to rethink its policy vis-à-vis North Korea. The re-thinking has already begun with Xi Jinping sending a personal message through one of the top CCP leaders to the North Korean Embassy in Beijing on the occasion of the third death anniversary of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Many observers felt that China’s changing posture had to do with its disappointment with South Korea and the US but the change could also be attributed to Russia’s outreach programme, which must be dealt with.

In brief, it could be said that North Korea is well aware that its relationships with China and Russia are of mutual dependence. Moreover, they also compete with each other for closer proximity to North Korea, which gives North Korea some space for strategic manoeuvring. Thus, the recent episode of Russia’s invitation to Kim Jong-un and his acceptance could be a replay of the old game, which North Korea, China, and Russia have been playing with each other since the Cold War era.

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#4824, 2 February 2015
Japan-South Korea: Antagonism Despite Alignment
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University
 

On 29 December 2014, Japan and South Korea concluded a military intelligence-sharing agreement related to the North Korean nuclear and missile programmes. It is a three-way pact in which the US is the connecting party. The negotiations between South Korea and Japan on a similar but bilateral pact got into controversy two years ago when the information about it became public in South Korea. The recent agreement, even though limited in scope and trilateral in character, was considered to be the right note for the beginning of the new year. This year is the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in World War II. Just as former Japanese Prime Ministers Tomiichi Murayama and Junichiro Koizumi expressed remorse over wartime atrocities on the 50th and 60th anniversaries, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is also expected to at least reiterate the old Japanese position.

In another move in early January, a high-level economic consultative meeting between the two countries happened in Seoul in which both agreed to boost their economic relations despite politically strained ties. It is interesting to note that despite the acrimonious verbal exchanges, which both countries have quite frequently, their bilateral trade is almost US$90 billion and neither tries to hamper their bilateral economic exchanges with their political disputes.

Furthermore, in the second week of January, a parliamentary delegation from South Korea visited Japan with South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s message to improve bilateral relations. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reportedly responded that he would like to make this year “a year to improve Japan-South-Korea relations.” These moves indicate that Japan and South Korea may be able to forge a cordial relationship with each other and would move forward in resolving their differences. The top leaders of both countries who apart from a few awkward encounters such as in November 2014 at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum have not met each other after assuming their positions - Shinzo Abe in 2012 and Park Geun-hye in February 2013 - might finally have a direct dialogue in 2015. 

But amidst these positive moves there have also been the old acrimonious murmurs that seem to be straining the attempts to move forward in the bilateral relationship. On 27 January, South Korea expressed concern that Shinzo Abe may backtrack from the Japanese apology on the comfort women issue, which was expressed by former Japanese Chief Secretary Yohei Kono in 1993. China also expressed similar doubts because Abe recently made a statement that he might change the terms of apology which was used in 1995 and it would reflect his government’s present position. The Japanese government has also not announced any specific date about the release of Abe’s statement on the 70th anniversary which would be in August this year.

Japan considers that it has put in ‘maximum efforts’ to address the comfort women issue and South Korea should therefore not put any precondition for a summit meet between the two leaders. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshidhide Suga made this statement in reaction to the South Korean President Park Gue-hye’s remarks on 13 January in which she asked for a more sensitive response from Japan on the comfort women issue before expecting direct talks between the two countries.

On 18 January, South Korea also protested to Japan against the distribution of the Korean version of Japan’s Defense White Paper, which claimed Takeshima as a Japanese territory. The islands, which South Korea calls Dokdo, have been in Seoul’s possession for more than six decades, and Korea has a historical claim over it.

The long trajectory of Japan and South Korea relations indicates that even though both countries share a common friend in the form of the US and a common threat in North Korea (also China during the Cold War), their bilateral relations have always been complicated. There have been impressive economic, cultural and educational exchanges between the two countries for the normalisation of relations since 1965, but they continue to have negative political postures against each other because of historical disputes related to textbooks, Yasukuni Shrine visits, comfort women and also territorial disputes such as Dokdo/Takeshima.

Basically, it is politically convenient for leaders of both the countries to continuously use the controversial issues for their vested political interests. Common people in South Korea are more interested in economic opportunities and their daily lives. While they do not seek another Japanese apology, Japanese political provocations may sometimes induce them to behave otherwise. Similarly, Japan’s common people are not eager about these controversial issues but when there are huge politically motivated emotional outbursts from Korea, Japanese people also become more adamant. This vicious cycle does not allow Japan and South Korea to move forward towards a future-oriented relationship and it seems that the trend of antagonism despite alignment in their bilateral relations would continue in the near future.

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#4818, 21 January 2015
IPCS Forecast: East Asia in 2015
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University
 

This edition of the IPCS Column, 'East Asia Compass', is the precis of a larger document titled 'East Asia in 2015', published under the IPCS Forecast 2015 series. 
The future political landscape of Asia-Pacific would largely be decided, arguably, by happenings in the East Asian region. It is so because in East Asia, the interests of three important players of world politics - the US, China and Japan - come in direct contact with one another. In the last few years, these key players along with South Korea and North Korea have been trying to review and realign their foreign policies according to the ‘changing realities’ of the region. These ‘changing realities’ are not routine and they have potential to fundamentally change the nature of inter-State relations in East Asia as well as in the whole Asia-Pacific region.
 
US and China
The first and foremost bilateral equation that is going to be important for the region is between the US and China. The course of contest, cooperation, coexistence or containment between them is going to be played primarily in the East Asian region. In 2015, it would be interesting to see whether an ‘assertive China’ competes with the US’ ‘Asian pivot’ or whether both countries chart out a cooperative course for bilateral relations in the framework of the G-2, in spite of their several disagreements. In the past, the policies and behaviour of both have been to evaluate the extreme options and many more in-betweens.

However, in 2015, both of them would be pressed to take a clearer stand on their bilateral relations. There could be several possibilities between the two countries and it would be premature to say that any possible future is a given. Nothing is perordained and both the US and China are going to shape each other’s choices, preferences and postures, and more importantly, the process is going to be a non-linear and comlicated  one.

China and Japan
The next important determinant for the East Asia region would be the trajectory of relations between China and Japan in 2015, the second and third biggest economies of the world. If they cooperate, they could create a huge positive thrust for the East Asian region and beyond. But if they opt for military containment or confrontation with each other, it would be a huge disaster for the region. From recent Chinese and Japanese behaviour, it seems that they are finding it uncomfortable to co-exist with each other as both look at regional politics in a zero-sum game model. In 2015, China and Japan need to make peace with the existing realities, and the recent meeting between Shinzo Abe and Xi Jinping may have begun the process of mutual accommodation.

Japan, in the process, would have to re-think its quest to become a ‘normal’ State and its recent ultra-nationalist rhetoric over history, territoriality and other issues. Similarly, China also needs to re-adjust the course of its ‘peaceful rise’, which for a majority of neighbouring countries is not seen as ‘peaceful’ anymore. In 2015, if China does not review its behaviour, such as its stand on the disputes in the South China Sea, East China Sea and so on, it could propel many of the neighbouring countries to work overtly to counter-balance China.

Inter-Korea Relations
In 2015, relations between North and South Korea would also be of significance. The Korean Peninsula is rightly identified as one of the flashpoints in East Asia and uneasy inter-Korea relations constitute the core of it. In the first two years of her rule, South Korean President Park Geun-hye has been unable to begin a meaningful dialogue and exchanges with North Korea. However, if she is able to make it happen in 2015, it will be a welcome sign for regional politics.

For almost four to five years, North Korea has been going through a phase of succession, and after so much animosity, Kim Jong-un’s regime might realise that the same tactics may not work each time, which could lead to another phase of engagement with the international community. Inter-Korea relations are important because it brings in the US, China, Japan and even Russia into the process. The political game that would be played out between these big players, if the Korean Peninsula is weak and unstable, would undoubtedly destabilise the region and perhaps even the entire Asia-Pacific. Thus, a bilateral or multilateral mechanism to bring about a breakthrough in the inter-State impasse is required in 2015.

East Asia: A Strategy for India
For many decades, India has seemingly considered East Asia too far away geographically and has therefore lacked an integrated policy towards the region. India has been satisfied in maintaining bilateral relations with North Korea, South Korea, Japan and China separately and has tried to keep itself away from their bilateral rivalry in region. The Indian approach has been based on the consideration that India neither has interests nor the capacity to pursue them in the region. However, in the changing Asia-Pacific dynamics as well as with India’s growing economic and political stature, it has become unavoidable for India to articulate a coordinated policy for the East Asia region. India has not been able to keep itself aloof from the contest between China and the US or China and Japan. Similarly, it would insufficient to say that India would be able to maintain good relations with both Japan and South Korea without taking a stand on their bilateral disagreements. 

India, which is an emerging power in the Asia-Pacific, must realise that the churning and transformation in East Asia is going to shape the politics of the Asia-Pacific in an important way. Thus, it is not only appropriate but also incumbent upon India to be a part of this process of changing regional politics. The new course of Indian foreign policy towards East Asia must be initiated in 2015 knowing well that the process would be difficult and time-consuming. It may bring both displeasure and support from various quarters, but a principled, consistent, transparent, and cooperative approach would ultimately be able to overcome it.

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#4796, 6 January 2015
China-North Korea: Reasons for Reconciliation
Sandip Kumar Mishra
 

On the occasion of the third death anniversary of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on 17 December 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a special message to the North Korean embassy in Beijing. The Chinese President underlined the significance of their “traditional friendship.” Xi Jinping also said that that China “is ready to work with the DPRK to maintain, consolidate and develop the traditional friendship.”

It is definitely a clear departure from the recent attitude of Xi Jinping and China towards North Korea. First, the message was delivered to the North Korean embassy in Beijing by the fifth highest official in the Chinese Communist Party hierarchy, Liu Yunshan. Second, it has been the most open and straight forward statement by the Chinese President emphasising China’s old friendship with North Korea since he assumed power in early 2013. Third, it was given on the occasion of the third death anniversary of Kim Jong-il, which according to the Confucian tradition means the end of the official mourning period and beginning of the new leader’s rule. In a way, it means granting legitimacy to Kim Jong-un, who has had a few differences smooth with China since coming to power. Fourth, Xi Jinping’s statement and the profile of the Chinese delegate to the North Korean embassy are very significant because they happened despite China not being officially invited to the death anniversary programme in North Korea.

What were China’s Objections?
The China-North Korea relationship has been derailed in recent years. China’s first and foremost discomfort with Pyongyang is related to the North Korean nuclear programme, not because of it does not want a nuclear North Korea but more because it would bring a direct US strategic response to the region. The North Korean nuclear programme may also propel South Korea and Japan to move on a similar course of nuclear weaponisation. The second important Chinese objection is the lack of economic reforms. China apparently wants North Korea to adopt Chinese-style reform if it wants to survive and survive well.

China was reportedly disappointed with Kim Jong-un on both accounts, and 2013 was particularly disappointing for bilateral relations. In February 2013, North Korea had its third nuclear test, which invited sharp international criticism. In March-April 2013, North Korea escalated military tensions and rhetoric towards South Korea and the US when they were conducting their annual joint military exercise. North Korea cut-off hot line communications with South Korea and closed down Gaeseong Industrial complex. In spite of Chinese persuasion, North Korea escalated the situation to a point that prompted the US to send its stat-of-the-art weapon systems to the region and install a missile defence system at Guam. In December 2013, North Korea executed the number two in the North Korean power hierarchy, Jang Song-thaek, who was supposed to be the closest to China and was pro-reform. It was reported that a clear signal was being sent to China.

Xi Jinping tried to put pressure on North Korea by cooperating with the international community on the issue of economic sanctions after the nuclear tests and by having two summit meets with South Korean leader Park Geun-hye without any high-level Chinese visits to North Korea.

Context of Rapprochement
However, it seems from recent developments that China has decided to reach out to North Korea even though North Korea does not look ready to change its course. There are important reasons for this. One, China has been disappointed by South Korean reciprocity, as despite good Chinese posturing, South Korea is still not ready to think beyond its primary ally in the region, the US. Two, US, South Korea and Japan recently signed a trilateral intelligence-sharing agreement related to threats emanating from North Korea. China has criticised this move and considers that the mechanism might be used to share information about China as well. Three, China does not find it appropriate on the part of the international community, especially the US, South Korea and Japan, to become ‘over-proactive’ on the issue of human rights violations in North Korea. Although because of the veto from China and Russia, the matter could not move forward, it was definitely a coordinated move to declare North Korean human rights violations ‘crime against humanity’ and refer it to the International Criminal Court (ICC). China worries that such precedents would be bad for Beijing. Four, North Korea over the past year had been moving closer to Russia. In December 2014, No Kwang-chol, vice chief of the General Staff of the North's Army met his Russian counterpart, and Choe Ryong-hae, the Workers' Party of Korea secretary met Russian Foreign Minster and pledged to improve bilateral defence and economic relations. Furthermore, Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to Moscow in 2015.

All these developments have made China rethink its policy of putting pressure on North Korea and it seems that a new beginning in the estranged bilateral relationship might be sought by Xi Jinping. China has taken the first step in the process of rapprochement, now it’s up to North Korea to respond.

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#4763, 1 December 2014
Abe-Jinping Summit Meet: A Thaw in China-Japan Relations?
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University
 

After almost two years of the election of Shinzo Abe as the Prime Minister of Japan, he and and Chinese President Xi Jinping met for the first time at a summit meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) gathering in Beijing on 10 November 2014. Shinzo Abe and Xi Jinping have deliberately avoided each other since coming to power. The rivalry between China and Japan over the islands in the East China Sea and other maritime and historical disputes have overshadowed huge economic exchanges and the dependence that both countries have on each other. Many have commented that if their foreign policy courses are not corrected, it would have a destabilising effect on the region. Thus, even though the meeting between Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe lacked substance and was more symbolic, it has been appreciated as a positive gesture from both sides.

The second and third largest economies of the world have had strong disagreements on political, security and strategic issues for some time. In Asian politics, one is considered to be a rising power and the other also seeks to maintain its foothold and be more assertive. In an era when the Asian political landscape is a contested arena both for the countries (new and old regional powers) and for the models of inter-state relations (cooperative and balance of power), the bilateral relations between China and Japan have been and should be followed with keen interest.

The economic exchanges between the two countries have been one of the largest in the world but in the past few years, it has been a bit derailed by politics. It is said that the year 2010 was the turning point in their bilateral relations. This year, China replaced Japan as the second largest economy in the world and in September 2010 a crisis erupted when a Chinese trawler collided with Japanese patrol boats near the Senkaky/Diaoyu Islands. It has also been said that the incident was blown out of proportion because of some disputes related to the export quotas of rare earth minerals. While this may or may not be true it was definitely a new moment in Asian politics in which Japanese economic superiority was surpassed by China.

For almost two and half decades, Japan found solace in being the number one economy in Asia and number two economy in the world, despite a stagnant economic growth. It might be claimed that China catching up with Japan in the economic sphere was hard for Japanese people to accept and it was one of the factors, along with rising nationalism, that provided Shinzo Abe with the support for his assertive policy. Japan was probably uncomfortable to coexist with an economic equal in the neighborhood. When the Japanese government decided to buy three islands of the Senkaku/Diaoyu in September 2012, it led to a huge political and diplomatic crisis between the two countries. Strong posturing and words were exchanged and it severally affected their bilateral economic exchanges. These events affected bilateral trade and the Japanese investment to China has since gone down by almost 50 per cent in the first nine months of 2014.

Meanwhile, China has also been negotiating its future course, both external and internal, and how a stronger China would stand in Asian politics. There was a consensus that China should work for its ‘peaceful rise’ or economic growth rather than overtly making political and strategic assertions. In 2010, when the Chinese economy became the second largest economy in the world, the hawkish forces in China started demanding a more assertive China. The aggressive Chinese behaviour in the trawler collision incident, Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands disputes, South China Sea disputes, and declaration of ADIZ could be linked with pressure from Chinese political hardliners who want a more assertive China as they believe that China now has enough economic clout to sustain it.

By recasting China-Japan relations in this manner, it can be said that the change in economic equations between the two made them aggressive and assertive - one because of over-confidence and another because of a sense of loss. A military conflict between China and Japan is hard to visualise and the economic implications of the present bilateral rivalry have been bad for both the countries.

Thus, the meeting between Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe might be an important course correction for mutual coexistence with an acceptance of the new realities by both China and Japan. It does not mean that political and security rivalry related to the future of Asia and their roles in it would be resolved once and for all. The way both countries made claims and counter-claims about the ‘agreed’ issues of the summit meet make it clear that it would be premature to say that it is a thaw in their relations. But it is definitely a new beginning in the contest of ‘who blinks first’.

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#4723, 3 November 2014
South Korea's Foreign Policy: More Rhetoric, Less Content?
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University
 

South Korea’s foreign relations especially in East Asia are in a state of impasse under the current President Park Geun-hye. During the last President Lee Myung-bak, it was clear that South Korea gave priority to its alliance with the US and resultantly drifted away from its closest economic partner, China. The current President Park Geun-hye from the very beginning wanted to balance this over tilt. She tried to implement a two-leg policy, and made her first ‘official visit’ to the US and first ‘state visit’ to China, emphasising the importance of both in the foreign policy calculus of the country. It was indeed a very perceptive move. Similarly, South Korea under the current administration declared the initiation of ‘trust politik’ towards North Korea, which was a correction to the unconstructive hard-line policy of the previous South Korea administration. It was considered to be the right choice to pacify North Korea and engage it in meaningful dialogue towards denuclearisation, economic reform, and ultimately, bringing about a peace regime on the Korean peninsula.

However, it seems that in both of these foreign policy objectives, South Korea has not been able to move forward as expected. South Korea appears to put more emphasis on rhetoric and showmanship and less on content. South Korea sought Chinese support in its dealings with North Korea, and as a quid-pro-quo, showed its agreement with Chinese objections to Japan’s assertive behaviour. However, this was not considered sufficient by China. China expects more from South Korea based especially on Shinzo Abe’s approach towards Japan’s historical and territorial disputes with the former.

China was expecting South Korea to show restraint in the process of partnering with the US’ strategic games in the region. South Korea has recently announced its part in the US THAAD missile defence system in East Asia and also declared that it would not take over the operational command (OPCON) of the joint forces during the war-time until 2020s, which was supposed to be taken over in 2015. There are reports that this has led China to re-contemplate its relations with North Korea. Reports also say that the Chinese Ambassador to North Korea has become more active in his engagement with North Korea.

The foreign policy objective of the current South Korean government might be different than the previous one, but it appears to be gradually but surely moving on the same path and towards the same destination. For the first time there have been confirmed reports that China was decisively unhappy with North Korea and was ready to work with South Korea to resolve the North Korean issue. If China drifts away from South Korea, it would be a huge loss for Seoul.

South Korea’s North Korean policy has also been more rhetorical and less pragmatic. The ‘trust politik’ seems to have got the sequencing wrong as North Korea is expected to make a gesture first. There are lots of activities to begin inter-Korea talks, and South Korea has recently constituted the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation. However, one of the two Vice-Presidents of the Committee states that South Korea should ‘wait out’ North Korea. Basically, the current South Korean government’s emphasis on a ‘principled engagement’ with North Korea is not very different from the previous government’s hard-line policy. So, the result of this ‘trust politik’ has also been a deadlock. Basically, it seems that South Korea, rather than reaching out to North Korea and Japan, is making proclamations meant for its domestic audiences.

Regarding South Korea’s estranged bilateral relations with Japan, the blame could largely be attributed to the ‘indiscriminate’ assertiveness Japan under Shinzo Abe. Japanese assertiveness vis-à-vis China does have some reasonable explanations but it does not make any sense to distance South Korea and push it towards China. However, South Korea has also been inflexible and the Park Geun-hye has deliberately avoided any meeting with Shinzo Abe. This gesture might be useful for evoking popular sentiment in South Korea but it cannot be called strategic in terms of foreign policy. It would definitely be more productive to talk and with Japan and try to persuade it to moderate its stand.

From the Indian perspective, it seems that South Korea’s foreign policy is equally dissatisfactory. The previous South Korean administration under Lee Myung-bak had the ‘New Asia Initiative’ policy to reach out to the Asian neighbourhood including India in a more proactive manner. It was an important departure from the past when South Korea was more involved with big regional players such as China, Japan, the US and Russia. President Park Geun-hye tried to carry forward this policy and visited India in the very first year of her office. However, her attempts to reach out to Southeast Asia have been weak or at least inconsistent. For example, she decided to visit India at the wrong time: when the UPA government was about to end its term. More than anything else, Park Geun-hye has been too complacent in reaching out to the new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India and Japan have forged several new ties and strengthened old ones in the past few months but there have not been enough proactive South Korean attempts to reach out to the new Indian government.

The Park Geun-hye administration still has more than three years of office. During this time, South Korea can learn from its non-achievements and become more comprehensive and strategic in its foreign policy making, and also detach itself from domestic political demonstrations.

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#4683, 6 October 2014
India in East Asia: Modis Three Summit Meets
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University
 

In September 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had summit meets with the leaders of Japan, China and the US. The summit meets initiated the unfolding of India’s policy towards the East Asian region. By choosing Japan as his first destination outside the Indian subcontinent and also by having an exclusive five-day programme for Japan, Modi gave clear signals about the preference and direction of his foreign policy. Further, he also referred to and expressed his disagreement with the  ‘tendency of expansionism’, indicating China, suggesting that India is geared to more overtly confront China’s ‘growing assertiveness’. It seems that India considers Japan’s strong response to China as basically a ‘reaction’ and appears to not only be in agreement with Japan in confronting China but also ready to join the their efforts. It was therefore a very clear and strong Indian message to China.

The messages of the India-Japan summit meet cast its shadow over the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India in mid-September. In the beginning, it was expected that China would try to placate India by offering more Chinese investments in India. However, the summit meet was not satisfactory for either side. During the visit, the issue of Chinese ‘incursions’ made headlines in the Indian media and both countries could not release a joint statement after the summit meet. There could be various explanations and theories about China’s behaviour, but even without any Chinese ‘incursions’ it would not have been a successful bilateral exchange as it happened in the context of India’s very vocal support to Japan. Additionally, the Indian President concluded his visit to Vietnam just before the Xi Jinping’s visit to India.

In another important development, Modi made a much anticipated visit to the US in late-September. The visit was important in the context of the misunderstanding between Modi and the US authorities on the issue of his visa in the past. Modi was able to transcend this old misunderstanding and move beyond it. The visit was also important for Indian policy towards East Asia as for the first time in history, the joint declaration by the US and India mentioned the South China Sea. The US has been eager for India to play a role in East Asia for some time, and it has referred in the past to a more active role by India in the Korean problem and through the use of terms such as ‘Indo-Pacific’. However, the reference to South China Sea in the joint statement with India has been the most direct one yet, which sends a significant message to China.

In a way, it seems that India’s role in East Asian politics is growing through India’s alignment with Shinzo Abe’s Japan and the US. It is definitely going to put pressure on China, as it would not be easy for China to overlook Japan, India and the US trilateral understanding and common approach.

It must be emphasised that taking sides between Japan and China or the US and China has probably been the easiest foreign policy choice for India. However, this would also mean that India would be sucked into a vortex of the big powers’ game, which is neither a wise option for India nor India is prepared for it. A much more challenging course for Indian foreign policy would be to lead regional politics by bringing in constructive, cooperative and innovative issues and ideas and by not leaning towards any of these two rival groups. The historical, ideational and material capital of India must be invested in such a futuristic vision for Asia rather than going back to the archaic concepts of balance of power and containment.

In the last three summit meets, the new Indian government made a strong statement to China against its ‘assertive’ and ‘expansionist’ tendencies. It could be said that a strong message to China was required, which has become more ‘assertive’ vis-à-vis Southeast Asian countries, Japan, and to an extent, India. However, it would be more prudent for the Modi government to avoid populist and easier options which might be counter-productive for India and the region in the long-term. The success of Indian foreign policy-making towards East Asia has been its principled engagement with all possible countries in an open manner. Having an overt alliance against China might look attractive in the near future but the unfolding of its repercussions would not be beneficial for the stakeholders. Thus, it would be better for India to continue its open, balanced, principle-based and futuristic approach towards friendly and not-so-friendly countries in the East Asian region.

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#4634, 1 September 2014
Modi's Visit to Japan: Gauging Inter-State Relations in Asia
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University
 

It is remarkable that Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to visit Japan for his first foreign visit outside the Indian subcontinent. The visit is based on the consistently growing partnership with Japan and as well as the annual summit meet between the top leaders of India and Japan. It must be also remembered that Shinzo Abe shows extra regard for Modi, and both Modi and Abe reportedly follow each other Twitter. 

The visit is an important event in the inter-State relations of Asia. It may be an over-simplification to say that both the democracies are willing to work together against the rise of a China-centric Asia. It would instead be more proper for the Indian PM to keep in mind the complexities of the issues involved.

Shinzo Abe might be happy to receive Modi as a strong and aggressive leader from India and may like to convince the India PM about his future vision for Japan and regional politics. However, it would be pertinent to note that Japan’s assertive behaviour has not gone down well with other regional countries such as South Korea and China. By approaching North Korea to have negotiations on the issue of Japanese abductees, Abe has defied international pressure to isolate North Korea. India must be informed about these complexities before embarking on any common vision for Asia with Japan. Modi has taken a constructive approach towards South Asian politics and is apparently working to set a futuristic agenda for all the neighbouring countries such as in the fight against poverty,on energy, 
infrastructure and other developmental issues. He has probably been trying to minimise the space for disputes in the bilateral relations of these countries, and once a positive vibe and momentum is created, the face of South Asian politics might be very different than what it is today. Unfortunately, Abe has been doing quite the opposite in the East Asia. It must be conveyed by Modi to Japan that India would like to follow its own approach and would be happy if Japan joins India (rather than India following the Japanese approach).

India shares its concerns with Japan regarding the growing assertiveness of China in the region. Modi must reassure Abe about India's commitment to Japan and the bilateral partnership. At the same time, however, the Modi must also inform Japan that to contain or counter China through military power is not appropriate. Through diplomatic and other economic means, Japan and India could create disincentives for China in the context its assertive behaviour. If Modi is able to create this balance during his visit to Japan, other regional countries such as South Korea and China would not be alarmed and it would be easier for India to deal with them in the future. A very strong statement and aggressive intent would not go down well.

The PM must be aware of the need to coordinate India's regional policy rather than having bilateral relations in isolation, which may contradict one another and create structural limitations for India's bilateral gains. While India should be able to take its bilateral relations with Japan to a new level, it must be future peace-oriented and coordinated with India's bilateral relations with other countries in the region and beyond. The growing stature of India in the region and world has made it impossible for India to keep a low profile and work on bilateralism alone. There is keen interest across the world in Modi's visit to Japan as it may become one of the indicators of Asia's inter-State relations in the future, and Modi has to keep in mind these factors.

Modi would like to have defence cooperation with Japan as both countries share some common threats. But again rather than making it country-specific, defence cooperation must be issue-specific, broad-based and open. It would be a positive if Modi is able to get Japanese consent for the civil nuclear deal, and both countries could further diversify and deepen their security ties.

The Indian PM's visit and the extensive talks on economic cooperation would bring a lot of benefit to India. Japan is one of the most important sources of foreign direct investment in India, and Japan has provided remarkable help to India's infrastructural projects. Creating an atmosphere of trust and cooperation must further accelerate the process. Modi in all probability is also going to talk with the Japanese leader about the bullet train project. He has been accompanied by a huge contingent of Indian business leaders, twhich indicates that he would like to place significant emphasis on economic cooperation between the two countries.

Modi has been so far successful in bringing in 'out of the box' thinking in his approach towards foreign policy, especially in South Asia. His approach appears to bring in new positive agendas for mutual cooperation rather than being caught up in old confrontations. A similar approach during his visit to Japan would be a wonderful outcome for India and also for Asian politics.

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#4592, 4 August 2014
North Korea: Seeking New Friends?
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University
 

North Korea appears to have become increasingly desperate in its behaviour. It executed its number two leader Jang Song-thaek in December 2013, called South Korean President Park Geun-hye a ‘prostitute’ and the US President a ‘pimp’ in April 2014, characterised China as ‘spineless’ in July 2014, and fired around one hundred short-range missiles in the East Sea in June-July 2014. North Korea’s desperate behaviour has not been able to bring any change in the US and South Korean postures but it has definitely alienated China.

South Korea’s tough posture, the US policy of ‘strategic patience’ and the growing economic and political hardships and isolation of North Korea have been problematic for the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. North Korea had tried to come out of the crisis by being tough and uncompromising as it did in the past. Through nuclear and missile tests in early 2013 and escalation of military tensions in mid-2013, it tried to show that pressure and sanctions would not work and South Korea and the US must go back to placating North Korea. However, North Korea miscalculated not only South Korean or American responses but also Chinese in the latest round of hostilities.

It is important to underline that China provided North Korea the strategic space in which it could independently deal with the US and South Korea, and China did not either intervene in it or find it discomforting. However, it seems that North Korea went beyond this strategic space. Military tension escalated in the region when North Korea loudly opposed - both in words and actions – the South Korea-US joint military exercise in April 2014. The North Korean justification was that the US had brought its more advanced weaponry in the region as well as installed a missile defence system in Guam. North Korea-China relations became estranged and China started cooperating more substantially with the international community in putting sanctions on North Korea. The execution of Jang Song-thaek was symbolic of the growing distance between North Korea and China as he was supposed to be close to China. Rather than amending its ways, North Korea in a way challenged or warned China not to expect any compromise from it. This growing distance can be understood from the fact that the new Chinese and South Korean Presidents have been able to have two summit meets in both countries but there has been no visit by China’s top leaders to North Korea.

North Korea probably wants to convey to both its rivals and friends that it would not succumb to any pressure and the only way to deal with it is engagement. It wants to send this message by resorting to the escalation of military tension and rhetoric. But it seems that the new Chinese leadership is not in agreement with this North Korean strategy. China has also been looking at the broad regional equations in which it has to deal with an assertive Japan, ambivalent US and a possible partner in South Korea.

North Korea has also been looking to inculcate new partnerships and entertained a Japanese official delegation in Pyongyang for talks on the issue of Japanese abductees in April 2013. Japan and North Korea have been meeting to discuss this issue since May 2014. North Korea has been exploring in Japan a potential partner, which might be able to lessen the international isolation and pressure. North Korea thus appears to be utilising the Japanese isolation in the region in its own favour. Since 2013, North Korea has also been trying to reach out to Russia as its relations with China have not been smooth. In May 2014, Russia wrote off US$10 billion in loans to North Korea and there have also been a few important bilateral visits from both sides.
In an unprecedented move in July 2014, the North Korean media called for the strengthening relations with Russia on the 11th anniversary of a summit between Kim Jong-il and Vladimir Putin. In the same context, there was no official statement on China-North Korea relations in on the 33rd anniversary of its Friendship Treaty with China. It has also been reported that North Korea’s trade with Russia reached up to US $104 million in 2013 with a rise of 37.3 per cent. To further the exploration of new relations, the North Korean foreign minister is to visit Vietnam, Laos, Singapore, Indonesia and Myanmar before he attends the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) meeting in Myanmar.

However, this search for new partners would not be able to compensate for its growing distance from China. There are still expectations that not everything is lost in China-North Korea relations and it is also not easy for China to fully abandon North Korea. However, Pyongyang’s overture towards Japan is going to be the key and would be most keenly watched in Beijing. If North Korea crosses the Rubicon, China will have to seriously re-think its North Korea policy.

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#4547, 7 July 2014
China-South Korea: Changing Dynamics of Regional Politics
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University
 

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s two-day visit to South Korea on 3-4 July 2014 is symbolic of a nascent but important change in East Asian political equations. For the first time, a Chinese President visited South Korea before meeting with the North Korean leader. Many observers feel that this is an important shift in Chinese policy towards the Korean peninsula. The growing Chinese exchanges with South Korea in economic and other spheres are not new, but Beijing has always maintained that this does not mean a dilution of its relations with Pyongyang, which has until now been characterised as ‘a special relation’. However, it seems that the recent North Korea behaviour has annoyed China decisively.

North Korea of late appears to not be listening to Chinese suggestions and seems to be creating problems for Chinese interests in regional politics. The third nuclear test, execution of Chang Seong-thaek and several missile tests might be seen as an embarrassing situation for China; China has thus been moving closer to South Korean position. Beijing stressed a “nuclear weapons-free Korean peninsula” during the summit meet with the South Korean President Park Geun-hye in Beijing in 2013. However, he was more direct during the recent visit to Seoul and expressed that China would not like “any development of nuclear weapons on the peninsula.” It is an important achievement for South Korea, which wanted China to be more direct in opposing the North Korean nuclear programme.

Xi Jinping has seemingly been trying to use the growing gap between the US and South Korea over the aggressive Japanese postures on territorial, history and security issues. The US has not been keen to stop Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s revisionist behaviour. China perceives it an important opportunity to reach out to South Korea, who is an important partner in the US-Japan-South Korea security partnership. The Chinese attempt to use South Korean discontent with the US over conceding to the aggressive Japanese postures would not be easy and immediate but in the long-term it may bring very important changes in the regional political equations. Xi Jinping’s visit to Seoul has challenged US foreign policy-makers to reconsider their generous concessions to Japan.

Xi Jinping’s visit also has to do with the growing assertiveness of Japan. China is aware that South Korea has been equally worried about the Japanese claim over the Dokdo/Takeshima Islands, the review of Kano’s statement, insensitive statements on the comfort women issue, and regular visits to Yasukuni shrine by Japanese leaders. One day before Xi Jinping’s visit to Seoul, Japan reinterpreted its constitutional provision and expressed that it has every right to keep defence forces. China is also interested in using South Korean anger against Japan for deciding to conduct a joint investigation with North Korea on the Japanese abductees who were abducted by North Korea in the late 1970s. Japan has relaxed some sanctions on North Korea in the context of this joint investigation.

Xi Jinping has been very subtle in his approach to reach out to South Korea. He has been trying to placate South Korea by indicating to Seoul that the US gives more priority to its alliance with Japan than South Korea. He is also sending a clear signal to South Korea that if Seoul reconsiders its alliance with the US, China is also ready to re-think its relations with North Korea. However, China is aware that South Korean connections with the US and Japan are strong and it would not be easy or straight forward for South Korea to change sides from the US to China. In the immediate future, China would be satisfied if South Korea takes up more autonomous foreign policy-making. Xi Jinping has been working to create a broader plan for an alternate Asian economic and security architecture in which he emphasises the notion of ‘Asia for Asians’, and any change in South Korean policy towards autonomy would be a welcome development for China.

From the South Korean perspective as well, its relationship with China is quite delicate. Economic cooperation between the two countries has been indispensable for Seoul. Furthermore, its most reliable partner (the US) is not doing enough to address its concern vis-à-vis Japan. There is a sense of betrayal in South Korea towards the recent American generosity towards Shinzo Abe. South Korea therefore wants to express its displeasure by dealing more closely with China. Moreover, South Korea sees a golden opportunity to break the close relations between China and North Korea, which would make North Korean survival more problematic. However, Seoul in still not prepared to give up its alliance with the US and the warm welcome to the Chinese President in Seoul is basically a political game to send messages to the US and Japan.

In brief, a chessboard in East Asian politics have been laid out on which both South Korea and China have been moving carefully, with the aware that it would be too early to trust each other at this point of time. However, the future course of East Asian relations would depend on how the US and Japan respond to these moves.

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#4484, 2 June 2014
Looking Northeast: A Foreign Policy Agenda for the New Government
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University
 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi started his term with a bold and positive move to invite all the SAARC leaders to his inaugural ceremony. These are positive vibes, and it would be great if the new government is able to achieve a breakthrough in the problematic quagmire of South Asia. Equally important would be the Modi administration’s approach towards Northeast Asia, which includes China, Japan, South Korea and North Korea. It is interesting that Modi has not been a prisoner of the stance he took when he was in opposition and during his election campaign. He gave several sharp comments about China during his election campaign and it is good that he has shown a different outlook and approach after his inaugural.

China is also probably anxious to know more about his real position. On 29 May, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang made a phone call to Modi to congratulate him and express China’s desire to establish a robust partnership with the new government. It was an important move and Modi responded positively by bringing in civilisational links between the two countries. He mentioned the seventh century Chinese scholar Hiuen Tsang’s visit to his village Vadnagar. Apart from the phone call, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is expected to visit India in the second week of June. The Chinese President Xi Jinping is also supposed to visit in the later part of 2014. The Indian approach towards China and vice versa is going to be one of the most important variables in the emerging Asian economic and security architecture.

There are many thorny bilateral issues between the two countries, however, there are also many important issues on which both countries could enrich and help each other. The opportunities for bilateral trade must definitely be articulated and widened. In addition, these bilateral relations are also important for the regional calculus. China’s relations with Japan are quite bitter after the election of Shinzo Abe, and there are suggestions that China has become more assertive in regional politics in recent years. Chinese behaviour in the South China and East China Seas are quite instructive in this regard. It would be interesting to see how New Delhi takes up a stand on these bilateral and regional issues.

Modi has a strong personal fan in the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It is reported that Abe sent a warm congratulatory note to Modi and expressed his desire to work with India. Personal relations apart, India has been able to forge a strong multifaceted partnership with Japan in recent times, and to carry forward the momentum and strengthen ties between the two countries more profoundly would not be a big challenge. However, bilateral relations between India and Japan would also have to take into account developments in Japan-China relations. It would be a challenge for the new government in India to coordinate its foreign policy towards China and Japan. India needs to bring in a constructive but restrained and careful intervention in the China-Japan rivalry and work for a multipolar, inclusive, rule-based Asian security and economic architecture. This would not be an easy task for the new government.

Japan recently concluded an agreement with North Korea for a joint investigation of the Japanese abductees, and this was seen as a Japanese step to move out of its current isolation in regional politics. Shinzo Abe’s aggressive postures have not been appreciated by both China and South Korea. By reaching out to North Korea, Japan is taking a dangerous plunge, which would derail the collective sanctions put on Pyongyang because of its nuclear and missile programmes and human rights violations. The move might further distance South Korea and China from Japan, and the emerging scenario would be a big challenge for the new Indian government. India enjoys good relations with South Korea; President Park Geun-hye visited India in January 2014 to further consolidate and diversify India-South Korea cooperation. Any extra leaning towards Japan would certainly not send a positive message to South Korea.

Instead of bilateral policies, India needs to evolve a well-coordinated policy for the region. The policy also needs to take into account North Korea and its nuclear and missile programmes. India has enjoyed a low-key but sustained relationship with North Korea and there are expectations that India would play a more active and constructive role in reaching out to North Korea. During her visit to India, the South Korean President Park Geun-hye expressed her desire for an Indian role in inter-Korea relations.

India has emerged as an important player in Asia and it would be a litmus test to see how India conducts itself in Northeast Asia. India’s Look East Policy has moved from phase-one to phase-two by bringing in more issues and countries. India now needs to implement the next phase of the Look East Policy, which would introduce innovative and constructive elements in regional politics and be a boon for both India and the region.

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#4424, 5 May 2014
Obamas Visit: Deciphering US Regional Intentions
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University
 

The four-nation trip made by US President Barack Obama in April 2014 could be interpreted in many different ways. It was important as in October 2013, Obama was not able to participate in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit and many commentators read it as a dilution of the ‘Asian pivot’. The recent visit had several objectives, and it seems that the US has been able to clearly convey most of its messages.

The first message was to China, and it conveyed that the US is not in agreement, at least at this point of time, with Xi Jinping’s idea of a ‘new type of great power relationship’. While the US commitment to the idea of its ‘Asian pivot’ could be debated, Washington seems to be serious about its commitment to its regional allies, Japan, South Korea, Philippines, and so on. Although Obama made it clear that the US did want to ‘control’ or ‘contain’ China, the message he sent across the region was loud and clear, and naturally, it created a big hue and cry in the Chinese media.

The second goal was to persuade Japan and South Korea to be more accommodating of each other. It was indeed a tough job, and the US President tried to demonstrate his full commitment to Japan while at the same time cited historical references and the issue of comfort women to soothe South Korean sentiments. He suggested that by being more ‘honest’ to the past, these issues could be resolved. He also said that more than the past, it is important to “also keep our eye to the future and possibilities of peace and prosperity.” It was a clear message to its two closest allies that the US does not endorse their animosity and does not want to become a party to it. It would be interesting to see whether this message will be lost in the domestic politics of these two countries or will initiate a new phase in their bilateral relations.

The third message was the very inclusion of Malaysia in Obama’s itinerary. Malaysia is considered to be a ‘swing state’ and the visit means that the US is interested in reaching out to more partners in Southeast Asia, apart from consolidating its relations with time-tested partners. However, Obama’s attempt to forge a partnership with Malaysia has raised some tough questions regarding human rights and other issues. It could arguably be called the most discomfiting leg of Obama’s visit. The only solace was that the itinerary was finalised and announced at least seven months in advance and China was aware that this was going to happen.

The fourth purpose of the visit was to send another resolute message to North Korea that the US is in no mood to change its tough but consistent policy of ‘strategic patience’, and is not ready to negotiate with a nuclear North Korea. This message was also conveyed during the Nuclear Security Summit in March 2014 in The Hague to Xi Jinping, when he proposed a renewal of the Six-Party Talks with North Korea. During Obama’s visit to Seoul, there was speculation that North Korea might conduct a fourth nuclear test. However, Obama was not deterred by the shadow of a possible North Korean nuclear test and said that it would ‘further isolate’ North Korea and invite more ‘biting sanctions’.

The fifth and most obvious message Obama gave to China during his visit was with regard to the Philippines. Although he did not name China, he said that sovereignty, territorial rights, international law, and freedom of navigation must be respected. He expressed the US’ ‘iron-clad’ commitment to the Philippines’ security, and emphasised that all disputes must be settled peacefully, and not by intimidation and force. It was a clear message to China regarding its behaviour in the South China Sea and territorial disputes with the Philippines. The US also has a defence deal with the Philippines which would bring back US troops to the country at a much larger scale.

The sixth and probably less discussed objective of the visit was canvassing for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The partnership is one of the most important economic negotiations currently underway, one which seek to establish a free-trade regime for countries that constitute 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. Most importantly, it excludes China.

Thus, Obama’s visit to East Asia sent clear messages about the US’ intentions to friend and foe alike. Now, the question is whether the US has the capacity to execute these intentions given the complex equations in regional politics and Chinese responses to the US’ messages. It is said that clarity of intent and consistency of policy is not necessarily a merit of foreign policy in international relations, and an assessment of the visit at this point would be premature.

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#4317, 3 March 2014
North Korean Peace Gestures and Inter-Korea Relations
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, University of Delhi and Visiting Fellow, IPCS
 

A lot has been happening in North Korean domestic politics as well as its relations with South Korea in recent months. Some of these happenings appear to indicate that there may be some improvement in the relationship between Pyongyang and Seoul. But some other events indicate that rivalry and hostility between them is not going to abate in the near future.

A day after North Korea threatened to wipe out South Korea, Kim Jong-un proposed to stop all slandering - in speech and in action - by both North Korea and South Korea, from 30 January 30 (beginning of the lunar new year). North Korea agreed to family reunions after seven years but kept postponing dates for one reason or another. The recent round of family reunions happened from 20 to 25 February. However, on 26 February, North Korea reportedly fired four missiles. These contradictory happenings pose serious challenges to our understanding about North Korean approach and intentions. North Korean peace gestures along with its contrary behaviour must be seen through a broad framework of inter-Korean rivalry.

At present, any North Korean reconciliation with South Korea will arise out of four important sources. First, North Korea may realise that the path of confrontation with South Korea is futile and their military and economic security would be better served if they cooperate with Seoul. Second, North Korea may respond to a sincere, sustained and long-term vision to co-exist as proposed by South Korea in its North Korea policy. Third, North Korea may have to address instability in its domestic political and economic domains and try to show its people that Kim Jong-un is the main driver in inter-Korean relations, which would provide legitimacy to him. Fourth, North Korea may be forced by external players, especially China, to cooperate and make peace gesture towards South Korea.

It seems that the recent North Korean peace gestures are driven not by the first two reasons, and domestic legitimacy and external pressure are the more probable reasons for its changed behaviour. Actually, North Korean survival strategy or intent towards South Korea has not changed much in these months and the execution of Jang Song-thaek means that reform and reconciliation with South Korea is not high on the North Korean agenda. Pyongyang is also sceptical about the South Korean trust politik as the policy seemingly demands trust from North Korea first and then promises to reciprocate. Thus, it is clear that North Korea has also not been responding to the South Korean trust-building process.

Basically, Pyongyang has been making peace gestures towards South Korea either to address its own domestic situation or to show the outside world, especially China, that it is positive and constructive in its rapprochement towards Seoul. The North Korean economy has been in bad shape for decades, and after another round of economic embargo following the Unha-3 rocket test in late-2012 and a third nuclear test in February 2013, economic conditions have further deteriorated. The much publicised execution of Jang Song-thaek also indicates that there are serious challenges to the political stability of the regime. By initiating a few peace gestures towards South Korea, Kim Jong-un wants to garner favourable international opinion and economic assistance. Moreover, if South Korea positively responds to North Korean gestures, it may be projected in North Korea as the result of the young leader’s initiatives, thus providing him with domestic legitimacy.

The pressure of China on North Korea to abandon or minimise its provocative actions and behaviours is also significant, and has made it increasingly difficult for China to support North Korea in the context of international pressure not to do so. In March-April 2013, hostility on the Korean peninsula reached a dangerous level in the wake of a joint military exercise between South Korea and the US and almost daily power-assertions across the 38th parallel between North and South Korea. It provided an excuse to the US to bring high-tech weapons and aircraft to the region and establish a missile defence system at Guam military base. It was dangerous to Chinese interests and China has been trying to push North Korea against any such escalation in future. North Korean peace gestures could also be linked to the Chinese factor.

The contradictions in North Korean behaviour exist because of being less genuine. It wants to show its own people and the outside world that it is constructive and seeks peace with South Korea. Since the initiatives do not emanate from any fundamental shift in its perception about itself or South Korea, there is an in-built inconsistency in its behaviour. North Korea must realise that a genuine peace gesture entails more consistent rapprochement with South Korea and this would only bring positive results for its economic, political and legitimacy deficit. South Korea has also to show that its trust politik is fundamentally different from the previous South Korean administration’s tough policy towards Pyongyang. It would be quite fruitful if Pyongyang makes more genuine peace gestures and Seoul responds more positively in dealing with North Korea.

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#4287, 3 February 2014
Japan: Implications of Indiscriminate Assertiveness
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Faculty, University of Delhi and Visiting Fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS).
 

Shinjo Abe’s unrelenting tough approach towards China is arguably the second most important development in recent years in East Asia after the growing military might of China. There is lots of support across the region for his policy of ‘staring at China’ on the Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands disputes, especially among those countries, which have been uncomfortable with growing ‘Chinese assertiveness’ in the region but unable to stop it. The US stance has also been overall supportive to the changed posture of Japan.
However, Abe’s indiscriminate assertiveness, which hurts South Korea and other regional players, would be unable to achieve desired results. There are critiques of Japanese foreign policy, who point out that Japan has not been able to create trust in any of its neighboring countries such as South Korea, North Korea, Russia, and China. Thus, Japan needs to moderate its assertiveness and make it more nuanced to make it more palatable and wide-based.
The biggest problem in Shinjo Abe’s approach is that it entirely disregards ‘goodwill capital’ of Japan, which has been accumulated in the post-World War-II period. Japan evokes a very different kind of state behaviour, which denounced use of force in resolving inter-state disputes and concentrated on welfare of people inside its own territory and beyond. The concept of official development assistance (ODA) became synonym of the Japanese economic assistance to many Asian, African and Latin American countries. Japan could and must utilize this ‘capital’ for creating a network of relations across the region along with economic interdependence and people-to-people contacts, which would make it costly for China or any other countries to becoming assertive. It does not mean that Japan could be complacent on its defense preparedness, however, it does need to be approached in a framework of cooperative security involving as many as possible like-minded countries of the region. Japan has been respected for its peace-constitution and enough deliberation must happen before abandoning the alternate model of Japan.
Even if, Japan decides to make a paradigm shift in its foreign policy approach, which seems to be the case under Shinjo Abe, it must be more careful in articulating it. First and foremost, it is advisable to Japan to work on its defense preparedness without too much rhetoric directed against one or other country. In 2013, Japanese defense budget was increased to Yen 4.77 trillion which was an increase first time after 2002. The increase in itself is enough to create suspicions in the minds of observers and any sharp words are further going to create mistrust in the regional countries. Probably, Japan could learn from China, which continues augmenting its defense capabilities but keeps talking about ‘peaceful rise’ and ‘harmonious development’. 
Secondly, even if Shinjo Abe administration intends to be tough towards ‘Chinese assertiveness’, Japan needs to be more careful about its other neighboring countries including South Korea. In last one year of his term, South Korea-Japan relations have further deteriorated. It would not be enough to say that South Korean government has either been too much sentimental or playing the game of domestic populism. When Japanese ministers, members of parliament and Shinjo Abe himself visits Yasukuni shrine, it is well-known that South Korea would not take it easy. When, insensitive statements are given and confrontational actions are taken on the issues related to history disputes, comfort women and Dokdo/Takeshima islands disputes, it is going to affect South Korea’s perception about Japan and its intensions. Rather than expecting South Korea to be more accommodative to the new posture of Japan, a more conciliatory approach must be adopted in dealing with South Korea. By using all possible channels of communication, it must be conveyed to South Korea in a credible manner that in the Japan’s contest with China, Tokyo would seek cooperation from South Korea. 
Thirdly, Japan also must re-emphasize that it would like to have more cooperation with the US and other democracies in the region such as South Korea, Australia and India. It would be a different paradigm for the Asian security architecture in which a multipolar, inclusive, open and rule-based structure is sought for.  In case, Japan tries to counter ‘Chinese assertiveness’ by it own assertiveness, it might be considered no different than China. To have a different framework needs emphasis on involving all possible partners and creating regimes, institutions and structures rather than having a tit-for-tat approach.
The recent visit of Shinjo Abe to India probably could be used as the beginning for a more nuanced Japanese assertiveness in the regional politics, which would try to create network of multilateral partnerships. India, though has avoided to express any opinion on Japanese indiscriminate assertiveness, would be more comfortable if Japan tones down its rhetoric. Similarly, it would be easier for the US to keep both Japan and South Korea, two of its closest allies in the East Asia, together. The changed Japanese approach would also be in consonant with Australian foreign policy approach. Japan needs to realize that to contest with China on the turf created by China would not only be dangerous but also be an isolating exercise and it must be avoided.
The author teaches at the University of Delhi and is a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS)

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#4235, 6 January 2014
China, Japan, Korea and the US: Region at Crossroads
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Faculty, Department of East Asian Studies, DU & Visiting Fellow, IPCS
 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinjo Abe visited Yasukuni shrine on 26 December last year and the visit invited usual condemnations from China and South Korea. The US also reacted by saying it ‘disappointing’ and would lead to ‘exacerbate tensions’ in the region. However, Japanese posturing has been relentless and on the New Year day, Japanese Internal Affairs Minister Yoshitaka Shindo had another visit to the shrine. The tension and mistrust in East Asia has been escalating in recent years and Japan, China and North Korea have shown uncompromising intent to compete rather than concede and cooperate on the issues of mutual disagreements. China has recently declared its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) unilaterally, which goes beyond its contest in East China Sea with Japan over Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. North Korea is also going through domestic power struggle and restructuring of equations with its closest ally China. In this problematic interstate relations in the region, the Japanese right-wing assertions in domestic politics and its impact on foreign policy has further complicated the security calculus of the region.
The East Asian region is closely connected in economic, educational and cultural spheres but there is a huge trust deficit in security arena and it poses a grave challenge for further economic exchanges and integration of the region. There are assurances that the tension among these countries would not move beyond a certain limit as economic interdependent would bring in moderation in their behaviours. However, the argument may not sustainable beyond a point. If the escalation of tension among these countries could not be checked, it may derail and disrupt their cooperation in every field. 
The role of the US is considered to be important as it has leverage to pacify Japan and constructively engage China to make the region more stable. The US could also convey China to contain North Korean provocative behaviour as well as sock-observe any instability in North Korea. Washington has been trying to reach out Beijing through its diplomatic channel but there is no indication that it has been equally keen in pacifying Japan. The Japanese aggressive posturing, even if not openly appreciated by the US, has been granted silent consent by the US and it is quite unsettling for not only China but also South Korea. Japan has been cleverly silenced Washington by remaining fully committed to the US alliance and its interests in the regional politics. For example, the day after the Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Yasukuni, Okinawa governor agreed to relocate the US military base at Futenma to near by Henoko. It was characterised as ‘critical milestone’ by the US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. It appears that the US is more interested in its narrow national interests in the region and it does not have any serious objection with Japanese aggressive posturing. Probably, the US thinks that an assertive Japan would be a buffer against the rise of Chinese influence in the region. Many scholars relate American concession to Japan with its strategy of ‘Asian pivot’. There are also speculations that probably the US does not have enough diplomatic leverage over Japan to stop its aggressive posturing and so it has decided to go along with Japanese plan of things rather than dictating its own terms.
Whatever be the reason, the complacency on the part of the US would definitely make it difficult for Washington have any credible and consequential engagement with China. China would not be satisfied by the use of words like ‘disappointment’ and it would definitely chart out its own course of actions, which might be detrimental for the regional security environment. The Chinese announcement to have its own ADIZ could be better understood in the light of above dynamics. Furthermore, the US conceding and accommodative behaviour vis-à-vis Japan poses a difficult question to South Korea, which is equally close ally of the US in the region. Even though, South Korea enjoys security guarantee from the US, it has to rethink about its own security equations in the neighbourhood. South Korea is challenged by a belligerent and ‘unpredictable’ North Korea as well as an aggressive and uncompromising Japan. Seoul tried to forge a cooperative relationship with China in variety of areas when South Korean President Park Geun-hye visited Beijing in mid-2013. Although, it does not mean that South Korea would abandon its old ally- the US, in near future but continuous Japanese aggressive posturing and insufficient American attempt to prohibit it, may force it to review its relations with the US. 
Thus, the East Asian region is at a crossroad and a vicious cycle of threatening and uncompromising behaviours have been posing huge risk of conflict. No single country could be blamed for present escalations and there have been chains of actions and reactions. It would be pertinent to see how soon all the stakeholders realise that the process must be stopped collectively or it may lead to a point of no return

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