- 연구원소식 - JPI PeaceTalk
JPI PeaceTalk
Subject South Korea Must Take the Initiative
Author JPI  (admin)
  0001.jpg  (22KByte)
2017-12-07 오전 10:07:02


I appreciate the invitation to be here and to enjoy the conference and Jeju Island. I am Harold Tanner and I am a student of Chinese history, and particularly modern Chinese history, and US-China relations. I am the chair of the Department of History at the University of North Texas where I have been teaching Chinese history, East Asian history and world history since 1997.

Q1. The East Asian region is confronted with myriad of security threats, such as North Korea's nuclear program, territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, East Sea and Sea of Okhotsk. What do you see as the most imminent threat facing East Asia? What would be a reasonable approach to resolving the security threat?


The most imminent threat in East Asia is clearly the threat of conflict on the Korean Peninsula because of the concerns about North Korea’s nuclear developments and the tension between the United States and South Korea, on the one hand, and the regime in Pyongyang, on the other hand, and how this also relates to relations between the United States and China, South Korea and China, Japan and South Korea and the United States, and so on. So it is a very complicated relationship and certainly the greatest threat and the center of attention recently is the North Korean issue.


I would say certainly that is the greatest threat to the region, and what would be a reasonable approach to resolve this? If I knew the answer to that question I would probably be Washington right now [laughter]. Let us look over what are the different possibilities there are two different possibilities. One is the resumption of the Six-Party Talks the second possibility raised is the possibility of simply using military action which would be a pre-emptive strike against North Korea. But there are other possibilities as well, if we think about this imaginatively. There is the possibility of, rather than the Six-Party Talks, there is the possibility of the new South Korean president taking the initiative to open up different avenues—perhaps talks between South Korea and North Korea perhaps on some level, not necessarily open, particularly at first—then gradually bringing in the United States and China. That is one theoretical possibility. I am just talking about hypothetical, theoretical possibilities here. We can imagine that being something that could happen perhaps, that President Moon could take the initiative to start something which would gradually expand to bring in other actors. 


Another hypothetical possibility is for the United States and China to work together in order to bring North Korea to the table, one way or the other. So now I have four possibilities: Six-Party Talks, a South Korean initiative, a Sino-American initiative, or direct military action. What is the most realistic one? The simplest one is direct military action. That is very simple. Once you have decided to do it. The difficulty is in deciding to do it and understanding what the consequences would be, which is, of course, disastrous and terrible and horrible and involve the deaths of huge numbers of people. So deciding to that is very difficult, and rightly so, but it would be the easiest thing to do once you have made the decision. But the implications and the aftermath would be horrendous and it seems clear that everybody in the region and in the United States as well understands that the military option is not a realistic option, that the costs are too great. The cost in human life would be so tremendous as to be unbearable and that therefore a military option would be simple to do—the United States could do it very quickly—but I think everybody understands that it is not a reasonable option and not a humane or moral option to take.


So that leaves us with the other options. The Six-Party Talks have been tried before and I think it is probably very difficult to sell the other parties, particularly the United States, into resuming them without any hope or promise that things would be different. My impression is that people within the American State Department feel that the United States has talked with North Korea before and been deceived and has no reason to believe that North Korea will behave otherwise, and until the United States has a reason to believe that North Korea will behave in a straightforward and honest fashion, then the United States will probably not be willing to simply restart the Six-Party Talks negotiations.


That leaves us with the other two possibilities. One, being what Donald Trump seems to be doing, is to work with China in order to put pressure on North Korea to change something. If you remember that when the presidential candidate was on the campaign trail he talked very harshly about possibly using military action against North Korea and he talked very harshly about China. Candidate Trump accused China of being a currency manipulator, unfair trade practices and so on and so forth. President Trump very quickly after talking with Xi Jinping, turned around began dropping the issues of currency manipulation and other trade issues, and has praised Xi Jinping for helping out on the Korean issue. And, of course, China has taken a few steps, especially with regard to the coal imports, and criticisms of North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests. Donald Trump has been praising Xi Jinping and saying, “China is helping us out”, and at one point somebody challenged Donald Trump and said, “Why aren’t you talking about currency manipulation?” and he said, “I don’t want to talk about that right now. Why talk about that when China is helping us out with North Korea? That would be counter-productive.”


Donald Trump is a transactional person. He wants to do deals, and putting currency manipulation aside is part of the deal he is making with China. So perhaps that avenue will lead to something. We don’t know. But perhaps that interaction between the United States and China will lead to North Korea—North Korea needs to give up something in order for the United States to talk to North Korea in any format, whether it is direct talks, which seem very unlikely, or talks within something like the Six-Party Talks or some new structure of multilateral talks North Korea has to give Donald Trump something otherwise he cannot justify dealing with Kim Jong Un. So perhaps the China connection will come up with something in which North Korea will take a step back and de-escalate to give Donald Trump the exit to go toward the point of talks. But maybe that won’t work. Not every deal that Donald Trump makes is a success. Some of Donald Trump’s business deals were failures certainly some of his foreign policy deals will be failures. What if China doesn’t deliver? Then what will happen with this deal? We will be back to square one, won’t we?


The final possibility that I raised is President Moon taking some initiative and engaging North Korea in some way, and then developing from there, bringing the United States into some kind of multilateral engagement. That is also a possibility. Which is the most likely of these possibilities is perhaps actually President Moon taking the initiative and bringing something that both requires and enables the American administration to take a further step, perhaps similar to the Sunshine Policy. But again, this would involve President Moon being able to do that, given his domestic political concerns, and would require President Moon and the North Koreans to do something that would be big and significant enough for Donald Trump to then become involved and for Trump to talk with North Korea.


Some specialists have suggested that the United States should simply accept that the regime is there, recognize it diplomatically, accept that this regime is going to be there, and that we probably cannot do anything about its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and start living with it. But that is something that is very difficult for any American president to say, whether a Democrat or a Republican.


Q2. China seems strongly dissatisfied with the THAAD deployment in South Korea. On the other hand, the South Korean government believes it could ask China for understanding that the reality is actually going the opposite. The question is whether the THAAD system is conducive to their national security, to the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and to the solution of the nuclear issue of the peninsula. How can we reconcile the opposite goals of the two superpowers?


This is an extension of the question we just dealt with, isn’t it, the position of South Korea in the midst of the two superpowers which are adversaries. Let us return to that context of the adversarial relationship between China and the United States. There are different aspects of that adversarial relationship. There is an economic relationship between the United States and China which is ambiguous. It has an adversarial relationship but it also has a very deep cooperative relationship. American companies are very deeply invested in China and make a lot of money by doing business in China and making things in China and exporting them to the United States. Not only China makes money American companies make huge amounts of money, too, and American consumers benefit by buying cheaply made Chinese goods.


But then there are also the trade frictions, the so-called trade imbalances and debates about that. So there is an economic aspect of this adversarial relationship. But the economic aspect also has an integrated side to it in which the two sides really need each other. That is something for all parties, including South Korea, to consider is that although they are adversaries, China and the US are also very closely tied in with each other and cannot simply say, “we are mad at you and we are going away.”  Donald Trump may talk about protectionism but he will not be able to actually put his protectionist policies fully into practice.


Peter Navarro, who is one of Donald Trump’s advisors, was talking about huge tariffs that should be imposed on all Chinese goods. Nobody is talking about that anymore because it would absolutely kill American companies. It is important for South Korea and others in the region, and for the Americans and the Chinese, to remember that although the relationship economically is adversarial, it is also cooperative both countries need each other. Since they both need each other, there are limits to what they can do in terms of pushing each other on the other adversarial issues. On the other adversarial issues of the China-US relationship are the Taiwan issue and the South China Sea issue.


Let us take the Taiwan issue first, which is that the US and China have agreed to disagree on that and continue kicking the can down the road and continue delaying any resolution of the issue. Donald Trump seems to be continuing with that policy. The other is the South China Sea issue and those territorial disputes. The United States is mostly concerned about freedom of navigation and using this as a way of preventing China from being too powerful in the region. These are issues also that can be resolved because the US, for instance, does not claim any of the islands or reefs. The US, if the Philippines and China have a dispute about them, is going to say, “We do not take a position on who owns these, we just prefer that you negotiate and resolve it peacefully.” Donald Trump has actually been soft-pedaling and backing off on the South China Sea issue as well because he wants China’s cooperation not only trade but also on North Korea.


Given that the US and China have both adversarial and cooperative relationships, to return to the issue of South Korea and the deployment of the THAAD missiles, the question of “is that missile system conducive to the national security of South Korea?” I would really rather leave that question to a weapons specialist than to myself. I do not deal with nuclear weapons or missile technology on a regular basis. Clearly, South Korea has a lot to be worried about, not only from the possibility of North Korea’s further development of its nuclear capabilities but from conventional missile systems. Whether it is THAAD or some other defensive system, South Korea’s defense, practically speaking, does need some sort of way of dealing with conventional missile strikes on Seoul.


My question would be, if THAAD is not that system then what is the best way for South Korea to protect itself against the real threat of missile attacks from North Korea and is there a better way? If South Korea simply did not have this system at all and the US did not deploy this system, would that actually make a diplomatic resolution easier? That is a very complicated question and I do not really have a good answer for that because I am not a specialist in weapons systems. I think it is clear that the entire issue has not only become an issue of South Korea but also of the US and China, and South Korea, as perhaps too often sometimes a pawn in the game.


Q3. While the Chinese economy seems stuck in a period of recession and stagnation, the U.S. reemerges as the superpower in the military and economy as well. It seems to be reasonable that the Sino-American relationship faces a turning point. What do you think the future of economic order in East Asia will be? Will Trump's protectionism reinvigorate the American Economy? Will Japan recover from its 'lost decade'? Will China cope with the economic downturn? Will Russia place a stronger emphasis on the far eastern region than before? 


Let us begin with Sino-American relations do they face a turning point? No, I do not see a turning point, because at the present, we do not see what Donald Trump really intends to do. For there to be a turning point, the US needs to have a policy or something new to turn to. The Obama administration had the so-called pivot, or rebalance—depending on which phrase they wanted to use and they started with pivot and moved to rebalance because it sounded a little less military and a little bit less threatening—that did not really represent a significant turning point either. It simply was a little more emphasis on East Asia but it did not substantially change the relationship with China. So I do not see it as a turning point in relations with China at this particular moment.


The American relationship with China has been since the end of the Cold War has been a relationship characterized by a combination of adversarial and cooperative relations, an ambiguous relationship in other words. During the Cold War, the US-China relationship had a foundation and that foundation was a common enmity toward the Soviet Union. That is why Nixon and Kissinger made a rapprochement to China and why Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai were willing to deal with Nixon and Kissinger both sides had a common enemy. That was a strong foundation in a very simple, clear mutual interest. It was not an economic interest, it was not a social interest it was a political and geo-strategic interest in countering the Soviet Union. Nixon and Kissinger did not care about human rights and they did not so much care about Taiwan honestly, they wanted to counter the Soviet and they wanted to get the US out of Vietnam, and they achieved their goal.


After the Cold War, the question is what is relationship founded on? What is the foundation of the US-China relationship when you do not have that common enemy? To a degree, that relationship became much more complicated with the end of the Cold War. First of all much more than previously, the US was much more willing to put human rights in the foreground—it did do so to some degree during the Cold War, particularly under the Carter administration—but with the end of the Cold War that relationship became much more complicated because that foundation was not there. The relationship became more ambiguous. On the one hand, the competition and criticism of China on human rights issues for example, on the other hand, the deep business ties. As the post-Cold War era has progressed, the relationship has become more complicated as China’s economic and military power has grown.  Back in the 1980s the US did not see China as a threat. Now it sees China as a threat and sees China as threatening to be a competitor for the US on a regional basis and in the Pacific and concerned about China’s maritime power.


That concern starts well before Donald Trump and continues, so I do not see a turning point right now in Sino-American relations. I see a continuation of this ambiguous relationship which does not have a solid foundation and instead has an adversarial and cooperative aspect to it.  


Second, you cannot have a turning point unless Donald Trump has a policy to turn to. It is not clear yet that Donald Trump has a policy to turn to. Donald Trump does not have a complete contingent of East Asia advisors he has not fully staffed the State Department, particularly on the East Asia side. There are a number of people working in the East Asia area, and either have been in the State Department or have experience, who have not been hired and who Donald Trump’s administration seems not interested in hiring. There are also experts on the Korean Peninsula who have worked for previous administrations but are simply not working for the Trump administration for one reason or another. Without a stable of expertise and a pool of talent who are going to devise a new policy, there is no new policy to turn to. You will simply get a continuation of whatever Donald Trump thinks at the moment, or whatever some advisor who is not a specialist in the region convinced him on one particular day or other. He will continue going back and forth, not having a stable or coherent strategy or policy for East Asia. That is why I do not see a pivot or a turning point in the US-China relationship.


East Asian Economic Order


The economic order of East Asia there you do see a distinct difference in that the Obama administration had been pursuing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Donald Trump on the campaign trail criticized the TPP. Ironically, one of the things Trump said about the TPP was that it was something that was good for China, which is actually not the case. The TPP was designed to have American leadership over an East Asian economic structure and to put China on the outside of that structure that kind of indicated Donald Trump’s lack of understanding. But what Donald Trump did understand was that the American public did not like the TPP. So he scrapped it and said the US is not going to get involved. This, of course, makes it possible for China to take the lead and take over the mantle of being a proponent of globalization. It allows Xi Jinping to go to Davos and make his speech and, very ironically for the leader of a power that does not have an open market, it is in some ways highly protectionist, does not respect intellectual property rights and has many other problems in terms of market access. So Xi Jinping standing at Davos talking about globalization and openness was very ironic, but Donald Trump allowed him to do that. Donald Trump’s pulling out of the TPP enabled China to take the lead. So this is a difference.


That means that the future of the economic order in East Asia will now be a competition between the US and China on different grounds than it would have been. Because when the TPP was there, the US was putting together a series of partnerships with nations other than China in the region and now that framework has had the rug pulled out from under it. One possibility is for China to become more dominant, and clearly that is what China hopes. That is certainly a distinct possibility that with American leadership out of the region, that China will be able to exercise its power, both its economic power and soft power to bring more countries in the region into its structure. China will start to design the architecture of an East Asian economy which will be China-centered. But, at the same time, it seems like that the US will continue to pursue bilateral and perhaps multilateral agreements and negotiations, re-negotiating existing deals and negotiating new deals. We need to remember that the reason the US was in the TPP in the first place was that American businesses saw tremendous advantages to it. And those American businesses will still see advantages and still want to be in the East Asian market, and they still want trade agreements. Those American businesses are going to be pushing the Trump White House to make deals that will get them what the TPP was going to get them. Those American businesses still want what TPP was going to give them and they are going to try and get it by some other means if possible.  


Some very optimistic people have said maybe what Donald Trump will do eventually is start putting these pieces back together and negotiate something that will be like the TPP, but he cannot call it that because the American public won’t accept it. So there is still a possibility of American leadership but it will have to be an American leadership that is somehow rebuilt on the wreckage of the TPP. Whether Donald Trump’s administration is willing and capable of doing that remains to be seen.  


Donald Trump and Protectionism


Another part of your question was about Donald Trump’s protectionism. You asked, “Will Donald Trump’s protectionism reinvigorate the American economy?” First of all, I do not think that Donald Trump will be able to implement all of his protectionist policies. Donald Trump’s protectionist agenda was not based on a realistic reading of the economic situation it was campaign rhetoric. It was rhetoric designed to appeal to people who do not know any better. American businesses do not want protectionism. American businesses have benefitted tremendously from globalization. I am returning to the point I just made that American businesses have a lot invested in globalization and they are not going to easily allow the US government to institute a huge number of protectionist policies. If Donald Trump does pursue protectionism, it will not be the complete package that he has imagined. The reality is that once things hit Congress—whatever Donald Trump can do by executive order, he can do, but there is a limit to what he can do—he needs to deal with businesses, he needs to deal with Congress. And when he does, that protectionist agenda will be watered down. So that is one part of your question why won’t protectionism re-invigorate the American economy, because the protectionist agenda will not be fully implemented and because it is not designed to re-invigorate the American economy anyway.


The second reason is that a lot of this protectionism really will not do any good for the American economy. A lot of the changes in the American economy are due to changes other than international competition. The coal and fossil fuel industry, for example, that is going to decline anyway. It has been declining and it is going to continue to decline because coal is just not the most efficient means of generating power anymore. In other industries, jobs that have to some degree certainly jobs have been taken away from the American economy and outsourced to China and other countries and they won’t come back to the American economy until it is cheaper to make that stuff in America. If protectionist measures make it too expensive to produce a, b and c in China then the American companies that are doing that will say, “Well, where is it cheaper? Vietnam? Laos? Cambodia?” They will find somewhere else. Also, it might be cheaper to bring some of that production back to the US and do it via automation and robots rather than paid human workers. In that respect too, protectionism is not going to bring back American jobs that were lost. American industrial jobs were being lost ever since World War II. There has been a decline and there will continue to be a decline because of really fundamental changes in production and trade, not just because of globalization.  Protectionism is not going to change that.


Japan’s Lost Decade and Russia’s Far East


You asked, “Will Japan recover from its ‘lost decade’ of the Japanese economy?” I think that will be very difficult. I think the demographics of Japan are still not in their favor. As for “Will Russia continue to emphasize its Far Eastern region?” Russia will probably put more emphasis on the Far Eastern region but Russia at the same time has its Far Western regions to be concerned with. Russia cannot afford to focus solely on one or the other, but Russia will also be interested in emphasizing its eastern region because Russia may want to weaken American influence in the region. But in the long term Russia will also have to deal with the possibility of Chinese influence, and Russia and China will not always be friends.  They may be allies of convenience in weakening the US but if they accomplish that goal then they will be enemies because the contradictions between them and conflicts of interest between them will re-emerge. Some of those conflicts have to do with Russia’s Far East which perhaps the Chinese will tell you was part of China at one time, part of the Qing Empire. So there is every reason for China to be interested in that region as well.


Q4. Any last words to our JejuTube viewers?


I thank you for your hospitality and for all the interesting questions. I have enjoyed my short time on Jeju Island and would hope to visit again. I appreciate the invitation to be here and the generosity of the organizers of the event and putting this together and inviting me. I am honored to be here and hope to return.