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JPI PeaceTalk
Subject JPI PeaceTalk with Tong ZHAO, Fellow, Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy
Author JPI  (admin)
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2018-11-13 오전 9:36:36

 



Q1. Could you briefly introduce yourself to JejuTube viewers?

 

Sure, my name is Tong Zhao. I’m from China. I work for the Carnegie Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, which is a joint research center by Tsinghua University and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. My work focuses on nuclear policy issues, especially arms control, non-proliferation, nuclear weapons strategy, missile defense security and other international security issues. I was trained as a physicist, so sometimes I conduct technical analysis of nuclear missile issues.

 

Q2. Under the substantial progress of the denuclearization in the Korean Peninsula after the series of the summit meetings, the responses of the four major powers - the U.S., Japan, China, and Russia - become the critical factors. What would be an effective way of constructing a multilateral security regime for Korea that includes super power countries such as the US, China, Japan, and Russia?

 

Well, I think in theory, it would be difficult to establish a peace regime that makes North Korea feel safe enough to give up its nuclear weapons because any external security assurance or security guarantee, provided by other countries, would be by definition a political commitment that can be easily reversed. Even if the U.S., for example, is willing to make every effort to reassure North Korea by taking measures to reduce its troop deployment in the South area or to withdraw some of the military assets from this region, those measures can also be easily reversed. So, it is very difficult. It’s an objective dilemma that faces North Korea. It would be very difficult for North Korea to trust the security guarantee, to trust the security regime in order to give up its nuclear weapons. With that said, I think every effort should be made to a comprehensive peace regime to try to reassure North Korea as much as possible. And in this regard, I think a peace treaty would be helpful, especially if the major powers in this region sign up to this peace treaty and if the UN would also sponsor this peace treaty, then that would make this peace treaty more forceful and more reliable. And it’s also very important for the U.S. to provide some unilateral security guarantee to North Korea. If the US can make a formal peace treaty with North Korea, or a formal treaty on denuclearization with North Korea, and for that treaty to be ratified by the U.S. Congress, that would make that treaty more legally binding, and make it harder for the U.S. government to unilaterally walk out of the treaty. It is also important for the United States to improve its political relationship with North Korea. As we all know, North Korea is a very paranoid country, but its sense of insecurity was very much generated by the hostile North Korea-U.S. relationship. So if the U.S. is willing to improve its political relationship with North Korea, that would help address the root cause of NK’s paranoia, and over time, can make North Korea less paranoid, more rational and less obsessed with nuclear weapons.

 

So I think a better political relationship between Pyongyang and Washington is very important. It’s also helpful if other countries in this region can join hands in helping North Korea reintegrate into the regional economic network, because better economic interdependence between North Korea and other countries in this region will an incentive for North Korea to continue exercising self-restraint. It will make North Korea a stakeholder in regional peace and stability. So a deeper and greater economic interdependence would also be very helpful.

 

Q3. In terms of international relations theory, domestic political process is related to the decision-making process of foreign policy. However, the question is the direction and the degree of influence. How do you evaluate the influence of domestic politics of the U.S., Japan, China, and Russia? Do you have any policy suggestions focused on curbing the negative effects of domestic politics on foreign policy decision making in the aforementioned four states, thereby contributing to achieving the denuclearization and the peace system in the Korean Peninsula?

 


I think, for the United States, domestic politics is very important. If we look at why the previous two agreements with North Korea failed, that was primarily because of opposition from American domestic political parties. In the case of the 1994 Framework Agreement, even though the Clinton White House was willing to implement this agreement, the Republican-dominated Congress was very much opposed to the agreement and they did everything to try to obstruct the implementation of the agreement. So, that played a very important role that led to the failure of the 1994 Framework Agreement. And that was also the case for the six-party talks, etc. So, how to make sure US domestic politics doesn’t stand in the way of a future denuclearization agreement with North Korea - it’s critically important. For the Trump administration, it is a little different from previous US administrations because President Trump is relatively unique. He seems immune from domestic politics. However, he has surrounded himself with advisors who have very different views on how to approach North Korea. Some are very hawkish. They don’t believe in diplomacy. Others are more moderate, like the State Department, the state foreign officials and State Secretary Pompeo. He is very supportive of diplomacy with North Korea. But John Bolton and others are very hawkish. So, I think President Trump has created a dilemma for himself by surrounding himself with advisors with very divergent views on North Korea. How to provide policy recommendations for President Trump - that’s very difficult because President Trump doesn’t seem to listen. But hopefully some direct high level communications between other national leaders with President Trump will be helpful to highlight to President Trump what are the issues, what are the interests that other countries care most about. In terms of China, I think China nowadays has a very closed domestic environment. There is a lack of open debate on important foreign policy issues, which by definition encourages nationalistic and conservative foreign policies. Especially when it comes to North Korea policy, the decision making circle is very small. It’s a very opaque process. It’s difficult to understand how the process, how the decision was made and how to influence that decision making process. With that said, I’m not terribly concerned about China’s support for diplomacy. China always supports diplomacy and wants to further engage with North Korea. What I’m concerned is about the secondary security implications of a nuclear capable North Korea. With North Korea’s nuclear weapons capabilities to continue for the foreseeable future, the U.S., South Korea, and maybe Japan, for sure, would also continue to maintain their military cooperation. Some military capabilities like missile defense systems will be further enhanced, and that will be seen by China as threatening to Chinese security interests. So, that creates an increasingly serious problem for China-US and China-South Korea relationship. And that dilemma was very much demonstrated by the dispute over the deployment of THAAD missile defense system in South Korea last year. I’m afraid, going into the future, the missile defense deployment and other military assets deployment in this region by US and South Korea will even more similar disputes. So, the THAAD episode is probably not ending but actually the beginning of a new era when a nuclear capable NK is creating increasingly serious problems for the interstate relationship among other regional countries.

 

Q4. The confrontation between two major powers, the U.S. and China, has aggravated regional peace and security. How do you evaluate the current status of the U.S.-China relationship and its influence in Asia, in particular in terms of the evolving of China’s “Belt and Road Initiatives” and US-proposed “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” strategy? 

 

I think for China-US relationship, there is a major problem, which is long-standing and deep distrust between the two countries. That distrust has greatly influenced people's’ perception of the other’s intentions when new crisis emerges. For example, when the recent US-China trade dispute becomes intensified, many Chinese started to argue that the U.S. is embracing a policy to contain China and trying to use the trade dispute to bring China down, to slow China’s growth, to slow China’s rise as a major power in this region. So, everything is interpreted as having very evil intentions. So, that creates real problems. What exacerbates the problem is the increasing clash of values between the two countries. The current Chinese leadership simply doesn’t share the same set of values with the United States. So, that would be the fundamental driver for even greater problems in the bilateral relationship into the future. And also domestic environment is not very helpful. There is a serious lack of healthy and open policy debate on important foreign policy issues, and that’s a recipe for nationalistic and conservative policies, which could lead to even more confrontational policies between the two countries. And now, we have an increasing number of outstanding disputes between the two countries such as South China Sea and Taiwan issues, the trade dispute, and emerging arms race. So, I'm very worried about the future trend of US-China relationship. With regards China's Belt and Road Initiative, it's very ambitious initiative. But the question remains regarding how sustainable this initiative could be in the future, especially when China nowadays faces a real economic problem within its own country. China’s own economic development is facing major challenges. So how to make that major foreign investment program sustainable and profitable for China - there are many uncertainties over there. I understand that many other countries view China's Belt and Road Initiative from the geopolitical perspective, but initially that initiative was very much driven by an effort to help China's domestic economy to grow. The thinking was by helping other countries, other neighboring countries, to build and improve their infrastructure to better improve the interconnectivity between China and other regional countries. China can also boost its own domestic economic growth and especially China has an interest in extending the Belt and Road initiative to the North East Asian region to help North Korea reintegrate into this economic network. I think that very much falls in line with the South Korean effort to engage with North Korea economically, the South Korean new northern policy, and also in line with the Russian effort in the form of the Eurasian Economic Union. So Chinese effort in the North East Asian region, I think, has important common analogy with South Korea, Russia and other countries in this region and can be very helpful in addressing the North Korean nuclear crisis.


The American Open and Free Indo-Pacific region concept is still very empty. It's an abstract concept. It doesn't have a lot of meat on the bone. And because this concept was initially proposed by Japan, I think there is a lot of suspicion in China about the objective of creating this concept. China is always worried that efforts will be made by the U.S. and its regional allies to build stronger ties with other countries in this region to contain China. So, it would be very helpful if the U.S. government can further clarify the concept, the content and a future trajectory of this concept.

 

Q5. How will multilateral talks such as the Jeju Forum contribute to promoting peace better? What direction do you think the Jeju Forum should take in the future?

 


I think the fundamental problem facing regional and international instability is the lack of in-depth understanding among different players, the lack of real trust among countries. In that regards, multilateral dialogue platforms like the Jeju Forum can make a really important contribution in promoting in-depth discussion exchanges, dialogues to forge real common understandings to avoid misjudgment, miscalculation, and to promote long standing relationship. For future efforts in this regard, I think it's very important to encourage the participants of the forum to avoid simply repeating the government views, repeating the mainstream views in each country. I think those views are usually well known, and repeating them doesn't really help. What can we do instead is to encourage participants to focus their efforts on identifying the origin and sources of disagreements. Will do the disagreements among different countries emerge? What are the sources of diverging views and then how can we try to mitigate that disagreement? I think that's really important for building common understanding and common ground. Also, I think it is helpful to encourage participants to provide policy measures that their own country can take to improve bilateral relations and contribute to peace and stability rather than policies that other countries should take. I think too much efforts are focused on how other countries can do better to improve relations rather than how oneself can contributes to this process. I think it's highly important to avoid the self-centric view of thinking to help stand in the shoes of others and make policy recommendations from that perspective.

 

Q6. What do you think is an effective measure with regard to the role of think tanks and their contribution and operation to promote peace?

 

I think the role of the think tanks is very important because policy makers simply don't have the time to conduct in-depth thinking on long-term foreign policy issues. But in some countries, the efforts to build up think tank community is focused on how to increase the number of think tanks. I think that doesn't help in many cases even though the number of think tanks is increasing, the number of real experts remains the same. So, that doesn't really help you improve the situation at all. Also, I think the people who work in think tanks should be encouraged to provide real out-of-the box thinking to provide different policy recommendations from the existing government policy. The role of the think tank is not to explain the government policy, is not to justify the government policies, but to provide the alternative strategy, to provide the real innovative thinking or important foreign policy issues. And most importantly, I think the role the think tank should play is to conduct long-term and deep research rather than providing simply daily commentations on new foreign policy situations.  

 

Think tankers are very different from news commentators. People who work in think tanks should focus their efforts on conducting long-term, deep research, and one example is China-South Korea THAAD dispute. The reason why that became the real crisis between the two countries was because there was no in-depth research on this issue. There was adjourn in technical disagreement between the technical communities in China and South Korea about the technical capability of the THAAD system, especially the radar. However, there is no in-depth research to examine whose technical assessment is more correct and where do the technical discriminant arises from. Until now, we still don't know why we have different assessments about the neutral issue of the technical capability of the radar. Apparently there is no sufficient research in this regard, and that really contributed to misunderstanding in the political circles of the two countries, and today the THAAD dispute is still not resolved and is simply shelved. I think in the long run it would continue having negative impact on the bilateral relationship. So think tanks should conduct more important, long term and deep research, sometimes technical research on these highly important issues.

 

Q7. Any last words to JejuTube viewers?

 

I believe peace is the most valuable thing in the world, and therefore it requires every effort to help secure and sustain peace. In the fundamental challenge to peace and stability is the lack of real understanding among countries, is the deep distrust among different players. So I think important efforts should be made to promote multilateral dialogues that help build real understanding about each other's policy and about each other's thinking on these issues. It requires a process of trust building to overcome last standing distrust. There is no shortcut to building peace without a long process of engagement and dialogues. And developing empathy is the most important factor in building trust and in promoting peace. So in this regard I really commend, I really commend the efforts by the Jeju Forum. I think more persistent efforts in the future are required before we can achieve our goal of promoting and maintaining peace in the long run.