Shifting Alliances Shaping Asian Peninsula

China, South Korea Pledge Increased Bilateral Relations
While in Beijing on a recent visit, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her Chinese hosts issued a joint statement encouraging North Korea to return nuclear discussions and outlining a roadmap for developing bilateral relations over the next 20 years.

The two nations also plan to discuss increased trade ties during a July 4 meeting. China accounted for almost 25 percent of South Korea’s exports in 2010 and remains the largest export market for its goods.

Sino-South Korean Trade Limited By Secondary Disputes
In a speech during her visit, Park said that economic interdependency among regional countries is growing, but noted that “disputes involving historic issues, regional security and mutual mistrust made political and security cooperation lag behind economic cooperation.”

Park has diligently pursued improved relations with China since she came to power in March, but Scott Snyder of the Council of Foreign Relations says “secondary priorities” are likely to slow the path toward enhanced engagement.

“Although South Korea and China may look to build more comprehensive cooperation through a joint statement that expands the scope of Sino-ROK cooperation, and Xi has repeated that it seeks North Korea’s denuclearization, it is still the case that the respective parties have conflicting secondary priorities regarding the end state of the Korean peninsula that are likely to inhibit cooperation,” writes Snyder in a blog post.

Tensions Likely At Upcoming Asian Summit
While North Korea’s outreach to the South and to the US may earn it some points for effort, other Asian nations are likely to keep Pyongyang at a distance during the upcoming Asian security talks, Hyung-Jin Kim writes in The Daily Tribune.

“While it is certainly preferable for North Korea to pursue diplomatic rather than missile or nuclear tests, all of North Korea’s neighbors by now are well aware of North Korea’s history of diplomatic initiatives as just another tool through which North Korea has sought to consolidate gains following periods in which North Korean brinkmanship has driven political tensions to high levels,” Scott Snyder, a Korea specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank

Kim also notes that China’s relations with the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia are tense due to territorial disagreements over oil- and gas-rich islands in the South China Sea.

Looking Behind North Korea’s Irrationality
As frustrated as many Asian nations are concerning North Korea’s erratic behavior and its history of saying one thing and doing another, it is important to understand the method behind its madness, says Ulv Hanssen, a research assistant at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.

“Irrationality has in foreign policy studies been defined as ‘a decision’s incompatibility with policy goals, prevailing consensus, or preferred outcomes’. If North Korea is seen as an undiversified unit with a uniform intention, as tends to be the case, one is often left with few other alternatives than to explain North Korean decision-making as irrational. The notion of North Korea as an irrational actor is not a new phenomenon,” Hanssen asserts.

According to Hanssen, analysts often fall into the trap of thinking of North Korea as a monolithic actor, rather than acknowledging the influence of internal disputes on its actions.

“The problem with this framework is that it disregards institutional competition over interests dooming it to explain contradictory actions in terms of irrationality. As long as analyses fail to take institutional pluralism into account North Korea will continue to be falsely characterised as ‘irrational’ and ‘beyond comprehension’”, he warns.




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