Positivity on the Peninsula

Beijing Revies | 作者: Shi Yongming | 时间: 2015-02-03 | 责编: Li Minjie
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Despite a U.S.-driven Cold War mentality on the Korean Peninsula, Beijing-Seoul relations point to a more positive pattern


By Shi Yongming


The state of affairs on the Korean Peninsula is frozen in a stalemate, and the only thing all parties seem to have in common amid the confusion and frustration is a shared inability to break the deadlock. The future direction of the situation on the peninsula may depend on whether positive or negative factors prevail. If an atmosphere of positivity is fostered, then a solution to the crisis will surely emerge. On the contrary, uncontrolled growth of negative factors may lead to a grave crisis.

Heightened negativity

The peninsula is currently undergoing an unfortunate flood of events that are preventing the situation from moving in the right direction. According to reports from Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency, South Korea's Ministry of Defense declared on December 29, 2014 that a trilateral pact to share military intelligence between South Korea, Japan and the United States had taken effect. According to the pact, the three countries will share intelligence on nuclear and missile "threats" posed by North Korea. Though the new agreement appears to be a kind of defensive cooperation, it actually serves to further the hidden purpose of Washington's aggressive push.

The U.S. Department of Defense claimed that the major catalyst for the trilateral intelligence-sharing pact is the rapid development of Pyongyang's missile program. In a military parade in April 2012, North Korea displayed a mock-up of its newly developed KN-08 missile. In its annual report on North Korea's military strength in March 2014, the Pentagon claimed that the firing range of the missile is 5,500 km, putting it in reach to directly threaten the U.S. mainland. Though the report also admitted that the missile has not been tested and cannot be put into real combat by Pyongyang, Washington seized the excuse to push its own strategic deployment in Northeast Asia.

Washington's Northeast Asia strategy consists of two parts--respectively, building a missile defense system gradually in the region and forging a military cooperation mechanism between the United States, South Korea and Japan. The two parts supplement one another in that by building a regional missile defense system, the United States can incorporate Japan and South Korea into its combat system, allowing itself to assert greater control over the two East Asian countries. Meanwhile, creating a trilateral military cooperation mechanism is not only conducive to the operation of the regional missile defense system but also favors Washington's oversight of the regional combat system. In addition, the mechanism restricts the military independence of both Japan and South Korea.

As the three countries negotiated on the intelligence-sharing agreement, the United States deployed its second AN/TPY-2 missile defense radar in Japan's Kyoto Prefecture. The AN/TPY-2 is a kind of transportable X-band, high-resolution, phased-array radar designed specifically for ballistic missile defense. It can transmit data on ballistic missile launches to warships equipped with Aegis air defense systems and ground-based interceptor missile sites. The AN/TPY-2, together with the U.S. ballistic missile early warning radar system, sea-based X-band radar and early-warning satellite system, are the "eyes" of the U.S. missile defense system. With them, the United States can monitor and trace the missile launching activities of all countries in the region.

The United States has dominated the series of actions in the name of missile threats from Pyongyang, with Japan and South Korea acting as its "little brothers." But to focus solely on the Pyongyang's missile program misses a larger point. From a global view of the U.S. missile defense system, it can be concluded that these moves by the United States are parts of its strategy to maintain a strategic edge over the competition between major world powers.

Washington claimed that it refuses to restart talks with Pyongyang due to the latter's unwillingness to give up its nuclear program. However, the preconditions for talks imposed by the United States, which require North Korea to first take steps toward denuclearization and refrain from provocative acts, are the root of the deadlock, suggesting that Washington is not eager to negotiate with Pyongyang.


The United States' plan to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea reveals its true intentions, as tactically, the THAAD plays a much larger role in protecting the United States from North Korea's missile threats rather than protecting South Korea. The real reason Washington wants to deploy the THAAD on the Korean Peninsula is to use the remote probing function of the THAAD's radar system to strategically contain China. Such deployment actually encourages a kind of military cold war, ultimately creating a negative atmosphere that may hinder the settlement of the peninsula issue.

The China factor

Solving the Korean Peninsula issue requires establishing a strategic cooperation pattern in Northeast Asia. The China-South Korea strategic partnership has illustrated the kind of positive example that the region needs.

Stubborn adherence to a Cold War mentality has been the major obstacle to reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula for decades. In a continuation of its containment strategy of the Cold War era, the United States has used the rivalry between North and South Koreas as well as that between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan as excuses to maintain its hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region. Thus, the reconciliation process on the peninsula is made much more complicated. The peninsula issue was also dealt a blow by the retreat from the signing of the North-South Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in December 1991 to the current deadlock status.

The Cold War mentality has also become a bottleneck for regional stability as well as for the cooperation and development in Northeast Asia. Under this mentality, the United States' attempt to forge a military bloc based on ideological grounds to settle the "security threat" has backfired.

Against this backdrop, China and South Korea have spearheaded an international security mode that conforms to the trend of the times. In the new century, the international community has evolved into a coherent whole alongside the continuously deepening economic globalization. At the same time, security has also become a much more comprehensive concept. The security of an individual country is highly connected with the stability of the global economic and political system. One country can only maintain its own security through enhancing the stability of the international system via deepening cooperation. The current China-South Korea cooperation is based on such awareness and has overcome the limitations of the traditional balance-of-power theory. By promoting systematic regional stability and prosperity through comprehensive cooperation, they have worked to settle mutual security concerns under the environment of a stable regional system.

The China-South Korea cooperation embodies their pursuit of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security--a model proposed and strongly advocated by China in recent years. The new security concept promotes not to seek one country's security at the cost of others, but rather to cooperate to resolve security issues. The cooperation between China and South Korea serves as a model for the settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue, pointing to a way out of the current stalemate by establishing a common and comprehensive regional security mechanism.

South-North interaction

While U.S. involvement has complicated the peninsula issue, relations between North and South Koreas have still played a crucial role. Political reconciliation of the two sides could greatly facilitate the settlement of the nuclear issue. The current situation on the Korean Peninsula is worrying. On one hand, the increasing confrontations are eroding prospects for reconciliation; on the other, economic sanctions on North Korea imposed by the United States and its allies have had limited effects, and the economic improvement of North Korea could mean a more stable regime with an enhanced ability to fight back. This situation presents a classic "lose-lose" pattern. Therefore, instead of looking to the great powers for a way out, the two Koreas can start by simply improving bilateral ties to break the current deadlock.

On December 29, 2014, South Korea's Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl Jae said at a news briefing that Seoul has sent a letter to Pyongyang seeking to resume stalled talks on issues of common concern in January 2015. If North Korea responded to the proposal positively, Ryoo told reporters that he would lead a delegation to attend the ensuing meeting. Hopefully, the two sides get off to a good start in 2015 and add more momentum to the settlement of the peninsula issue.


The author is an associate research fellow with the China Institute of International Studies


(Source: Beijing Review, NO. 3 JANUARY 15, 2015)