[Viewpoint] Asserting Korean power to China, U.S.

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[Viewpoint] Asserting Korean power to China, U.S.

The United States and China have started to discuss the key items on their agenda related to the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. Center for Strategic and International Studies and the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations recently held closed seminars in Beijing that focused on scenarios of sudden change in North Korea and contingency planning.

Working-level government officials of the two countries are known to have attended the seminars, which, though they took the form of academic events, were actually “1.5-track” forums that were half civilian and half government.

This is a big change for China, which has continuously rejected joint discussions on Korea for fear of provoking the United States.

It can be inferred from news reports and materials released from the seminars that the two countries confirmed that each had contingency plans for an emergency in North Korea, and that there were discussions on how each defines the changing situation and what direction they expect it to go. In addition, there is a high possibility that problems such as the maintenance of stability on the Korean Peninsula, the prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and large-scale refugee management were discussed.

After all, the United States prioritizes the stopping of nuclear substance leaks, whereas China has a large interest in border management, for it is concerned about the mass of refugees that would swarm across the border should the North collapse.

Strictly speaking, we realistically cannot reject the fact that the United States and China need to discuss how the constant changes in North Korean society may endanger Northeast Asian security.

This is the undeniable cold reality of power politics, since the United States and China have considered the shifting situation in North Korea to be a “detonation cap” that threatens not only their national interests but also the stability of Northeast Asia as a whole.

Of course, it is just as dangerous to despair and believe that we have no choice but to follow the lead of powerful countries as it is to overestimate our own power in international order.

In this respect, the discussions between the United States and China provide a chance for us to face the reality of a changing international community and reflect on how our strategic utility and role have expanded.

The recent U.S.?China discussions on North Korea highlight a factor that is significant for Korea and should not be neglected.

That is the fact that in case of rapid changes in North Korea, the relationship between China and the U.S. will not necessarily turn to conflict but rather may become one of cooperation.

The more important point is that the two powerful countries are presenting the possibility of “joint management” of the Korean Peninsula based on their own strategic agreement.

The Korean Peninsula is geographically located at a crossroads where great powers collide, and historically it has been a scapegoat or pawn in superpower politics.

If Korea stops being a “strategic ally” of the United States or a “strategic partner” of China in future discussions on the changing North Korean situation, or if it remains as a bystander, it may become difficult to guarantee the future of the Korean Peninsula. The possibility of reunification could even be impacted.

In the end, Korea should keep a cool head amid the discussions on the changing North Korea situation between the United States and China. With an objective awareness of the dawning of the “G-2 age,” we should look for independent action we can take to affect the future of the Korean Peninsula.

One of the diplomatic accomplishments of the Lee Myung-bak administration since it began could be said to be strengthening and setting on track the “Korea-U.S.-Japan cooperative system.”

However, the need to actively pursue triangular Korea-U.S.-
China talks can be presented. Trilateral talks among Korea, the United States and China would be a way of finding out directly the thoughts of the United States and China related to the Korean Peninsula and preventing the two powers from deciding the fate of Korea while excluding us.

If these cannot be pursued immediately, then Korea-U.S. strategic talks and Korea-China strategic talks should be instituted between the countries, and “1.5-track” trilateral Korea-U.S.-
China discussions with the participation of civilian experts and government officials together should be pursued.

*The writer is a researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy.

by Park Byung-kwang
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