‘North Korea will likely launch cyber and terror attacks’
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un continues to threaten the international community with intentions to conduct another nuclear test, and in spite of the international sanctions, he fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile on April 23 — though the missile exploded after flying just 30 kilometers (98,400 feet). The upcoming seventh congress of the Workers’ Party in Pyongyang, the body’s first meeting in 36 years, is only adding pressure to regional powers on the peninsula.
As a response to such provocations by the North, the North East Asia Research Foundation hosted the Korea-China-Japan Seoul Process from April 22 to 24, gathering regional experts and scholars including Kim Hee-sang, chairman of the Korea Institute for National Security Affairs; Noboru Yamaguchi, professor at the National Defense Academy of Japan; Chu Shulong, professor of political science and international relations at the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University in Beijing; and Kim Young-hie, editor-at-large at the JoongAng Ilbo, to discuss possible regional responses to the North’s provocations and threats.
The experts’ analysis and responses to the North covered topics ranging from possible regime collapse to deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) missile system, as well as disputes in the South China Sea.
The following is an excerpt of the discussion.
Kim Young-hie: Even after the United Nations Security Council resolution, North Korea has been continuing its provocations, including a high level of verbal assault on South Korea. We are facing an existential crisis on the peninsula. Do you think there is a possibility that a regional conflict may occur and even expand into war?
Kim Hee-sang: It’s hard to say that there is zero possibility of a conflict taking place if North Korea steps up its retaliations. But the North is well aware that South Korea is ready to punish the North, as the South clearly stated after the Cheonan sinking and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.
Noboru Yamaguchi: We cannot say that the current tensions on the peninsula will lead to war, but we need to pay attention to the fact that the scale of such tensions is getting larger. It can become increasingly difficult to determine the culprits behind the North’s provocations as they take the form of cyber and terror attacks.
Kim Young-hie: China has been actively involved in the United Nations sanctions on North Korea, yet from the perspective of the South, it seems that China can do more.
Chu Shulong: China understands that its role in sanctions on North Korea is important. That’s why China stopped importing minerals and stalled all banking transactions with the North. The Chinese government has officially announced its firm stance in participating in sanctions on North Korea, and has made clear to the international community China’s determination to pressure North Korea.
Noboru Yamaguchi: What the international community is looking for is for China to exert all its influence on the North, to help it find the right direction. This includes soft and gentle influences as well. Of course, the international community understands that China does not have the intention, nor is it possible, to control the North as if it’s a subject state. But the fact is South Korea, Japan and the United States have less influence on North Korea in comparison.
Kim Young-hie: Wouldn’t you agree that the recent defection of 13 North Korean restaurant workers to the South was possible because of the Chinese government’s tacit consent?
Chu Shulong: I agree. The explanation given by the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman is correct; those with legitimate passports can request to leave the country, and the Chinese government gives its approval, following international law. One can say that China gave its tacit consent.
Kim Hee-sang: But it seems that sanctions by China have their limits, because the Chinese government fundamentally does not want the North Korean regime to be shaken.
Chu Shulong: I do not agree with that statement. The stability of North Korea that the Chinese government is seeking is “peaceful denuclearization.” The Chinese government does not care whether Kim Jong-un is in power or whether the regime is stable or not. What China does care about is that stability should be maintained so as to prevent refugees flooding into China.
Noboru Yamaguchi: Different countries have different points of view. South Korea, for instance, worries about the North’s short-range missiles, while Japan does not. The United States tends to see the North’s nuclear power expansion with the rest of the world in mind. China worries about refugees and Japan about the kidnapping issue. These different approaches naturally play out in each country’s policy-making processes. It is important here that each country does not think of one’s own self-interest only.
Kim Young-hie: When we see the Korean Peninsula, we cannot but acknowledge the competitive relations between China and the United States. One of the South’s dilemmas in such situations is Thaad deployment. Do we need Thaad?
Kim Hee-sang: The Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile that we have now can only cut off missiles from the North from 30 to 40 kilometers away at most. These can protect the Blue House and military headquarters but not the residents of Seoul. Thaad can protect civilians.
Noboru Yamaguchi: The Thaad system’s use is to protect a limited area. In my opinion, it is not an offensive weapon.
Chu Shulong: The Thaad system’s radar reaches 500 kilometers total, stretching beyond the North into China. That’s why I think it’s a threat to China. Plus, Thaad is a U.S. weapon, not a Korean one. It is made and controlled by the United States. Thus, one cannot say that “Thaad is only targeting the North.”
Kim Young-hie: Competitive relations between China and the United States exist in the South China Sea as well. The affairs of the South China Sea have direct influence on the Korean Peninsula. What do the Chinese and U.S. governments have in plan to improve the situation in the area?
Chu Shulong: First of all, the United States’ reaction to the affairs in the South China Sea is too exaggerated. The South China Sea is an archipelago composed of some 70 islands and is not controlled by one country. China does not intend to expand its military capabilities in the area but is merely exercising its military rights to remain defensive.
Kim Young-hie: Talks on possible regime collapse in the North are widespread in Washington and Seoul. What do you think?
Kim Hee-sang: For one country to be maintained and operated, it needs three basic qualities: the people’s loyalty, an effective ruling regime and the power to protect the regime. The North has none of these three qualities.
Chu Shulong: I think it is legitimate that Korea and the United States seriously consider a possible collapse of the North, and make preparations, because unification happens very quickly. Who knew that East Germany would fall that quickly?
Noboru Yamaguchi: Unification on the peninsula is a common goal of all regional powers involved. We will have to consider many scenarios when it comes to North Korea, including a possible regime collapse. At the least, the member countries of the six-party talks should democratically and diplomatically pursue unification, but also be prepared for a possible regime collapse in the North.
Kim Young-hie: When Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with U.S. State Secretary John Kerry last February, they talked about pushing forward both dialogue on a peace treaty and denuclearization. Do you think the two-track approach can bring about a complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of the North’s nuclear program?
Chu Shulong: No, I don’t think so. The two-track approach can help the North return to the table of six-party talks, but it won’t be enough to lead to the North’s denuclearization.
Kim Hee-sang: What the North wants in its own version of peace is the pullout of U.S. forces from South Korea. The North’s demand takes a heavy toll on U.S.-South Korea relations.
Noboru Yamaguchi: It is important to set a clear goal and to maintain that goal, to help the North give up its nuclear weapons. It should be clear to the North what the benefits are of giving up nuclear weapons and what the losses are in keeping them.
BY YOO JEE-HYE [firstname.lastname@example.org]