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Old 11-02-2016, 11:39 AM   #1
White man
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Post South Korea’s Realignment in 2016: Opportunities, Changes, and Challenges. Longread

Since its fourth nuclear test on January 6, 2015, North Korea has been showing off its nuclear capability to acquire the status of a nuclear state. Its parade of nuclear weapons-related tests, which South Korea calls strategic provocations, is casting a dark shadow over not only the Korean Peninsula but also Northeast Asia and the whole world. Stronger sanctions will be imposed (unilaterally if not multilaterally) after North Korea’s fifth nuclear test, but whether they will be enough to put an end to the North Korean nuclear ambition is unclear. Under the current circumstances, where Kim Jong-un seems determined to own nuclear weapons, the only way to change the North Korean regime’s calculus is to make it choose between nuclear weapons and regime survival. Recognizing this, the South Korean government is applying full-court pressure against the North together with the international community. South Korea and Japan reached an agreement on the “comfort women” issue in December 2015, which made it possible for South Korea to work closely with Japan, in addition to the United States, in addressing the North Korean nuclear issue.

Many challenges lie ahead for South Korea. With North Korea relentlessly pursuing its nuclear ambitions, China not giving up on the Kim Jong-un regime, and the United States pondering what kind of relationship it should have with China to solve North Korea’s nuclear issue, no one knows how the future will play out. Such uncertainty has given rise to a number of issues concerning the future of the Korean Peninsula. Meanwhile, since it will not be long before North Korea is equipped with nuclear capabilities that are advanced enough to enable ICBM or SLBM attacks on US soil, there are growing calls for a “surgical strike” on North Korea, targeting its nuclear site or the leader Kim Jong-un. Even a few Chinese experts are talking about launching a preemptive strike against North Korea. In contrast, increasingly audible revisionist views argue that the immediate focus should be on freezing North Korea’s nuclear capabilities at the present level to prevent it from making nuclear weapons that can reach the US mainland and that denuclearization should be a long-term goal. There is also a growing concern over South Korea being excluded from the debate about preemptive strikes on North Korea or freezing its nuclear capabilities. Indeed, there are many questions, but no answers.

How can the South Korean government overcome such challenges? To answer this recurring question, this article addresses realignment in South Korea’s foreign policy in 2016, and beyond, by examining the key issues that have emerged with regard to North Korea’s nuclear problem: such as pressure diplomacy, the possibility of US-DPRK dialogue, China’s stance, and the range of cooperation between South Korea and the United States.

Opportunities: Pressure Diplomacy in 2016

North Korea’s strategic provocations in 2016 and its intentions: Launched in 2013, the Park Geun-hye administration has set the following as its diplomatic goals: the normalization of inter-Korean relations, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and promotion of peaceful cooperation at the Northeast Asian and global level through “trustpolitik.” The Trust-building Process on the Korean Peninsula, the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative, and middle power diplomacy—which have been mentioned on countless occasions over the past four years when discussing South Korea’s diplomacy—are all part of the effort to achieve these goals. Of course, the focus of the government’s diplomatic efforts is on the Korean Peninsula with the key aspects being improving inter-Korean relations, engaging with North Korea for the denuclearization of the peninsula, deterring and preparing for provocations that may occur in the process, and strengthening cooperation with neighboring countries to build trust. The most distinct approach of the Park administration’s foreign policy is increasing strategic cooperation with China, which wields the biggest leverage on North Korea, in order to encourage North Korea to take the path of change, while maintaining a strong ROK-US Alliance.

Such efforts, however, reached a deadlock due to North Korea’s bold ambition to possess nuclear weapons. It started to demand recognition as a nuclear state, and the rogue regime has made 22 strategic provocations in 2016 alone as of October. It made 2016 a year of strategic provocations by conducting its fourth and fifth nuclear tests; firing a Eunha-3 rocket, which could be converted for intercontinental ballistic missiles; launching Rodong missiles at a higher than usual angle; testing its Musudan missile, which is designed to hit Guam; and test firing a KN-11 submarine launched ballistic missile.

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