Seoul Königspalast
Seoul Königspalast

An insecure situation is developing on the Korean peninsula as if the ceasefire agreement were soon to be broken. North Korea fired projectiles not only into the Japanese Sea but also ¾ surprisingly ¾ on ground near the Chinese border.[1] There are some possible scenarios for the political future of the Korean peninsula: both Koreas either remain separately (the status quo) or unify. If both Koreas were unified, which one leads the Korean peninsula. Another possibility might be the absorption of North Korea by China.

The scenario of a collapsing North Korea might not be desired by the US and South Korea because finding justified reasons to intervene into North Korea’s domestic political matters could not be easy. Unlike the USA and South Korea, China has at least a mutual aid and cooperation friendship treaty with North Korea. Although the treaty states that no intervention in domestic political matters is allowed,[2] it might still be easier for China to justify an intervention than it would be for the US and South Korea. So does Russia have a friendship treaty with North Korea.[3] The Korean War ended with a truce, and this agreement was signed by North Korea, China and the USA as the representative of the United Nations Command.[4] If the United States wants to deal with North Korea before it collapse, making some sort of an agreement with North Korea might turn advantageous for the USA.

As for China as well as for Russia, keeping the US bases on the Korean peninsula might not be desirable in any case if South Korea leads a unified Korea. For America on the other hand, the most essential matter is a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and free access to its markets. If North Korea’s nuclear capability becomes an actual threat to the US homeland or a united Korea possesses nuclear capabilities and develops them further, not only the USA but also China and Russia together might destroy this nation on the Korean peninsula. Therefore, if these three countries make an agreement to cooperate to destroy North Korea’s nuclear capabilities in case North Korea shows an intention of using its nuclear arsenal, North Korea’s nuclear capabilities can be under the control of these nations and its threats thus could not work effectively.

South Korea as a direct party would surely wish to rule a united Korea, whereas North Korea naturally sees it around the other way. Kim Jong Un might desire similar agreements as made by Iran and America. North Korea might have a very large business potential like Iran. Natural resources in North Korea are rich and abundant. Cheap labor still exists.[5] North Korea could be much more attractive than South Korea for global investors. As for China, Russia, the US and Japan, if the Korean peninsula becomes a neutral ground, all players involved could win. Gaining this situation depends on reaching a consensus. China as well as Russia and Japan wish a buffer zone, and this desirable situation could also be realized. There might be an additional reason for China why it desires the existence of North Korea besides the buffer zone. During the Korean War the Chinese communist party invested so much manpower to fight the Americans and South Koreans. Support for the destruction of North Korea therefore might not be acceptable for the Chinese communist party still today. The Chinese president Xi Jinping could risk his political standing in case North Korea were absorbed by South Korea. The players involved might be thinking to lead a power game in order to maximize their own profits.

As already mentioned above, the Korean peninsula has not seen a political solution beyond the armistice agreement that had been signed by North Korea, China and the US. Thus, North Korea and also China are trying to persuade the US to make a peace agreement with North Korea. However, this is not so easy for the US to accept on moral grounds. South Korea during the Korean War was not yet a fully independent country, but it has sovereignty today. The USA as presumably representing a democracy would not exclude South Korea from the process to terminate the war. Should the above mentioned conditions be correct and essential for the involved nations, some pre-arrangements and agreements might be made by them beforehand. Some possible deals in order to meet their ends and bring about a win-win scenario for many of the involved parties can be implied. There might be some incidence between North and South Korea; China and the US would intervene. As a result, South Korea could be actively involved in the process of terminating the Korean War. To maximize the trade-offs of China and the US, North Korea’s natural resources and cheap labor could be offered to Chinese and American investors. Therefore, North Korea could have an advantage in negotiations for the unification of both Koreas. Nonetheless, whether the neutral ground condition on the Korean Peninsula would remain for good is of course uncertain because it would strongly depend on the power balance between China, the USA and Russia.

 

Dr. phil. Kumiko Ahr-Okutomo

Born in Japan.

 

She wrote her doctoral thesis, supervised by Professor Albert A. Stahel (Strategic Studies) at the University of Zurich, about power shifts in East Asia and Japan’s security politics. She is now a research associate at the Institute of Strategic Studies of Professor Stahel.

 

[1] Sankei Shinbun: Hyshotai wa Chucho Kokkyofukin ni rakka, Chugoku ga hanpatsu kanousei mo , Beikoku wa Tekishiseisaku tekkai subeki to Kakuanpo Summit  mo kensei ( Projectiles fell near Chinese border, China’s reaction possible; restraining also from Nuclear Summit: the US should take back its hostile politics), March 30, 2016. [accessed April 1, 2016] http://www.sankei.com/world/news/160329/wor1603290

[2] Database of Japanese Politics and International Relations, Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo, Japan. [accessed April 4, 2016] http://www.ioc.u-tokyo.ac.jp/~worldjpn/documents/texts/docs/19610711.T1E.html

[3] Database of Japanese Politics and International Relations, Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo, Japan. [accessed April 4, 2016] http://www.ioc.u-tokyo.ac.jp/~worldjpn/documents/texts/JPKR/20000719.D2J.html

[4] Database of Japanese Politics and International Relations, Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo, Japan. [accessed April 4, 2016] http://www.ioc.u-tokyo.ac.jp/~worldjpn/documents/texts/JPKR/19530727.O1E.html

[5] Japan External Trade Organization JETRO: 2012 Nendo Saikinno Kitachosen Keizaikankei ni kansuru Chosa (2012 Research for North Korea’s economy of late), March 2013, Japan. [accessed April 4, 2016] https://www.jetro.go.jp/ext_images/jfile/report/07001252/kp_economy.pdf#search=%27%E5%8C%97%E6%9C%9D%E9%AE%AE%E3%81%AE%E8%B3%87%E6%BA%90%27

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