Scott Snyder is senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on US-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). His program examines South Korea’s efforts to contribute on the international stage, its potential influence and contributions as a middle power, and the implications of North Korean instability. He is also a contributor for the blog, “Asia Unbound” and previously served as the project director for the CFR’s Independent Task Force on policy toward the Korean Peninsula. Previously, Snyder was a senior associate at The Asia Foundation, where he founded and directed the Center for US-Korea Policy and served as The Asia Foundation’s representative in Korea. He was also a senior associate at Pacific Forum CSIS. Mr. Snyder has worked in the research and studies program of the US Institute of Peace and as acting director of Asia Society’s contemporary affairs program. Mr. Snyder has authored numerous books including The U.S.-South Korea Alliance: Meeting New Security Challenges (editor, forthcoming, Lynne Rienner Publishers), China’s Rise and the Two Koreas: Politics, Economics, Security (2009), Paved with Good Intentions: The NGO Experience in North Korea (co-editor, 2003), and Negotiating on the Edge: North Korean Negotiating Behavior (1999). He serves on the advisory council of the National Committee on North Korea and Global Resource Services. Snyder received a B.A. from Rice University and an M.A. from the regional studies East Asia program at Harvard University. He was a Thomas G. Watson fellow at Yonsei University in South Korea, a Pantech visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center during 2005-06, and received an Abe fellowship, administered by the Social Sciences Research Council, in 1998-99.
Articles by Scott Snyder
Pyongyang tested regional and domestic politics on six separate occasions by conducting missile launches between February and April. The latest tests coincided with the Xi-Trump summit in Mar-a-Lago and Vice President Pence’s visit to South Korea. They also marked the 105th birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung on April 15 amid intense speculation that North Korea might conduct a sixth nuclear test. In addition to supporting five UN Security Council statements on North Korea this year, Beijing on Feb. 18 announced a suspension of DPRK coal imports through December. DPRK military threats also catalyzed US-ROK plans to deploy THAAD, a source of mounting tension that affected all aspects of the China-South Korea relationship. Beijing’s retaliation took the form of restrictions from March on business and tourism. South Korea appealed to the WTO for redress and South Korean lawmakers passed resolutions condemning China’s retaliation. THAAD emerged at the center of domestic political debate in Seoul after Park Geun-hye’s ousting on March 10, following which PRC nuclear envoy Wu Dawei in April engaged major presidential contenders ahead of the May 9 elections. Beijing’s falling out with both Koreas presents a major challenge for coordinating regional policy with new administrations in Washington and Seoul.
North Korea’s fifth nuclear test on Sept. 9 and the intensified test-firing of a range of missile types throughout 2016 underscored existing weaknesses in using dialogue and sanctions as a response. The timing of Pyongyang’s latest provocations coincided with the G20 Summit in Hangzhou and ASEAN-related meetings in Vientiane. President Park Geun-hye used the venues for sideline talks with President Xi Jinping and President Obama. The nuclear test directly challenged a nonproliferation statement adopted by East Asia Summit (EAS) members on Oct. 8, which urged North Korea to abandon its weapons programs. Following extended negotiations with the US, China finally joined the international community in adopting UN Security Council Resolution 2321 on Nov. 30. In addition to strains in the China-DPRK relationship, regional coordination on North Korea remains challenged by disputes between China and the ROK over THAAD and illegal Chinese fishing.
Vice Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee Ri Su Yong visited Beijing at the end of May to deliver a message of friendship from Kim Jong Un and to report on the results of the May 6-9 WPK Congress, which reportedly marked the “official start to Kim Jong-un’s era.” Ri’s visit drew attention to Pyongyang’s nuclear policy as a continued source of friction in relations with Beijing. China-ROK tensions rose with the announcement of a US-ROK agreement to deploy the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea and South Korean protests against illegal Chinese fishing. Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) remain another point of China-ROK tension. Although China and South Korea seek to advance trade within various frameworks, such efforts only highlight a widening gap between the economic and political aspects of their relationship. Current security priorities require effective approaches to both immediate differences over THAAD and EEZs and longer-term preferences over how to effectively promote lasting stability on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January and long-range rocket launch in February drew global opposition in the form of UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2270 and condemnation by regional leaders. Pyongyang, however, promptly dismissed such calls with a series of short- and mid-range missile launches in March and April. Presidents Xi Jinping and Park Geun-hye expressed support for full implementation of UN sanctions in bilateral talks at the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Washington. Foreign Ministers Wang Yi and Yun Byung-se pledged their commitment to denuclearization at the fifth Foreign Ministers Meeting of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Beijing on April 27-28, where Xi declared that China “will absolutely not permit war or chaos on the peninsula.” Despite Beijing’s hardened rhetoric, current tensions on the Korean Peninsula point to enduring differences between Beijing and Seoul’s strategic preferences.
The September China-ROK summit in Beijing catalyzed the resumption of trilateral talks with Japan in October and the launch of the China-ROK Free Trade Agreement in December. Beijing’s Korean engagement also included a visit to North Korea in October by Politburo Standing Committee member Liu Yunshan for 70th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). The visit was credited with preventing a rocket launch by Pyongyang that had reportedly been planned to mark the anniversary. Meanwhile, Pyongyang’s reached out to Beijing with a “friendship tour” to China led by Choe Hwi. Despite new initiatives to expand economic cooperation, Pyongyang’s apparent defiance of Chinese diplomatic efforts on denuclearization suggests further difficulties in Sino-DPRK relations.
President Park Geun-hye’s participation in China’s 70th anniversary celebrations of the end of WWII in September affirmed Seoul’s ties with China, while enabling Seoul to go on the offensive to win Beijing’s acceptance of a Seoul-led reunification of the Korean Peninsula. The escalation of inter-Korean tensions in late August revealed the dilemmas underlying Seoul’s regional diplomacy that continue to undermine coordination on North Korea and other security challenges. Nevertheless, both China and South Korea are engaging in parallel efforts to revive commercial ties with the North. Meanwhile, South Korea has made clear for now that its ability to engage China lies firmly on the foundations provided by a strong US-ROK security alliance; however, we expect that Beijing will continuously test Seoul’s allegiances.
A theme of South Korean opinion leaders in recent years has been the desire to avoid choosing between Beijing and Washington, but this strategy became more difficult in early 2015, as Seoul had to decide how to deal with issues such as AIIB (Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank) and THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) where Beijing and Washington are on opposing sides. As South Korea weighed these choices, there was a series of high-level Chinese visits to South Korea, including Vice Premier Wang Yang’s to discuss furthering China-ROK economic and cultural cooperation on the foundation of closer political ties and State Councilor and Defense Minister Chang Wanquan to reaffirm opposition to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. On the economic front, China and South Korea are pushing to sign their FTA deal this year, holding the latest trade meeting on April 9. Meanwhile, normalization of regional relations in Northeast Asia moved forward with the resumption of trilateral foreign ministerial talks with Japan on March 21 in Seoul.
Although North Korea’s diplomatic activity in 2014 spiked with senior-level outreach to Southeast Asia, Iran, Russia, the Middle East, Africa, and the United Nations, Beijing has been little more than a stopover for these officials. China-DPRK security and economic ties remain strained as Pyongyang continues its dual pursuit of nuclear and economic development. Instead, South Korean politicians and diplomats have been flocking to Beijing for endless consultations. Multilateral engagements were the primary venue for maintaining the momentum in high-level China-South Korea exchanges following the Xi-Park summit in July. The seemingly perennial agenda for discussion between the two countries was North Korea, followed by discussion of China-South Korea trade, including the announcement that the two countries would meet their end-of-year target to conclude negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA).
Presidents Xi Jinping and Park Geun-hye met in Seoul while North Korea conducted a series of short-range missile and artillery tests. The summit produced a joint statement reaffirming cooperation on Korean denuclearization, but Chinese efforts to form a united front in opposition to Japan on history and collective self-defense issues were rebuffed. Instead, they agreed to move forward on negotiating a China-ROK free trade agreement. Beyond the summit, China-South Korean exchanges remained focused on the North Korean nuclear issue and reviving the Six-Party Talks. Pyongyang has maintained limited contacts with Beijing while attempting to diversify its contacts with other political and economic partners.
In early January South Korean President Park Geun-hye said relations with China had reached an historic high point, but North Korean belligerence posed a challenge to implementation of the China-ROK Joint Statement. Despite increased tensions on the peninsula, China and the ROK have continued to build on their cooperative strategic partnership. President Xi Jinping and Park met on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit and talked by telephone a month later. Premiers Li Keqiang and Jung Hong-won met on the sidelines of the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan, while Foreign Ministers Wang Yi and Yun Byung-se held periodic telephone talks. In contrast, China-DPRK contacts have been limited to low-level visits and routine “friendship” exchanges. The highest level meeting was between President Xi and Kim Yong Nam on the sidelines of the Sochi Winter Olympics. China’s engagement with the DPRK has focused primarily on mediating the resumption of the Six-Party Talks.