Volume 6, Issue 1

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January - March 2004 · Published: Apr 2004

The six-party coalition of the not-so-willing held its long-awaited second meeting in Beijing in Feb with CVID – the complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of all of North Korea’s nuclear programs – becoming the new mantra.  CVID fit snugly into the Bush administration’s broader focus on halting the global spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), underscored in a major address by the president in early February laying out his determination to “close the loopholes” of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and rally worldwide (including United Nations) support behind the expanding Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI).

Meanwhile, in the “be careful what you wish for because you might get it” category, two of Asia’s most vibrant democracies – Taiwan and South Korea – became a bit too vibrant this quarter as the region prepared for a series of presidential and parliamentary elections that could change the political face of East Asia for years to come.  Anxiety levels were also beginning to rise as Asians watched the political process unfold in advance of this November’s U.S. presidential elections.  A question (or accusation) on many minds: “Were Pyongyang and Washington already playing a ‘wait until November’ game?”

US - Japan

January — March 2004

Staying the Course

It’s only fitting that the United States and Japan marked the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Kanagawa this quarter as they celebrated “the best relations ever” between the two nations. Cynics will note that it’s only downhill from here, so there is every reason to enjoy the blissful state of relations while we can. To the delight of alliance managers on both sides of the Pacific, both governments managed to stay the course. There were no surprises or shocks, despite concerns about the risks in Japan’s deployment of Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to Iraq.

That historic event was part of a larger effort to strengthen the framework for intensified collaboration between Washington and Tokyo. That agenda continues to move forward. There were some bumps along the way, but they were minor. All in all, it was a very good quarter.

U.S. and Chinese diplomats shuttled to each other’s capitals for consultations this quarter on a rich agenda of bilateral issues and regional and international security matters, including North Korea, Iraq, Libya, Iran, Taiwan, and curbing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  The pace of China-U.S. military exchanges accelerated with visits to Beijing by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Meyers, the holding of the Defense Consultative Talks, and a U.S. port call to Shanghai.  At the same time, friction mounted on trade and human rights as the U.S. filed the first case against China at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and introduced a resolution condemning Chinese human rights practices for the first time in three years at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. The disputed presidential election in Taiwan captured attention and elicited concern in both Beijing and Washington, although their responses diverged considerably.

Contrary to expectations, the six-party talks on the nuclear issue with North Korea failed to reach an agreement or even release a joint statement after several days of negotiations in late February.  North Korea balked at accepting the eventual “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement” of its entire nuclear program, which would have included ending any future capability for peacefully generating nuclear energy.  Had North Korea agreed to the goal of dismantlement, the U.S. was reportedly prepared to accept Pyongyang’s offer to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for energy assistance that South Korea, Russia, and China would have supplied.

Despite the inability of the talks to take any substantive first steps, the U.S. positively assessed the meetings as making a “good deal of progress,” especially in their agreement to “institutionalize” the process of negotiation by establishing working groups.  The U.S. was also pleased that Russia and China endorsed for the first time, the U.S. goal of fully dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program, verifiably and irreversibly.

Looking toward the next round of talks, scheduled to occur no later than the end of June, it will fall mainly to China to bridge the U.S. and North Korean positions.  If China fails to broker an agreement, the continuing impasse in the negotiations, in the context of the U.S. presidential campaign, may ratchet up significant domestic political pressure on U.S. President George W. Bush to take tougher measures against North Korea.

On other security issues, South Korea’s National Assembly approved, during this quarter, President Roh Moo-hyun’s proposal to dispatch 3,000 Korean troops to Iraq to assist U.S.-led coalition forces. The original deployment plans were scuttled by the violence in Iraq and are being reassessed. U.S. and South Korean defense officials also continued their consultations on how best to carry out the agreed transfer of the U.S. military command from central Seoul to a more southern location by 2007.

Finally, in U.S.-Korea trade talks, negotiators temporarily settled a dispute over South Korea’s pending adoption of a new single national standard for accessing the internet through cell phones.  If South Korea were to adopt this standard, it would shut a major U.S. company, which has developed an alternative technology for the same purpose, out of the Korean market.

On the surface, U.S.-Russian relations continued the downward spiral that marked the chilly fall months.  Bush administration and U.S. government criticism of Russia’s March 14 presidential elections was thinly veiled, and the international press had a field day decrying both the electoral process and the outcome.  In spite of this heightened friction, structural factors continue to keep the two countries’ relations from plummeting to extreme depths.  Although energy cooperation has eased to some extent, the all-important war on terrorism, and the drive against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are issues of great importance to both nations, and a successful prosecution of both struggles is a goal shared by both Moscow and Washington. Ironically, democratic elections can prove divisive in diplomatic relations as the most recent one in Russia demonstrated. With an upcoming presidential election in the United States, Russia could again become a whipping post for the U.S.

Despite Southeast Asia’s treaty commitment to a nuclear weapons free zone, the interdiction of nuclear centrifuges bound for Libya manufactured by a Malaysian company reveals that the region is not immune to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation.  Communal violence in southern Thailand and continued Muslim-based militance in Indonesia and the southern Philippines reinforced U.S. efforts to cooperate with these governments in tracking down militants and/or to help negotiate compromises to defuse militancy.  However, America’s continued presence in Iraq has complicated relations with Indonesia where forthcoming elections have led President Megawati Sukarnoputri to publicly distance herself from U.S. policy.  Southeast Asian discontent with the United States is exacerbated by Washington’s continued refusal to permit direct access by regional investigators to captured Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) leader Hambali who remains exclusively in U.S. custody.

There was a lull in the mutual courtship between China and Southeast Asia during the first quarter of 2004, following a year of intense activity and the declaration of a “strategic partnership” at the Bali summit in October. The pause allowed some old problems to resurface, and drew attention to new ways in which China’s rise is impinging on its southern neighbors. Early tariff reductions under the China-ASEAN free trade negotiations, which China had touted as concessions to benefit the ASEAN countries, drew protests from exporters in Thailand and Vietnam, whose products faced frustrating obstacles in China’s southern provinces. Nongovernmental organizations in lower Mekong countries complained that China’s dam construction had drastically reduced the Mekong River’s flow to Cambodia and Vietnam, spoiling ricefields and fisheries and raising the specter of future conflict over water.  China took unusual steps to deal with the flow of drugs and HIV/AIDS from Burma into Yunnan, while avian flu, dengue fever, and other cross-border threats underlined the need for more transparency and cooperative action.  Beijing, Hanoi, and Manila tussled verbally over competing claims to the Spratly Islands, demonstrating again the failure of the 2002 China-ASEAN South China Sea declaration to calm the waters.  China-Southeast Asia relations remain on track for further development, but Beijing would be well advised to take seriously nongovernmental complaints about the effects of its actions, especially in the case of Mekong development.

The presidential campaign and referendum issue dominated cross-Strait relations this quarter. Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian’s narrow reelection victory gives him a weak mandate to lead a society deeply divided over the issue of Taiwan’s national identity and future relationship with China. The election outcome reflects the extent to which opinion on Taiwan has moved away from the “one China” concept in the eight years since Taiwan’s first direct presidential election in 1996. With the campaign over, President Chen now faces concrete choices about how to pursue cross-Strait relations, and Beijing is confronted with difficult choices and the need to review its policies toward Taiwan.  Washington can expect to be caught in the middle and to be challenged to find effective ways to deter President Chen from changing the cross-Strait status quo.

As in the final quarter of 2003, the start of a new year saw no dramatic developments in inter-Korean ties, either positive or negative. The quarter’s main event was multilateral rather than bilateral, as a second round of six-party talks – the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia – at last convened in Beijing in late February. The hoped-for semi-institutionalization of this multilateral forum – assuming it happens and deepens over time, both of which are big ifs – is bound to impact on all the bilateral relationships tracked by Comparative Connections.

Yet inter-Korean ties look likely to preserve their special character as two halves of a divided nation – hence, technically, neither Korea regards them as foreign relations. That does not mean, however, that they will necessarily deepen; if they do, it won’t be very fast. The nuclear crisis will not prevent cooperation, but it will continue to limit it from Seoul’s side, in part due to pressure from the U.S. to go easy on the carrots while the North remains in nuclear defiance. From Pyongyang’s side, several actions seemed a reversion to old-style game-playing, or at best suggested that North Korea has no immediate wish to further develop North-South ties, but will continue to milk the relatively one-sided and shallow (though regular) channels of contacts that now exist.

China’s hosting of the second round of six-party talks in Beijing at the end of February marked the high point of China’s Korea diplomacy in the first quarter, stimulating a flurry of follow-up diplomatic contacts and shuttle diplomacy involving China and the two Koreas.  PRC Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing made his first visit to Pyongyang on March 25-27, further extending high-level contacts with the top DPRK leadership that now seem to occur about once per quarter. The ROK’s newly appointed Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon visited Beijing on the heels of Li’s visit to Pyongyang in an exchange that has enmeshed the PRC as a critical intermediary in peninsular affairs, which is part of China’s more assertive mediating role in the six-party talks.  But to what end will China play this more active role?

In the meantime, an extended squall over competing interpretations of the historical significance and attachments of the Koguryo kingdom has heated up amid competing attempts by China and the DPRK (backed by South Korean scholarship and the ROK government) to claim the kingdom as part of its history. And competition over raw materials is introducing a new element of competition between South Korea and the PRC over procurement and import of raw materials such as iron ore and other primary items that fuel economic growth in both countries. Despite South Korea’s increasing dependence on expanded exports to China for growth, China is competing with South Korea as both an export competitor and an importer of raw materials in third-country markets.

It was not quite all Yasukuni all the time, but close.  Set off by Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro’s Jan. 1 visit to the shrine, Yasukuni served as the leitmotif for extensive high-level political and diplomatic exchanges over the first quarter of the year.  Neither the prime minister and his political proxies nor China’s political leaders gave any ground.  As the quarter ended, Koizumi, determined to continue his visits to the shrine, seem resigned to not visiting China if the Chinese did not want him to visit, while the Chinese made it clear that Yasukuni was the problem.

In the meantime, the Self-Defense Forces deployed to Iraq, raising back-to-the-future concerns in Beijing, and a landing by Chinese activists on the Senkaku Islands at the end of March raised nationalist sentiments in both countries. In Japan, suits brought by Chinese nationals seeking compensation for wartime forced labor kept alive the issues of history.  At the end of March, for the first time, the Niigata District Court ruled in favor of Chinese plaintiffs in a case brought against both the Japanese government and a private company.

The good news, as both Koizumi and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao agreed, was economic. Commercial relations rapidly expanded during the quarter, stimulating Japanese growth rates. As a result, Japanese views of China were shifting from “threat” to “market opportunity” as China’s consumers continued to consume made-in-Japan electronics and machine products.

Japan-DPRK relations show no progress on abductions.  In the meantime, the Japanese have passed new sanctions legislation as a birthday gift to Kim Jong-il. Japan-South Korea free trade agreement (FTA) talks gain momentum, as do historical animosities.  Finally, the quarter saw Japanese and South Korean contributions to the Iraq reconstruction effort. The size and substance of this support show that the scope of both these American alliances in Asia has effectively expanded beyond Asia to embrace global issues of common interest.

With the exception of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the first quarter of 2004 was tough, turbulent, and tricky for players of presidential “Survivor.” Within 10 days in March, South Korean Roh Moo-hyun was impeached (March 12); Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian barely edged out his opposition, thanks to an “assassination” attempt (March 19), real or staged; and President Bush’s reelection is being battered by “shock and awe” as a result of “Iraqi Intelligencegate,” as former White House antiterrorist “czar” Richard Clarke went public with his criticism of the Bush administration (March 21). All this occurred against the backdrop of unprecedented diplomatic posturing by China and Russia in the first quarter: the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was inaugurated and the second round of six-party talks on the Korean nuclear issue was held. Meanwhile, the Russian military conducted its largest exercises in 22 years on the eve of NATO’s unprecedented expansion to the Russian border and the People’s Liberation Army went to high alert when Taiwan’s presidential politicking moved to hyper mode.

U.S.-Taiwan relations over the four years of Chen Shui-bian’s first term shifted unevenly between commitment and crisis. The Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) rise to power initially frightened U.S. policymakers, who feared the radicalism of a party long identified with independence.  They discovered that Chen could be pragmatic and willing to accept guidance from the U.S. Under both the Clinton and Bush administrations, Taiwan accordingly received significant support for reform and expansion of its military capabilities; support which sometimes exceeded what the DPP and the Taiwan military were prepared to accept. With the advent of the Bush administration, Taiwan enjoyed an era of unprecedented friendship in Washington, experiencing policies that accorded it more respect and dignity as well as greater access and a higher profile.  Chen, however, pushed the limits by taking several initiatives considered provocative by China and the U.S. without prior consultation with his U.S. supporters.  The result has been anger and friction with uncertain implications for the future.

The election of Chen Shui-bian as president of Taiwan in March 2000 brought the decades-old Kuomintang (KMT) monopoly of power on the island to an end. This peaceful transition from one political party to another signified passage of an important milestone in the achievement of full democracy and was greeted with enthusiasm in the United States. Washington’s pleasure with the growth of democratic institutions, however, was offset somewhat with trepidation as to what a DPP presidency would mean for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. Thus the U.S. encouraged and warmly welcomed Chen’s inaugural address in which he pledged his four “No’s” and one “Would-Not”: no declaration of independence, no change in the name of the government, no placing the two-state theory in the constitution, and no referendum on self-determination.  At the same time, he would not eliminate the National Unification Council and Guidelines. Indeed in the weeks before the inauguration, Chen persuaded Taiwan supporters in the U.S. Congress to put aside plans to press for passage of the controversial Taiwan Security Enhancement Act. Generally, he sought to broadcast a moderate image abroad and at home as a pragmatic, conciliatory lawyer rather than a pro-independence firebrand. Members of the Clinton administration, who had found the final months of Lee Teng-hui’s presidency alarming and difficult, began to relax.

Daily Digest

Global Times: Anxiety pushes US to turn hostile to China

An editorial stressing that US-China relations are going to become more competitive

 

The Indian Express: Five months on, understanding Doklam ‘disengagement’, a few other issues

This piece provides an update on the recent Doklam crisis, which remains unresolved

East Asia Forum: Will Trump snap Japan’s tenuous tightrope?

Following the Trump administration’s lead will get more difficult for Japan in 2018.

Will Trump snap Japan’s tenuous tightrope?

Korea JoongAng Daily: Listen to the people

South Koreans say “not so fast” to a combined N-S Olympic team

The Straits Times: Canberra looks for new bridges over troubled waters

Australia hedges against US uncertainty

Canberra looks for new bridges over troubled waters

The Interpreter: Why Australia should consider sharing nuclear weapons

Layton believes that Australia should change its stance on nuclear weapons.

War on the Rocks: Why Americans Aren’t Really Worried About War With North Korea

The article lists five misconceptions among the American public when it comes to a war with North Korea.

Why Americans Aren’t Really Worried About War With North Korea

The Straits Times: Why a trade war looms over US-China relations

An antagonistic rivalry would be far more severe than the Cold War of the last century.

The Cipher Brief: Give Peace, and Sanctions, a Chance

Still time for patience with North Korea