Publication in Economics, Politics and Public Policy in East Asia and the Pacific

COVID-19 undermines South Korean diplomacy

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, wearing a face mask, arrives at a briefing for foreign diplomats on the situation of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the foreign ministry in Seoul, South Korea 6 March, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Jung Yeon-je).

Author: Jeffrey Robertson, Yonsei University

South Korea attracted global attention from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, the BBC reported that Seoul’s ‘trace, test and treat‘ approach was saving lives while hospitals in Europe and the United States were overwhelmed. In April, the New York Times reported on South Korea’s capacity to hold democratic elections despite COVID-19, and by June, CNN reported on the lessons to be learned from South Korea’s public health success story. Read more…

The rubble of inter-Korean cooperation

A TV screen shows news reports on North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's sister Kim Yo-Jong following reports on the explosion of the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong on 16 June, at Seoul station, South Korea (Photo: Lee Jae-Won/AFLO via Reuters).

Author: Editorial Board, ANU

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula ratcheted up on 16 June when North Korea blew up the Inter-Korean Liaison Office building in the North Korean border city of Kaesong. This is a big blow to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s efforts to engage North Korea, pursue denuclearisation and establish a permanent peace treaty to succeed the 1953 Korean War Armistice Agreement. The timing is ironic considering that the Moon government recently won a decisive election in April positioning it to double down on its engagement policy.

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Up in smoke: Pyongyang ends cooperation with Seoul

A view of an explosion of a joint liaison office with South Korea in border town Kaesong, North Korea, in this picture supplied by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on 16 June 2020 (Photo: KCNA via REUTERS).

Author: Evans JR Revere, Brookings

Sadly, explosively and inevitably, North–South Korean dialogue, cooperation and reconciliation have come to a crashing halt. South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s signature policy initiative designed to improve relations with North Korea went up in a cloud of smoke last week after Pyongyang destroyed the Inter-Korean Joint Liaison Office — a central symbol of North–South cooperation. Moon’s policy is a victim of the clash between Seoul’s starry-eyed vision of reconciliation and North Korea’s cold-blooded pursuit of domination over the South.

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Back to square one for inter-Korean relations

South Korean soldiers take part in a live fire exercise near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea, 23 June, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji).

Author: Scott Snyder, Council on Foreign Relations

On the eve of the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, the two Koreas face a dramatic breakdown in relations. Tensions rocketed on 16 June when North Korea demolished a liaison office that had stood as a symbol of hope for improved communications. For the South Korean Moon administration, the re-establishment of inter-Korean summitry in 2018 represented an historic step toward establishing a permanent peace, coexistence and economic integration on the Korean Peninsula. Read more…

Will COVID-19 temper Pyongyang’s belligerence?

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the only one not wearing a coronavirus mask, watches his troops fire rockets and artillery shells, 13 March 2020 (Photo: Korean Central News Agency via Reuters).

Author: Liang Tuang Nah, RSIS

The current COVID-19 pandemic could indirectly apply the brakes on North Korea’s belligerent behaviour. Though North Korea initially denied that there was a single COVID-19 case within its borders, the fact that it shares a lengthy border with China makes this highly unlikely. Indeed, there was significant trade across this frontier in late 2019 when the virus was spreading rapidly across China. And in early May 2020, Chinese cities near the border with North Korea, such as Jilin, Shulan and Shenyang, were locked down due to COVID-19 clusters.

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Revitalising Korea’s United Nations Command

US General Robert Abrams, commander of the United States Forces Korea, United Nations Command and Combined Forces Command arrives for a ceremony to mark the first anniversary of Panmunjom declaration between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un which was held in April 27, 2018, at the southern side of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, 27 April 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Lee Jin-man).

Author: Anthony V Rinna, Sino-NK

Overshadowed by the glaring stalemate between Seoul and Washington over defence cost-sharing, the role of the United Nations Command (UNC) in South Korea is now receiving renewed attention. ‘Revitalising’ the UNC could provide advantages, but would also raise political complications. Read more…

Will South Korea’s progressive victory bring change to the Peninsula?

National Election Commission officials count ballots for the parliamentary elections, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Seoul, South Korea, April 15, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Hong-Ji).

Author: Stephen Costello, George Washington University

In late April, speculation erupted over the absence of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un from public view for a prolonged period. Among the commentary about the durability of North Korea’s leadership, the central question of US and South Korean policy toward the country was barely addressed. The value of the past three years of South Korea and China’s investment in the country’s stability, development and denuclearisation is also unacknowledged.

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North Korea: between fact and fiction

Pyongyang, North Korea.- Photo released on 2 May, 2020 by North Korea's official KCNA agency shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at an official ceremony in a region north of Pyongyang. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has appeared in public for the first time in 20 days to attend the completion of the construction of a fertilizer plant north of the capital, the North Korean Central Telegraphic Agency (KCNA) reported on Saturday. (Photo: Reuters).

Author: Jeffrey Robertson, ANU

The modern media environment and the changing role of facts in policy has led to wildly speculative and sensationalist reports about North Korea. Since mid-April, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been variously reported as dead, in a vegetative state and on vacation at the beach. Read more…

Seoul’s top-down approach to Pyongyang

A South Korean soldier watches a TV showing a file footage for a news report on North Korea firing a missile that is believed to be launched from a submarine, in Seoul, South Korea, 2 October 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji).

Author: Lauren Richardson, ANU

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program remains one of the key challenges to regional security in Asia. Dealing with this predicament has been the major foreign policy focus of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s administration since its inauguration in 2017. Initially he conducted crisis diplomacy aimed at de-escalating the surging tensions between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. This was a natural response to the rhetorical threats exchanged between the pair that ostensibly brought the Korean Peninsula to the brink of war. Read more…

Squandered opportunities on the Korean Peninsula

A soldier eats ice cream in Pyongyang, North Korea, 12 September 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui).

Author: Editorial Board, ANU

Since US President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, relations with North Korea have undergone a number of rapid shifts — from the brink of nuclear war, to Olympic rapprochement, a flurry of summits and a breakdown of negotiations.

What lessons are to be learned from the squandered opportunity for peace? Can denuclearisation and peace treaty negotiations be rekindled?

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Kim’s ‘new path’ and the failure of Trump’s North Korea policy

DMZ on the lunar new year's day, 25 Jan 2020: Woo Je-Il (86) looks north after a memorial service for ancestors at Imjingak pavilion in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea (Photo: Reuters/Lee Jae-Won/AFLO).

Author: Evans JR Revere, Brookings

US President Donald Trump’s attempt to denuclearise North Korea has failed. No less an authority on denuclearisation than North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has proclaimed its demise. In a speech to his ruling Workers’ Party delivered on 31 December 2019, Kim announced a ‘new path’ that promises more advanced ‘strategic weapons’, nuclear and long-range missile tests, the end of denuclearisation and a ‘long confrontation’ with the United States. 2020 promises to be a year of great consequence and danger for US–North Korea relations.

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Japan’s North Korea challenge in 2020

A projectile is fired during North Korea's missile tests in this undated picture released by North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA) on 28 November 2019 (Photo: KCNA via Reuters).

Author: Naoko Aoki, RAND

North Korea began 2020 by announcing a shift toward a more hardline foreign policy approach, declaring that it was no longer bound by the moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests it has maintained for two years. While it is bad news for all countries in the region, it is particularly unwelcome for Japan, as it faces possible North Korean missile launches in its vicinity as it prepares to host the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

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Korean Peninsula peace prospects unravelling in 2020

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the Third Enlarged Meeting of the Seventh Central Military Commission (CMC) of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) in this undated photo released on 21 December 2019 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) (Photo: Reuters).

Author: Charles K Armstrong, Columbia University

After US President Donald Trump’s ‘fire and fury’ threats of late 2017 gave way to summit diplomacy in early 2018, the prospects for peace on the Korean Peninsula looked bright. But by the end of 2019 these hopes had dimmed, and as 2020 dawns, peace prospects appear to be unravelling altogether.

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German unification is a cautionary tale for Korea

Je Yong-Sam (front L), captain of a South Korean workers' soccer team gives a Korean unification flag to Kang Jin-Hyuk, captain of a North Korean workers' soccer team before their inter-Korean friendly soccer match at the Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul, South Korea, 11 Aug 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Lee Jae-Won).

Author: Max Nurnus, Seoul National University

In November 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Less than a year later, in October 1990, West Germany and East Germany became one country. The unification of the two German states has been held as an example for North and South Korea. In the words of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, ‘the experience of Germany’s unification gives hope for unification, and at the same time shows us the path that we need to follow’.

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US–Russia cooperation on North Korea

Author: Anthony V Rinna, Sino-NK

Russia has recently taken up an important role in multilateral diplomacy over the North Korean security crisis. North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui visited Moscow in November 2019 for strategic dialogue with senior Russian diplomats. There, Russian officials presented Choe with the contents of a joint Sino–Russian action plan for peace, which correlates to the Sino–Russian ‘roadmap’ for Korean security proposed in 2017. Read more…