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Prospects for peace on the Korean Peninsula

Denis Bright considers the importance of economic diplomacy in the reduction of long-standing political tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Are commitments by Japan and South Korea to the US Strategic Global Alliance being complemented by routine resources diplomacy with Russia and further normalisation of economic ties with China?

Prospects for longer-term peace in East Asia

If logic prevailed in international relations, seventy years of tensions in North East Asia could be diffused by solutions comparable to The ASEAN Way in South East Asia, based on closer regional economic integration.

Six Party Talks commencing in 2003 have made real attempts at reducing international tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Financial incentives were offered to the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea) to open its uranium enrichment at the Yeongpyeong Nuclear Plants to international inspection and to control its offensive nuclear testing programme.

The DPRK’s ongoing nuclear weapons programme may have been facilitated by technological links with Pakistan according to Samuel Ramani, a doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford as explained in a recent article in The Diplomat Online on 30 August 2016.

Regardless of the origins of its nuclear technology, the DPRK has just undertaken its fifth and largest nuclear test.

The DPRK continues to keep up appearances as a legitimate defiant state with slender diplomatic lifelines to both Russia and China.

From outside the DPRK, the cult of the defiant statesman is being challenged by sabre rattling by the US and its strategic allies:

U.S. and South Korean military officials have reportedly been participating in drills this month where soldiers practice removing Kim and his leadership from office should North Korea cross the line from demonstrations into actual attack. The American aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan — which has nuclear power and has three separate air-to surface missile systems aboard — ran drills in the Sea of Japan with South Korean forces for six days this month (International Business Times Online 13 October 2016).

Such initiatives are being supported by the introduction of new high altitude aerial defence systems by the US:

The US military is to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) counter missile battery to the Republic of Korea (RoK) as quick as possible, the White House said on 10 October in response to an official protest.

“The United States is working with the RoK to deploy this system as soon as feasible in order to more safely defend our RoK ally and US military personnel deployed to the region from the North Korea nuclear and ballistic missile threat,” read the statement. A written petition decrying the deployment, created in July, garnered enough signatures (more than 100,000) to warrant a response (IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly Online 12 October 2016).

Representatives from China and Russia met in Moscow on 28 July 2016 to dismiss this high altitude surveillance as provocative and a distraction from essential commitments to the Six Party Talks.

Disastrous flooding in North Korea, particularly in North Hamyong Province near the main transport corridors to the Russian Far East, has provided some distraction from the intensity of political tensions on the Korean Peninsula and the more positive initiatives associated with successful economic diplomacy with both Russia and China.

For the DPRK, its economic ties with Russia have become more substantial.

The importance of closer economic ties with the North eastern coastal Districts of the DPRK has been demonstrated by plans for the opening of the Wonsan Kalma Airport to serve new tourist and commercial markets on 24 September 2016:

A modern airport, which can service more than 2,000 passengers a day, has become Wonsan’s trademark. Wonsan’s streets have been decorated with flowers and bright posters with the words of welcome addressed to the air show’s visitors; numerous foreign tourists; diplomats who work in Pyongyang; employees of foreign humanitarian organizations and foreign journalists (TASS Online, 24 September 2016).

Russia is quite open about its exchange of aviation technology with the DPRK:

A grand air show, the first in the history of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), will get under way in Wonsan, a port on the country’s eastern coast, on Saturday, a source at the show’s organizing committee told TASS.

The program includes demonstration flights of military and civil aircraft and helicopters; exhibition performances of parachute-jumpers of the Pyongyang flying club and aeromodelling competitions.

Judging from the program, planes, which North Korea has bought from Russia, including the Ilyushin, Antonov and Tupolev civil aircraft, as well as MiG and Su fighter jets, will dominate the air show. North Korean pilots will demonstrate their aerobatics skills. The spectators will have a chance to fly planes of the North Korean air carrier Air Koryo and jump with a parachute together with an instructor. The air show’s program also includes concerts by various song and dance companies and exhibition performances by athletes, including masters of the ancient Korean martial art called Taekwondo, as well as a beer festival (TASS Online 24 September 2016).

Longer-term opportunities still exist for the systematic renewal of closer economic ties between Russia and both parts of the Korean Peninsula.

The reopening of the rail link between Khason in Russia and the port of Rajin in the DPRK on 22 September 2013 was a symbol of the renewed interest in Resources Diplomacy for the Korean Peninsula (Railway Gazette Online 2013).

This resources diplomacy in North East Asia should have been affected by western economic sanctions against both Russia and the DPRK.

With transport links still frozen by rivalries on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea relies mainly on maritime transport to access Russia’s rail corridors to Europe although land transport routes do exist through the DPRK.

President Park Guen-hye also attended last year’s China Victory Parade in Beijing on 3 September 2015. DPRK representatives also attended the event. Ironically, the delegation from South Korea had a higher political profile. Was this a subtle protest from the DPRK against closer economic ties between China and the Industrialized South?

There was also subtle politics in the seating plan at the event in Beijing.

On September 3, while Chinese troops and military equipment paraded through Tiananmen Square and Xi Jinping delivered a ringing rebuke of Japanese military aggression, South Korean President Park Geun-hye watched from a position of honor on Tiananmen Gate. During the parade, Park sat to the left of Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan, who was herself sitting to the left of Xi. Russian President Vladimir Putin was seated on Xi’s right.

Park’s attendance was watched with some concern in the United States. Those who believe Park’s administration is “tilting” toward China at the expense of the U.S. pointed to her presence at the parade as proof. The South Korea-China relationship has certainly been an active one — this was Park’s sixth summit meeting with Xi and third trip to China, all since Park assumed office in February 2013.

In their meeting on Wednesday, Xi praised Park for her efforts to improve the relationship, telling her that, thanks to their joint personal support, “the Korea-China relationship has become the best-ever national relationship in history.” As evidence, he pointed to the recently-concluded free trade agreement between China and South Korea, as well as Seoul’s decision to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (The Diplomat Online 3 September 2015).

Prime Minister Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop missed out on a diplomatic opportunity by failing to attend the Beijing event which attracted representatives from Timor-Leste, Papua-New Guinea and Vanuatu. Hopefully for our political representatives, opportunity will knock more than once to ease seventy years of international tensions on the Korean Peninsula.


denis-bright Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in developing pragmatic public policies based on commitment to a social market that is highly compatible with currently fluid trends in contemporary globalization.


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  1. Leila Smith

    Interesting article , we need to be supportive of all,our near neighbours & trading partners. At the same time we need to be careful of whom we align ourselves with.
    Great to rise our interests in this area Denis

  2. Bern

    If President Park from the centre right in South Korea can succeed in using economic diplomacy for peaceful ends, the Australian Government should applaud her efforts and follow her example. It seems President Park has a mind of her own on the balancing rope of East Asia diplomacy .

  3. Paul

    Thanks for the article Denis.

    It’s good to see South Korea, Japan and China improving their relationship. The six party talks are a great initiative.

    If the DPRK cared for its people (who are struggling to survive), it would disarm its nuclear program to immediately improve the wellbeing of its people and the region.

  4. Patrick

    Imagine a Korean Pennisular without the divide that existed in Germany, Austria and Vietnam

  5. Mary

    Thanks Denis another thought provoking article.

  6. Peace Now

    I agree with Patrick. It is time to use more economic diplomacy to end the tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Sabre rattling has to go on both sides. Only arms merchants are winning from the status quo.

  7. Economic Diplomacy for Peace

    The article is certainly a bit provoking because its challenges the focus in the mainstream news on sensational events like nuclear tests and typhoon disasters which are social realities in North Korea. This sensational news is largely of entertainment value for the suburbs back home in the USA and Australia. The quiet economic diplomacy between South Korea and Russia gets overlooked. Options are narrow after 70 years of conflict but it is the people on both sides of the 38th Parallel who would suffer most in the event of an accidental incident from the US High Altitude Patrols.

  8. Abdul

    Interesting article Denis!

  9. Pool Boy

    A very interesting debate. I believe it creates an interesting yet neccessary talking point not only for the public, but for the government as well.

    A great read, thank you Dennis

  10. Kyaw Wai Yan Min

    Very interesting article 🙂 Denis that’s cool

  11. Maria

    It’s really important that Australia fosters close relationships with South Korea and other Asian nations for a whole host of reasons. I am enjoying your series on our Asian Pacific nations.

  12. Rubio@Coast

    Thanks for publishing alternative viewpoints on the Korean Problem. Even right-wing Asian leaders it seems are not comfortable with the promise of a house in the suburbs as a reward for success and the constant buzz of high altitude military planes and drones around the 38th parallel and disputed islands in the Sea of Japan. If the war games turn bad, its Koreans who will pay the price of such childish manoeuvres.

  13. vaughann722

    Maybe if China reaches out to South Korea and the Philippines it will have cause to rethink its strategy in the South China Sea. ie: If it builds better relationships with its neighbours and so no longer feels it has to worry about ‘encirclement’. Though we want for China’s neighbours to embrace democracy and liberty as well. And already that was not always the case in Taiwan, South Korea etc. What this means for the US ‘Pivot to Asia’ God only knows. The real danger is that a complex array of alliances – ‘the West’ on one side ; China, Russia, Iran and their Allies – leads to another world war in Europe, the Pacific and the Middle East. Without mentioning tensions between India and Pakistan ; Saudi Arabia and Iran ; and so on. We need peace – even if ‘not at any cost’. Accommodations need to be made for the security of the various powers ; without allowing for nuclear proliferation ; and without allowing for ‘spheres of influence’ to stifle the rights and liberties of smaller nations.

  14. Positive Economic Diplomacy

    Our governmeent talks up the TPP through the Murdoch Press but Asian states like South Korea are comfortable with alternatives to the Wall Street and City of London financial models which discourage alternative approaches to planning

  15. Peace First

    Australia could have a more peaceful impact in the U.S. Alliance if we stopped supporting the NSA, the Military Industrial Corporations and the Far Right of American strategic policies. It is time to settle things on the Korean Peninsula and even the discredited far right leader of South Korea does support such peaceful resolution of the conflicts

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