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【#358】S. Korea Radically Revises Policies on North and China

Hong Hyung / 2016.02.17 (Wed)

February 15, 2016

     As soon as North Korea launched a long-range rocket, a de facto intercontinental ballistic missile, on February 7, the South Korean government announced that it would immediately start talks with the United States on the deployment of THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System) missiles in South Korea. In three days, Seoul suspended the operations at the joint industrial complex in North Korea’s border city of Kaesong, which had been a symbol of North-South economic cooperation. This was because dollars flowing into North Korea through the complex were used for developing nuclear weapons and missiles. One day after the South Korean suspension, Pyongyang declared it would close the industrial complex and put it under military control.
     Over more than 20 years, South Korea has tried to block the North from going nuclear through the United Nations, the six-party talks and other international cooperation. But the diplomatic efforts have failed. As North Korea is about to deploy nuclear missiles, South Korea has finally realized that it must respond on its own. South Korea has been forced to radically revise policies on North Korea and China.

Decision to deploy THAAD missiles
     South Korea’s decision to deploy THAAD missiles stems from its disappointment at and distrust in China. The North Korean Kim Jong-un regime and the Communist Party of China backing up the North have forced South Korean President Park Geun-hye to make the above series of decisions. Ms. Park has reportedly called for placing no more expectations on China’s roles.
     China strongly opposes South Korea’s THAAD missile deployment. So does Russia. They shrug off and deny South Korea’s national security. East Asia has returned to the Cold War relations.
     In order to survive North Korean nuclear threats, South Korea must have countervailing nuclear deterrence or topple the Kim Jong-un regime. Will any neighboring countries concede to the South Korean stance?
     China has called for denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula rather than restricting North Korea’s nuclear armament program, checking the South Korean response. China has passed the responsibility for North Korea’s stampede on to the United States. China’s demand to and attitude on South Korea indicate its ambition to destroy the South Korea-U.S alliance and become a suzerain state of the Korean Peninsula. Beijing and Pyongyang share a strategic objective of weakening and destroying the South Korea-U.S. alliance.
     The Kim Jong-un regime will never abandon nuclear weapons as its sole strategic assets. While effectively establishing itself as a nuclear-armed country, North Korea, along with China, will check South Korean efforts to respond and will carry out propaganda and tactics to weaken the South Korea-U.S. alliance and South Korea-U.S.-Japan cooperation.

Declare withdrawal from NPT
     How can South Korea neutralize the North Korean nuclear strategy in cooperation with the United States and Japan and take the initiative away from China and North Korea in the Korean Peninsula nuclear game? The answer is South Korean declaration of its withdrawal from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Article 10 of the NPT admits any member country’s right to withdraw from the treaty. In an extraordinary age, an extraordinary decision is unavoidable.
     A moral advantage theory of countering a nuclear-armed country without nuclear weapons does not work in the real world. To counter China and North Korea using force to change the status quo, we also have to own countervailing strength. The Cold War balance of nuclear terror is now required in East Asia.
     The United States guarantees citizens’ right to arm themselves with guns under its constitution and has no reason to prevent an ally from arming itself with nuclear weapons for self-defense. Japan should also support such South Korean efforts. By doing so, we may be able to take the initiative away from China and North Korea in the East Asian nuclear game.

Hong Hyung is a guest researcher at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a former South Korean minister in Japan.