International Politics, East Asia, and the Korean Peninsula

Event Start Date:
November 6, 2023
Event End Date:
November 6, 2023
Event Venue:

Organised by: Centre for Public Policy Research                                                                       Supported by: Korea Centre at School of International Relations and Politics, MG University


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Talk on ‘International Politics, East Asia, and the Korean Peninsula: Problems and Prospects’ by Dr Haksoon Paik


Summary of the Event

The talk on ‘International Politics, East Asia, and the Korean Peninsula: Problems and Prospects’ by Dr Haksoon Paik was organised by the Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) in association with the Korea Centre at the School of International Relations and Politics, Mahatma Gandhi University. In his enlightening lecture, Dr Paik  discussed the dynamics of international politics in East Asia, specifically focusing on the Korean Peninsula. From U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis North Korea to the ever-present nuclearization threats, the discussion highlighted the intricate challenges and prospects that define this part of the world. Key questions about the U.S.-North Korea negotiations were raised during the discussion, which also shed light on the power struggle between revisionist forces and the status quo. A balanced approach to addressing the demands of both sides was called for. It also explored inter-Korean relations, highlighting the significance of adopting unification policies and discussing South Korea’s hopes for peaceful coexistence and reunification. The talk also pondered the likelihood of a united Korea in the future, drawing parallels to the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Although global factors—specifically, the dispute between China, the United States, and North Korea—continue to fuel the division of the two Koreas, there is still hope for peace and reunification. 


Key Takeaways 

  • The lecture covered aspects like major forces that shape East Asian international politics and the Korean Peninsula problems – from US  foreign policy towards North Korea to nuclearization threats.  
  • The US-led liberal international order is crumbling. The organising principle of international order is shifting. There is a lack of a cooperative global governance system as permanent members (P5) of the UN Security Council are at war with each other.
  • Aspects like disruptive geopolitics, disruptive technologies and climate change are afflicting the international order crisis. 
  • The West’s continued categorisation of the world as global west, global east and global south poses challenges as it reflects the categorisation for strategic political gains instead of peaceful world
  • Geostrategic fault lines at risk of military conflict are South China Sea, Korean Peninsula, Persian Gulf and India-China wars, along with the wars already waged in Ukraine and Israel-Palestine.  
  • The US/South Korea-North Korea armistice, the longest in history and North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats dominate East Asian geopolitics
  • US-North Korea Relations: US policy in the region is essentially big power diplomacy. US policy towards the Korean Peninsula is defined and executed largely in the context of US policy towards China. Trilateral cooperation between the US, Japan, and South Korea is a key component of US policy towards China, Russia, and North Korea. The US has a deep distrust of the North Korean leadership and system, and peaceful coexistence with North Korea: a distant policy goal.
  • This has implications for South Korea, as there is an increased likelihood of the US withholding consent to South Korea’s independent policy towards North Korea and, under changing US administrations, a decreased likelihood of resuming dialogue and negotiation with North Korea.
  • North Korea’s “strategy of survival and development for the 21st century”  aims to bring/engage the US into North Korea’s strategic design/calculus as a counterweight to China in the absence of the Soviet Union. North Korea’s “balancing strategy” towards China and the US is to secure (1) diplomatic autonomy and (2) a room for negotiating and achieving the resolution of the Korean Peninsula problems with the US.
  • Give and Take Offer of North Korea:  To take: end the Korean War, sign a peace treaty, normalise relations, and receive economic cooperation, To give: cease developing nuclear weapons and “informally” tolerate the continued stationing of US forces in the South.
  • Kim Jong Un’s negotiation with Donald Trump in 2018-2019: North Korea’s sixth round of attempt/effort to implement the “strategy of survival and development for the 21st century”
  • Negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea are asymmetric, with distinct targets and negotiating psychology. Trust remains a major issue, with both sides seeking reciprocal actions to avoid being trapped.
  • The summits in Singapore (2018) and Hanoi (2019) led to increased distrust between North Korea and the U.S.
  • Both Koreas are vying to become the sole legitimate Korean nation-state on the Korean Peninsula. there is a significant asymmetry in military security (WMD) and economic capabilities between the two Koreas.
  • South Korea’s policy towards North Korea:  1. Reconciliation and peaceful coexistence with North Korea 2. Peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula 3. Unification as a “process,” not an event 4. De facto unification through full-range exchanges and cooperation
  • South Korea has not yet regained wartime operational control of its own military forces from the US and that poses a challenge for Seoul 
  • The danger of South Korea’s marginalisation in direct US-North Korea is another challenge faced by Seoul, and inter-Korean relations have also stalled since the failure of the Hanoi negotiations.
  • The US and North Korea must tackle and resolve their incongruence in vision and goals more realistically by taking a more balanced approach to the demands on both sides.
  • The talk raised the possibility of the Korean divide collapsing, leading to a united Korea in the future.
  • Denuclearization prospects and the shifting role of the U.S. were addressed, emphasising the need for engagement to alleviate threats and promote positive changes.
About the speaker

Dr Haksoon Paik is the Founding President of the Academy of Kim Dae-jung Studies established by the Kim Dae-jung Foundation. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the three Kim Dae-jung-related institutions: the Kim Dae-jung Foundation, the Kim Dae-jung Peace Center, and the Kim Dae-jung Nobel Peace Prize Memorial. He is also Executive Director of the “Kim Dae-jung Peace Forum.” (Kim Dae-jung was the 15th President of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 2000). Most recently, Dr Paik was President of the Sejong Institute, a leading independent think tank in South Korea. He was formerly an advisor in various capacities to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Security Council, and National Assembly.

Dr Paik has written extensively on North Korean politics, inter-Korean relations, North Korea-U.S. relations, North Korean nuclear and missile issues, and East Asian international relations. He is author of 14 books and monographs and co-author, editor, and co-editor of 8 books written in Korean and English, including: The Korean Peninsula Peace Strategy (Co-Author, 2022), Park Geun-hye Administration’s Policy on North Korea and Unification: Comparison with Previous Administrations (2018), North Korean Politics in the Kim Jong Un Era, 2012-2014: Ideas, Identities, and Structures (2015), The U.S.-North Korea Relations During President Obama’s Second Term, 2013-2014: Threat of the Use of Nuclear Weapons and the Collapse of Relationship (2014), and The History of Power in North Korea: Ideas, Identities, and Structures (2010).

Dr Paik earned his PhD in Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania and was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University.