IPCS Discussion: Recent Crisis & Domestic Politics on the Korean Peninsula

30 Apr, 2013    ·   3900

Narayani Basu reports on nuclear flashpoints and regional perspectives on the Korean peninsula

Session I

Introductory Remarks
Prof. P.R. Chari, Visiting Professor, Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies, New Delhi
This discussion comes at a crucial time in East Asian affairs. With the number of global and regional players on the Peninsula – the US, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea – further depth and dimensions are being added to the already fluid situation in the region. North Korea’s nuclear activities remain suspect, and have attracted global concern. The three nuclear tests that have taken place to date raises doubts in the minds of North Korea watchers. No doubt the tests have been provocative, but one must attempt to discern how far that provocation could be exaggerated. The question remains as to why Kim Jong-un is persisting with his course of action. In order to understand this, it is important to understand the domestic factors existent in North Korea. It is even more important to understand whether Kim is working to shore up his own standing within North Korea, and also to understand the perspectives of countries in the immediate vicinity of Pyongyang.

North Korean Domestic Situation & Recent Crisis on the Peninsula: A Personal Narrative
Dr Sandip Mishra,Visiting Fellow, Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies, New Delhi
This two week visit to North Korea provided a real and rare firsthand glimpse into the life of the common man of North Korea. Though the labels on North Korea as a country are numerous, the reality is far more nuanced. The sanctions imposed on North Korea by the international community have provided Kim Jong-un with the excuse that it is due to the actions of the ‘imperialist’ powers that the country is plunged into such economic hardship. To combat these actions, the country must needs flex its nuclear muscles. Nevertheless, despite the continuous and incessant veneration of the ‘Dear Leader’, party ideology is not what drives the people, who are far more concerned with the struggles of their daily lives. Infrastructure is weak in North Korea, methods of modern communication are limited and there is a definite and growing food deficit. This being said, the people remain firmly nationalist and committed to the continuing dynastic cycle. However, it must be admitted that the transition period of succession is far from over, and the North Korean scenario remains a fluid one.

Session II

North Korea: A South Korean Perspective
Amb. Skand Tayal, Former Ambassador to South Korea
Historical precedent and angles are important in order to understand the context of the current ideological chasm on the Korean Pensinsula. The humiliation of the Korean War and its impact on North Korea is not something that has been forgotten. This forms the context and, to a large extent, the reasons behind the North Korean antipathy towards the United States, as well as its policy of regime indoctrination and its military first-use policy. In South Korea, it is radically different, with the past having been put on the backburner with the younger generation. The pull of the North is weakening with the younger generation; unification is not a goal to be strived toward. For the older generation, however, memories of the war and the reasons behind the divide in the peninsula linger on in their view of Pyongyang. Seoul does not harbor any ill-will toward Pyongyang, but it does not wish that its security be compromised at the whim of Kim Jong-un. All the same, it continues to be restrained and cautious in its attitude towards the North. It is, in summation, safe to say that the fluidity of the Korean peninsula is engineered entirely by the volatility of North Korea.

North Korea: A Japanese Perspective 
Dr. Rajaram Panda
Dr. Rajaram Panda spoke on the Japanese perspective of North Korea. Japan has come under direct and strident attack by Pyongyang, with the recent escalation of tensions in the region. Because of Japan’s alliance with the United States, it stands to reason that the United States remains a major player in the region. On the other hand, China needs North Korea as a security buffer in order to continue playing out the dynamics of the region. The bottom line of these factors underscores the fact that unification will not be an easy goal to achieve. The fluid situation on the Korean peninsula does indeed pose dangers for the region. Japan has a particularly nationalist Prime Minister at the helm of affairs. In the context of recent events in the East China Sea in particular, one must take into account Japanese domestic affairs on Japan’s foreign policy and its role in regional dynamics, especially with regard to events in North Korea and on the Korean peninsula.