Photo: Whitecat SG/flickr.
SEOUL – North Korea’s system is failing. The country is facing severe energy constraints, and its economy has been stagnating since 1990, with annual per capita income, estimated at $1,800, amounting to slightly more than 5% of South Korea’s. Meanwhile, a food shortage has left 24 million North Koreans suffering from starvation, and more than 25 of every 1,000 infants die each year, compared to four in South Korea. In order to survive, the world’s most centralized and closed economy will have to open up.
A more dynamic and prosperous North Korea – together with peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula – would serve the interests not only of North Korea itself, but also of neighboring countries and the broader international community. After all, North Korea’s sudden collapse or a military conflict on the peninsula would undermine regional security, while burdening neighboring countries with millions of refugees and hundreds of billions of dollars in reconstruction costs. » More
Kaesong, North Korea. Photo: http://www.asianews.it/
Just when nobody thought it could get worse, it did. Diplomatic relations with North Korea reached a proverbial low point early this year when Pyongyang followed a long-range rocket test with an underground nuclear explosion. Despite a perceived decline since then in North Korea’s belligerent rhetoric, and despite the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, political tensions between the two Koreas, and between North Korea and the United States, still remain high. Pyongyang, for example, has recently cancelled scheduled North-South family reunions and there are troubling signs that it may be resuming its plutonium program.
While the prospects for political engagement with the Kim Jong-un regime may indeed remain bleak, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other opportunities for increased dialogue. One of these is science diplomacy, which enables states to use academic collaborations and scholarly exchanges in politically helpful ways. The virtue of this type of diplomacy, which can focus on solving common environmental, health, energy, and security problems, is the ‘neutral’ political space it provides friends and foes alike. Instead of continuing to trap themselves in mutual competition, they can indeed use science to create shared interests and a common destiny. » More
East Asia. Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/flickr.
Editor’s note: Our partners at the Pacific Forum have just released the latest edition of Comparative Connections. This triannual publication provides expert commentary on the current status of a selection of bilateral relationships across the Asia-Pacific region. Alongside a chronology of key events, a regional overview places recent developments into a broader and multilateral context. We publish a summary of the September 2013 issue below. The full issue is available for download here.
Regional Overview: Rebalance Continues Despite Distractions by Ralph A. Cossa and Brad Glosserman
It was a rough four months for the US as Washington struggled to convince Asian audiences that the “rebalance” is sustainable given renewed attention to the Middle East, even before the Syrian crises. US engagement in Asia was multidimensional with participation at several ministerial-level meetings, a visit by Vice President Biden, continued pursuit of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and a show of military capability in Korea. But, it isn’t clear North Korea got the message. Kim Jong Un seems to have adopted his father’s play book: first create a crisis, make lots of threats, and follow up with a “smile diplomacy” campaign. So far, Washington has stuck to its game plan, insisting on a sign of genuine sincerity before opening a dialogue with Pyongyang. Finally, the US image in the region was damaged by revelations about classified NSA intelligence collection efforts. » More
Soldiers honouring Kim Il-Sung at Mansudae Grand Monument. Photo: gadgetdan/flickr.
In its latest attempt to raise war fever on the peninsula, North Korea has asked foreign embassy personnel to consider evacuating. But the North’s overheated rhetoric is obscuring a real threat posed by its nuclear and missile potential. Its nuclear test on February 12 showed it is on the way to perfecting a compact weapon capable of being mounted on a missile. It now says it will restart its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon to generate plutonium, and will continue enriching uranium for weapons. And it may be moving to test-launch a new missile capable of reaching Japan or possibly Guam.
The nuclear test set off renewed talk in Seoul and Tokyo about nuclear arming of their own, prompting Washington to try to reassure its allies through deterrence. Yet, doing so has done little to make Korea or the region more secure. » More