Jay Tharappel, a researcher at Sydney University joins the program.
The first country that we discuss in the program is South Korea. Jay comments: "The South Koreans also have the desire for unification. By all accounts the leaders of the two countries get along well. The moment that the South Koreans tell the US that its services are no longer required, that's when the US begins losing its legitimacy… Today we see photos coming out of North Korea showing public owned leisure and sporting facilities, almost futuristic buildings, and all of these things have influenced the public mood in South Korea. The way they increasingly see it is that the next prerequisite for reunifying with their fellow Koreans to the North, is that the US has to remove itself from the Korean Peninsula. The US is the only foreign power on Korean soil, and the Koreans will never forget the horrors that were inflicted upon them, especially the North Koreans [during the Korean War]… The South Koreans may be beginning to look at US presence as a hindrance to unification. That's the change that has occurred over the past month or so…"
As regards what kind of a country Kim Jong-un sees his country becoming, Jay comments: "The option available to the Chinese that is of attracting foreign investments isn't really available to the North Koreans….North Korea is a country with only 23 million people, and so it doesn't have those same opportunities. As for foreign investment and the model of the system, I think North Korea has made huge sacrifices in terms of focusing on self-sufficiency. Because they see themselves as being at war; they are a war economy. They offer their citizens a frugal standard of living, it's frugal but it's also dignified at the same time, because they have the health care, free education and compared to a third world country, North Korea is actually doing fairly well, especially given the low level of income that they have. But this shouldn't fool people, In the background there are capital projects to create everything they need, including militarily, to attain the strategic knowledge they need to build a deterrence against the US, and this actually makes it easier for countries to have faith in North Korea as an investment destination. If in the future, North Korea were to open up, this will only be possible because they have laid the groundwork through this kind of capital intensive industrialization to begin with…"
China shares a 1420 kilometer long border with North Korea. To the question of how will China react if North Korea turns towards America, Jay says: "Strategically, North Korea and China have the same objectives, but the means by which they achieve those goals are often opposed to each other. It would come as a huge shock if North Korea was ever to prostrate itself before the US. But this is highly unlikely. It is the North Koreans who are the ones who think that China wants them to bow down before the US. The Chinese say: ‘look you fall under our nuclear umbrella', and the North Koreans say: ‘well we don't want to just be protected, we want reunification with the South and the only way we can do that is by having these nuclear weapons'. These two countries have different strategic objectives of how to handle the US. North Korea justifies its weapons because it didn't want to be invaded like Iraq, but the objectives are fundamentally the same. I would argue that we are even seeing a convergence of Chinese and North Korean thinking on this question, mainly because North Korea has been successful in terms of demonstrating its credibility as a nuclear power.
Japan is a completely different story. "Widespread horror, shock, with Japan's defense minister expressing concern over the issue. They think that North Korea will be nuclearized before any war games are ended… They feel the United States is going too soft on North Korea, and essentially letting their former colonies fall out of their hands. This is what people forget — Korea and large parts of China were Japanese colonies. We have to ask ourselves — who were Japan's enemies during the Second World War?— Korea, China and Russia. Who became America's enemies after the Second World War?— North Korea, Russia and China. Japan lost the war militarily but they benefitted from the Korean War and the Vietnam War because the US invested in their [the Japanese] economy. The US inherited Japanese foreign policy after World War II which is why Japan is a very important part of this narrative…" Jay says that the advent of dialogue between the two Koreas is basically giving South Korea a way out of having to develop close relations with Japan, a country which inflicted great pain on both Koreas in the past.
"Taiwan was accused of breaking the economic sanctions against North Korea in January, and that led to the Taiwanese government having to reaffirm the sanctions a month later. So I think what the entirety of South East Asia has in common is that the US has constantly leaned on them to comply with the economic sanctions against North Korea. But the general trend is towards violating these sanctions and doing business with North Korea. The other side of this is that North Korea is allowing more of its citizens to visit South East Asia. Singapore, for example, which is firmly in the pro-western camp, has developed excellent relations with North Korea. Vietnam has been praised by the US for sticking to the sanctions, but they are balancing off US pressure with the desire to do business with the North Koreans… The foreign policies of most South East Asian countries as regards North Korea is based on pragmatic trade relations. Thailand and Cambodia have recently been asked to downgrade their relationships with North Korea…
"Australia, although, just does what the US says. It really doesn't deserve to be treated as a country with an independent foreign policy because it does essentially follow American orders in that regard. It's a junior partner. Australia doesn't even engage with what North Korea's demands are. They basically say that North Korea has to get rid of its nuclear weapons and that it is a stress to regional stability."
Various other themes are discussed including the conspiracy theory that North Korea could be used in a policy to contain China. Jay comments: "I really don't see that happening because the containment of China was the logic in establishing South Korea in the first place. You have that containment policy being threatened by South Korea's growing trade with China. In 1995, South Korea's two largest export markets were the US at 20%, and Japan at 14%. They did more trade with Hong Kong then than with mainland China. Today their largest export partner is China at 24%, and that percentage is growing whilst the US share has shrunk."
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