Korea’s national security can be divided in two areas: its policy toward North Korea and its policy toward the rest of the world. Last week’s interview with KINU’s president (Korea Institute of National Unification), focused on Korea’s policy toward North Korea. This week’s discussion is about Koreas overall national safety. Kim Ki-jung, president of the Institute for National Security Strategy(INSS), shared his views about the Moon Jae In administration’s national security strategy over five years and the diplomatic security which will greet the next administration.
Before joining the INSS President Kim was a professor at Yonsei University in the department of politics and diplomacy. He also served as the second deputy to the Office of National Security during the Moon administration. He is also known as the “designer” of the Peace Process in the Korean Peninsula, which is the heart of the Moon administrations North Korea’s diplomatic policies and the Moon administrations. He is also a poet, and has published many pieces.
Hwang Jae-ho: I would like to start by asking you how you assess Moon Jae-in administrations over the past five years, from the aspect diplomatic security policies and the results.
President Kim Ki-jung: It is a terrible thing that the two Koreas have lost the momentum to move forward after the 2019 Hanoi No-deal. However, I agree that the Moon Jaein administration’s greatest achievement was building the foundation for peace and inter-Korean relations. Long-term, I believe the Moon administrations over five years played a significant role in leading Korea towards the ideal nation we had envisioned. This is a Korea that has demonstrated its economic competence to the international community. Korea has become a strategically important nation for both China, and the US due to the US-China rivalry. Korea was invited twice to the G-7 summit by the Moon Jae In administration. The coronavirus pandemic was also managed well and successfully during the Moon Jae In administration. Korea could increase its international reputation by demonstrating its national capability to the world.
Hwang:How do you see the diplomatic security situation that the next administration will encounter?
Kim:Korea’s diplomacy faces the same core challenges we faced in the past, no matter what administration is elected. If we focus on the Northeast Asia region, it becomes clear that the diplomatic security situation Korea will face will have more unstable and vulnerable elements than the stable. Northeast Asia is the region where the most vulnerable variables have been sustainably reproduced repeatedly. These issues, such as North Korea’s territorial disputes or ethnic conflicts, are increasing and maintaining vulnerability. These regional problems in Northeast Asia have been growing and causing conflict since World War II. The arms race between the Northeast Asian countries has been increasing in recent times. This arms race is increasing year by year. The Korean Peninsula problem is a final example of the conflict between arms and peace. There has been no solution to the problem and there are still many unanswered questions.
Hwang:Given that the US has two pillars to its foreign policy, the Atlantic and the Pacific, there may be some signs of change in the Pacific side. China has been partially dragged to the center of the globe by the US in the era of reorganization after the world wars. China seems to be taking over the center of this world in its own way. Japan seems to be in competition with China within the Northeast Asia Region to make its last jump after its Two Lost Decades.
Kim:Korea believes that the root cause of all these problems stems from the period after World War II. The postwar period in Japan and the management of the Korean War can both be examples of how Japan has adjusted. These post-war errors are partly responsible for the current problems facing the Korean Peninsula. We can conclude that the Northeast Asia region was more a history based on distrust and segmentation than a history based on cooperation and harmony. History is the root of what we are carrying around with us.
Hwang:It is easy to see how the current political climate in Northeast Asia was created by the decline of the US and Japan. It could be argued that one side is losing power and it is time for a reorganization of power distribution. These historical flows being taken into account, what qualifications and capabilities should the leader of next administration have?
Kim:Korea had a unique leader in the past who was responsible for national operations. The country was expecting him/her to play a key role on the international or regional stage. People expect a lot from their leader. We seek a leader with great insight into the future direction of Korea. This leader should also be able to lead the country and present the historical and future direction of Northeast Asia’s regional diplomacy. The most important and essential qualification for the next administration’s leader is insight and the ability to read the era.
Hwang:What would be the spirit for today’s international society?
Kim:Human beings have pursued the principles of freedom, equality and justice throughout the history of civilization for thousands of years. This frame of values would be a good guideline for what the future and present spirit of the times will require. Personally, I think it is important to emphasize the importance of justice and fairness on both the domestic and international levels. If we want Korea’s leader to be the leader in Northeast Asia, then settling down on the peace issue might be the most important thing. The core of Northeast Asia’s regional order and the political situation around the Korean Peninsula meet. The best flow, in this sense, would be one where the stable and peaceful existence, that we pursue, turns into the peaceful, orderly Northeast Asia.
Hwang:The main focus on diplomacy changes with every new administration. What would be the next administration’s diplomatic focus?
Kim:Korea’s peninsula is divided in half. However, Korea is geopolitically located in the middle of Northeast Asia and is surrounded with strong states, regardless of our wills. Korea is relatively far from the rest of the world, and has faced many challenges when viewed from the map. It has overcome all obstacles and is now at the top of its game. Korea is heading towards the center of this world, as we’ve hoped for so many years. This environment will dictate how far we can go with diplomatic strategy. It will be up to political decisions.
Hwang:We are eagerly awaiting the upcoming presidential elections. What strong points would Korea’s diplomacy have if either a conservative or progressive candidate wins?
Kim:The conservative administration is strong in the US-ROK alliance’s perspective. It would be able use the US in practical ways. Progressives have relative advantages when it comes to the peaceful resolution of the North Korea problem and strategic decisions. I believe that strategic flexibility is the most important factor that both conservatives and progressives must consider. Korea should stop being obsessed about choosing one when it concerns US-China relations.
Hwang:There are many voices that see the current US/China relationship as the New Cold War.
Kim:The relationship between the US and China is very dependent, unlike the US-Soviet Cold War. In addition, in the US-Soviet Cold War there was a conflict of ideologies and politics that was later expanded to include global military conflicts. Today, the US and China share huge economic benefits through mutual dependency. The conflict between the US, China lies in who gets the bigger piece of the pie. Their relations are essentially a power game or political competition for a bigger slice of the pie.
Hwang:The core of US-China relations could be new technology. What would Korea’s countermeasure to this flow of technology?
Kim:The technology hegemony is an essential part of US-China rivalry. Technology and science will play an increasing role in a wider area, eventually having a greater impact on international politics. Korea will need a national strategy that goes beyond the enterprise interests to be able to adapt to the future science-technology competition. Also, it is necessary to provide support or assistance in the building of the cooperative structure between the country and enterprises in the national strategic aspect.
Hwang:The Moon administration’s end-of war declaration is the final but most important diplomatic goal. I wonder what kind of discussions took place between the US and Korea, and what differing opinions they had.
Kim:My knowledge shows that the US Department of State, and the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have reached some good agreements at the working levels. Korea has repeatedly emphasized the fact that Korea is the country most actively involved in the resolution of the Korean Peninsula dispute in a peaceful manner, and that Korea is capable of raising the issue sustainably. The truth is, however, that the Korean Peninsula is of very low priority to the US because the US is having difficulties with domestic politics.
Hwang:Recent efforts by the US to encourage the diplomatic boycott and sanctions against North Korea of the Beijing Olympics have been unsuccessful. All these circumstances combined make it seem that the possibility of a declaration of the end to the war is fading away.
Kim:The PyeongChang Olympics was the source of the expectation that Beijing Olympics would be the turning moment. The Beijing Olympics could have also hoped for a similar result, given that the PyeongChang Olympics could fulfill its strategic and periodic value. The truth is that although PyeongChang Olympics was a success, Tokyo Olympics suffered from a coronavirus crisis. Beijing Olympics is the most serious concern. The conditions are so poor that the possibility of accelerating the declaration of an end to the war is very slim with the momentum from Beijing Olympics. I don’t consider this a failure in Korea’s diplomacy. There is no need for me to be disappointed. In fact, declaring the end of war is a symbolic and political act. Panmunjeom is the best place to declare this. The most important thing to remember is the significance of the declaration in relation to the periodical turning points. It is unlikely that this symbol will be used as a diplomatic measure.
Hwang:How should the next administration establish relations between Korea and China?
Kim:I agree that Korea is tied to China because of their industrial and investment sectors. Both countries must have mutually friendly relations in the long-term. Korea sees the need to maintain strategic relations with China, while also requiring the De-Sinicization. We must maintain the relations with China using a flexible approach and use the pivoting strategy to strengthen our partnership with China, despite the US emphasis on the alliance. Korea can only improve its position in the US-China relations by expanding its diplomatic decision-making space.
Hwang:Please share your thoughts about Korea’s relations to Japan with the next administration.
Kim:The Moon administration has a two-track strategy in place for its diplomacy towards Japan. It was essentially to separate the historical question from further cooperation. Although the Moon administration’s two track strategy didn’t result in a significant outcome, I think we need to keep this two track approach. It is possible to have multiple tracks that cover multiple aspects at different levels. Two countries were entangled in knots of anticommunism since the Year 1965 System. Today might be the right time to devise a new strategy. We must continue to bring up the suggestions, discourses, and actions that will help us break free from the post-Year 65 System and make a fresh move.
Hwang:What would be the most effective reforms to increase the competitiveness of Korean diplomacy, such as organizational restructuring or reform of human resources?
Kim:Other than the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Korea has many other diplomatic departments. The Ministry of Economy and Finance, Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, are all involved in diplomatic roles. The role of the Blue House is just as important as the government departments. Given the close relationship between the Blue House, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs it is important that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs receives the messages from Blue House clearly so that the ministry can put into practice the diplomatic strategies developed and practiced by the Blue House. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should also increase its dialogues with external think tanks and take a deeper look at the strategies.
Hwang:Are you a supporter of the creation of an additional government organization such as the Japan Ministry for Economic Security, or are there any suggestions for reforming this overall structure?
Kim:Korea needs a new department to handle economic security. Japan created the Ministry of Economic Security to not only create great economic benefits but also to address the crisis in the international supply chain. The security terms can be used to interpret the economic flows. I envision an organizational restructuring which could connect science technology with international political, and eventually can contribute diplomatic strategies.
Foreign policies of the past administrations had different diplomatic strengths and emphasises. The highlights of the foreign policies and diplomacies implemented by previous administrations were notable regardless of whether they were actually implemented. They were all different geographically, starting with the Korean Peninsula, moving to Northeast Asia, East Asia and Asia, and ending at the global level. There were voices on one side that supported the US-ROK Alliance under the US alliance strategy, while others that supported the reality of China and would have to reflect the realities. Despite attempts by the previous governments to expand diplomacy with new agendas and to overcome the Korean Peninsula, the discourse was unable to overcome the threat posed by North Korea. Although Korea wants to be a new voice between the US, China and Japan, the US-China alliance and China’s support for the North Korean issue was always what Korea was tied up. Korea was ultimately trapped between the US, China.
The coronavirus pandemic caused a significant change in Korea’s diplomatic security and status. Korea could be proud to be an advanced country in international society. Korea is no longer able to focus on unrequited or passive diplomacy towards North Korea. The people now see themselves as citizens of advanced countries. They want to be global citizens. All of these changes will bring attention to the foreign policies of the new administration, and their influence would never be limited. The new administration will be under great pressure to fulfill both the insiders and the external expectations. This era demands a new and dynamic diplomatic leadership that transcends ideology, party or interest conflict. The March 9 presidential election is right around the corner. The time is now to present the new diplomacy.
Hwang Jaeho, a professor of international studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, is also a member of the Presidential Committee on Policy and Planning. He is also the director at the Institute for Global Strategy and Cooperation and a member of President Obama’s Policy and Planning Committee. Shin Euichan and Ko Sung-hwah helped with this discussion.
By Choi He-suk (email@example.com)