What would be South Korea’s diplomatic position in 2030, and will Pyongyang’s belligerence towards Seoul get any worse?
During the “Republic of Korea in 2030: Strategic Challenges and Tasks,” an event hosted by the Institute for Better Democracy (IBD) on Monday, a group of renowned scholars analyzed how South Korea and its surroundings will turn out in next 15 years.
With over hundreds of people participating, multiple former and current South Korean lawmakers – including the speaker of the assembly – participated in the event.
“Now is the right time to sought for the mid-long term diplomatic strategies for the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula,” Chung Sye-kyun, said during the congratulatory address.
THE ROK IN 2030: A COUNTRY STUCK BETWEEN TWO GIANTS
The first speaker underlined the national importance of realizing the limitations of South Korea’s power – despite what many South Koreans would like to believe – and seek to adopt strategies that fit within a realistic framework.
“Until now, we have set and launched our foreign policies ‘as if’ we were a powerful nation,” Dr. Kim Heung-kyu from Ajou University said.
“But often such strategies lead to failure, forcing Seoul to practice its diplomacy like a small and weak nation.”
Kim emphasized that it was always the South Koreans who had to pay the price of failed diplomacy.
“We may claim ourselves as an intermediate nation, but as the surrounding nations overwhelm our capacity, we have to be strategic in making our future moves.”
Quoting an old Korean Saying “In a whales’ fight, shrimps are the ones that suffer,” Kim said South Korea’s future diplomatic goal was to survive competing interests between the U.S. and China.
“I don’t think South Korea is still as weak as a shrimp, it at least has reached the size of a dolphin. But it doesn’t change the fact that we will still suffer a fatal injury if we get stuck in a fight between two whales.”
In Kim’s view, the current state of China and America’s regional competition would last into the year 2030 and South Korea will have to survive waves of new challenges that the competition between two hegemonies in the region.
“During the time like this, our goals ought to be set in expanding our national capability while portraying ourselves as the peace-loving and a model neighboring nation to our surroundings.”
THE DPRK IN 2030: EVOLVING NUCLEAR POWER
North Korea’s ongoing actions and their impacts on South Korea’s emerging strategies up until 2030 and beyond were also a topic of discussion, with predictions of lasting issues.
“Do not regard the DPRK as a passive, responsive and a self-protective agent,” Dr. Park Hyeong-jung, Senior Fellow from Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) said.
“Failing to see that the North is an active and an offensive agent will lead to the failure of a correct analysis and judgment of the situation.”
Park said that the collapse of Kim Jong Un’s regime will most likely not happen, as Kim has succeeded in reinforcing and upgrading his style of a Suryeong (leader) dictatorship system in North Korea.
“Many would only focus on how the economy and the society of the North are changing, but we have to know that the government itself has evolved according to those changes as well,” said Park, criticizing those who are wishing for the fall of the North Korean government.
“Many regard the modernization process of the government as the reformation process. But this is wrong; the government is modernizing itself to adapt to the world.”
Believing the denuclearization of the North as the least likely possibility, Park said Pyongyang would have already decided on when to detonate their next nuclear bomb.
“The North has conducted nuclear tests around every three years. The chances of next text are very high as Pyongyang has never suffered a significant political or economic loss as the result of it.”
Unfortunately, tensions on the Korean Peninsula is only set to rise in the future, Park said.
“The development of North Korean nuclear weapons and missiles would lead to the deployment of even tougher South Korean counter-measures, possibly even more than the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system,” Park said.
“The more the North develops its nuclear weapons; the country will have confidence that its enemies would not easily start a war against Pyongyang. This would lead to the increased occasions of low-intensity provocations against the South, as their nuclear weapons would be working as the ‘all-mighty shield’ against the South and the U.S.”
INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS IN 2030: VERY LITTLE HOPE
“Current inter-Korean relations are already bad and the bigger problem is that…it most likely won’t get any better in the future either,” Dr. Cha Du-Hyeogn, a visiting scholar from KINU said.
“It is true that the North had ‘much fun’ using its nuclear weapons as the diplomatic leverage,” Cha continued, “But that does not mean the North can maintain status-quo with its current nuclear policies.”
Using the historical examples of India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear development, Cha said the development of nuclear weapons for self-defensive means can lead to an even bigger expense on its conventional armaments.
“If Pyongyang maintains its current policies, there are chances of regime collapse within ten years. The further development of nuclear weapons can be the poisoned chalice for the North.”
Cha explained that unless the nuclear state is seriously considering to conduct a preemptive strike, bound by the limited circumstances for using the nuclear weapons, the country will have to spend more money on improving the non-nuclear measures to contain their enemies.
“Remember that the nuclear states in the world have powerful conventional military forces, not the weak ones. If this is what the North is planning for, the country will inevitably fall.”
Despite the North’s seemingly little interest in having serious talks with the South, Cha strongly expressed his belief that “the worst form of conversation is still better than the noblest silence.”
“There is almost no chance the country would fall in the near future like East Germany did. But there are many South Korean policymakers, including the president, who are seemingly wishing for the North’s fall,” he said.
“If we don’t drop this practice, from Pyongyang’s perspective, every attempt that we make for a conversation will be seen as the ‘trickery’ to lead the North to its fall,” he added.
However, even if the South changes its approach to the North, the chances of serious talks between two Koreas would remain low Cha said.
“Every authoritarian government need their own ‘enemy at the gate,’ to maintain a level of tension for its system. This is the dilemma that will remain unchanged even if the surrounding nations decide to withdraw pressuring the North.”
Featured Image: Rodong Sinmun
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