President of Kyungnam University (KU) interviewed The Korea Times in regard to “China and Korea’s Roles in North Korea’s Nuclear Issue” on December 1st, 2022. The following is adapted from the contents of the interview between the reporter Kang Seung-woo from The Korea Times and KU President Park Jae Kyu (News from The Korea Times for December 4th, 2022).
Q1. China's role is highlighted in that China has been considered the only country that can exert influence on North Korea amid North Korea's escalating nuclear and missile threats. This was revealed at the summit between Biden, President of the United States and Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party at the summit held in Indonesia, on November 11th, 2022. What point of view do you have regarding this matter?
A. A distinction must be made between whether China is in such a position to apply pressure to N. Korea and whether it can actually do something even if it is in such a position. As for China, I urge that the issue involved in the Korean Peninsula should be resolved through the dialogue between the two Koreas, and that China should support the efforts for the dialogue. Otherwise, the role of China would be limited. This is also related to the US-China competition. As the rivalry intensifies, China would sense the need to strengthen its solidarity with North Korea, which would try to strengthen its own nuclear capabilities as much as possible to fill the diplomatic vacuum.
Q2. North Korea violated UN Security Council sanctions last year, including firing more than 30 ballistic missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles. However, Korea failed to punish North Korea due to opposition from China and Russia. What do you think about that?
A. China is implicitly restraining North Korea's actions such as a seventh nuclear test, which can bring ripple effects. And we can also see that China is avoiding discussions at the level of the UN Security Council. In effect, we can assume that China is condoning North Korea's launch of numerous and various ballistic missiles aimed at South Korea, the U. S. and Japan.
Q3. According to a poll by Seoul National University's Institute for Peace and Unification, 55.5 percent supported the development of nuclear weapons in Korea, and 92.5 percent of 1,200 respondents believe North Korea will not give up its nuclear program. What’s your perspective on this result of the survey?
A. I understand feeling uneasy about the acceleration of North Korea's nuclear weapons production, but it is undesirable and impractical for people to have such perspective on Nuclear Issue. With the advent of nuclear weapons in the Cold War came the 'balance of terror' where both sides, the U. S. and the Soviet Union, became nuclear powers. So I understand the opinion that to create a balance of fear or 'terror' we would need nuclear weapons, and because we don't have them, we should arm ourselves. However, if South Korea were to arm itself with nuclear weapons, it would shake the foundation of the international nuclear nonproliferation regime, and there would be no justification for demanding North Korea's denuclearization. The U. S. will not shake the foundations of the Nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT) regime.
Q4. In October 2022, U. S. Ambassador to Seoul, Philip Goldberg told a forum that the U. S. Extended Deterrence is the measure to handle North Korea's increasing provocations, describing the calls for the reintroduction of U. S. tactical nuclear weapons as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘dangerous.’ What’s your perspective regarding this?
A. The U. S. holds the position that it can sufficiently respond to existing threats by strengthening ROK-U. S. Extended Deterrence. South Korea does not have nuclear weapons. So, Seoul must strengthen extended deterrence based on the ROK-U. S. alliance, because it is the most realistic means of countering the North Korean nuclear threat. This should not be viewed as dependence on the U. S. In response to North Korea's high-intensity provocations, the new South Korean government and the U. S. have been taking strong countermeasures, including scrambling stealth jets and firing missiles. In the end, it becomes a game of 'chicken' that cannot be solved until both parties turn their steering wheels. If both sides do not turn to make concessions and instead drive straight ahead, it will lead to the destruction of the entire nation. South Korea may be the only one who can switch to a dialogue phase between North Korea, which insists on going straight until we turn, and the United States, which has no intention of accommodating North Korea's demands until denuclearization.
Q5. Relations between South Korea and Japan had been at the lowest point for years due to historical and territorial issues, but the Yoon administration has stepped up efforts to mend ties with Tokyo, calling for a ‘future-oriented approach’ toward the neighboring country in addressing bilateral relations. What do you think should be the relationship between Korea and Japan regarding the North Korean nuclear issue?
Yoon administration is showing confidence in improving ROK-Japan relations, stating that "a very comprehensive workinglevel discussion is underway" and that the two leaders have pledged to continue communicating at the top level to resolve the issue of forced labor during World War II. There appears to be a comprehensive plan to settle related issues, such as the comfort women issue, export regulations issue, GSOMIA(General Security of Military Information Agreement), and the issue of wartime forced labor. Rather than rushing to a settlement, it is necessary to build mutual trust by expanding human and cultural exchanges and based on cooperation in the security field between South Korea and Japan.