Volume 4, Issue 4

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October - December 2002 · Published: Jan 2003

Is George W. Bush becoming “Mr. Multilateralism”?  Not exactly!  But, even as his administration was releasing another “unilateralist” report on combating weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and Australian Prime Minister John Howard was keeping the word “preemption” on everyone’s lips, President Bush continued to work through the UN Security Council to disarm and change the nature (if not the composition) of the government of Iraq while less formally working to build an international consensus to pressure North Korea to come into compliance with its international, and bilateral, nuclear disarmament commitments.  Meanwhile, regional multilateral organizations, both with (APEC) and without (ASEAN Plus Three) the U.S., took interesting twists and turns this quarter, blending economics and politics in some unprecedented ways.  As the new year began, the economic forecast for East Asia seemed generally (albeit cautiously) positive, as long as promised or planned restructuring and reform agendas are followed and the region, not to mention the U.S. economy, can weather a potential Iraqi storm.

US - Japan

October — December 2002


The alliance optimists should be permitted to gloat. This quarter vindicated their faith in the government of Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro. Tokyo continued its support for the U.S.-led war against terrorism and even upped the ante by agreeing to send an Aegis-equipped destroyer to the Indian Ocean after a year of sometimes heated debate on the feasibility and legality of such a move. When news of North Korea’s clandestine nuclear weapons development program broke, concern about a possible split between Washington and Tokyo on dealing with Pyongyang proved unfounded. The U.S. and Japan have worked closely to fashion a solution to the crisis. There has been little daylight between the two governments’ positions.


Recent comments about Japanese participation in the missile defense (MD) program also comfort the alliance hawks, but the reaction they prompted reveals that over-reaching is a danger in Japan. Despite the progress of the last quarter, consensus on security issues is still elusive. A similar caution is necessary on the economic front. Japan’s economy has slid again into recession and that will constrain Tokyo’s efforts to share additional international economic burdens.

This quarter opened with summitry as Presidents George W. Bush and Jiang Zemin held their third meeting at Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.  Their discussion and subsequent U.S.-Chinese consultations covered a broad range of issues, but security matters received special attention as North Korea acknowledged a previously unknown uranium-enrichment program and the Bush administration stepped up its efforts to disarm Iraq. Beijing issued new export control regulations for all major categories of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), bringing China into closer adherence with international nonproliferation export control standards.  Bilateral human rights talks took place for the first time in over a year and produced an agreement by China to invite UN investigators into the country to examine allegations that it jails people without due process, restricts freedom of religion, and allows torture in its prisons. High-level military contacts also resumed with the convening of the fifth Defense Consultative Talks and a visit to China by Commander, U.S. Pacific Command Adm. Thomas Fargo.

This quarter will likely go on record as one of the most contentious and troubling in U.S.-Korea (North and South) relations – at least until next quarter, which promises to be even more challenging. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly’s long-awaited visit to Pyongyang began a steady decline in U.S.-DPRK relations after Pyongyang reportedly responded to Kelly’s allegations of North Korean cheating on its nuclear promises by defiantly acknowledging that it had been “compelled” by Washington to begin a uranium enrichment program to defend itself after being branded a member of the “axis of evil” by President Bush. To make matters worse, Pyongyang threatened to restart its frozen nuclear reactor and began removing monitoring devices and seals from its reprocessing and other nuclear facilities in a blatant attempt to force the Bush administration to the negotiating table.

Meanwhile, growing anti-Americanism in the South, spurred by a tragic military training accident last June that took the lives of two South Korean teenage girls, continued to steam roll as the U.S. military (rightfully) refused to turn the two soldiers involved over to South Korean courts, trying and acquitting both before a military tribunal on charges of negligent homicide.  Ruling party presidential candidate Roh Moo-hyun successfully rode the ensuing anti-American bandwagon to a close victory over opposition party candidate Lee Hoi-Chang, who was widely perceived (and labeled) as Washington’s preferred choice.  By quarter’s end, outgoing President Kim Dae-jung and President-elect Roh were echoing Washington’s call for immediate North Korea compliance with its nuclear obligations, but both were becoming increasingly critical of Washington’s steadfast refusal to enter into negotiations with the North, ensuring a difficult diplomatic road ahead.

After a difficult summer, Moscow and Washington returned to focus on certain large-picture issues that have served to bring the two nations together over the past 18 months.  The two issues giving positive momentum to the relationship are the war on terrorism and, increasingly, energy cooperation. Irritants in the relationship remain, and these include the war in Chechnya and Russia’s relations with Iran and Iraq.  Even these two issues, however, have become less divisive. The hostage crisis in Moscow in late October caused many in the West to look with slightly more sympathy on Russia’s dilemma with Chechnya.  In the Middle East, Russia has moved closer to U.S. positions, and now backs a U.S.-authored UN resolution threatening the use of force in the event of Iraqi noncompliance.

Other issues of contention that have been major irritants in the past have receded even further into the background, including NATO expansion and arms control.  In November, the latest round of NATO expansion included the three former Soviet Baltic republics. And in December, the United States announced that it would begin construction on the first phase of a national missile defense system, with the abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty having become final.  The November summit meeting between Presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg on the heels of the NATO Prague summit highlighted the goodwill pervading the relationship.  In East Asia, Russia continues to back the United States in insisting on the cessation of the North Korean nuclear program.  China continues to worry many in Russia, and this concern continues to be reflected in the popular press.  With an eye to China and the uncertainty in Korea, Russia supports the U.S. in East Asia and continues to flirt with Japan, although no substantive progress could actually be discerned in relations between Moscow and Tokyo.

What a difference a day can make – in this case, Oct. 12, 2002.  The terrorist bomb that exploded in a tourist-filled nightclub in Bali, killing nearly 200 people, triggered a significant change both in the political equation in Indonesia and in the overall tenor of U.S. relations with Southeast Asian states.

Bali served to crystallize and energize an emerging regional consensus on the need to counter international terrorism, and on the desirability of closer cooperation both with the United States and among the states of the region to meet this challenge.  However, the Bali bombing did not completely transform the landscape.  Numerous contentious issues – domestic, bilateral, and multilateral – remained, and the U.S. attack on Iraq widely expected for early 2003 contained the potential for serious strains and even anti-American violence.

China capped a year of significant gains in relations with its Southeast Asian neighbors with a series of summit-level agreements with ASEAN in November, dealing with trade, investment, infrastructure, and security issues. Responding to increasing ASEAN concerns that China’s success in attracting foreign investment, at their expense, will keep their economies depressed, Beijing promised early trade liberalization measures, and agreed with ASEAN on a framework for negotiating the world’s largest free trade agreement (FTA).  A long road remains, however, and Southeast Asian countries are realizing that a China-ASEAN FTA will require painful structural adjustments on their part.  After several years of stalemate, China and ASEAN also agreed on a pledge of restraint in the South China Sea, although its provisions are vaguer than ASEAN wanted.  A separate summit of the six Mekong states led to agreement on accelerating transportation and energy programs in the Mekong subregion.  China committed to expand agricultural cooperation with ASEAN, to increase cooperation on “nontraditional” security issues, including narcotics and terrorism, and to sign on to ASEAN’s regional nuclear weapons free zone.

With world attention centered on Iraq, the Middle East, North Korea, and other hot spots, and much of China’s energy going into multilateral diplomacy during the quarter, bilateral relations with Southeast Asia proceeded less eventfully.  Border demarcation with Vietnam remains difficult.  Taiwan continued to seek ways to expand economic, and where possible political, relations in Southeast Asia during the quarter, but had to backtrack quickly when news broke that President Chen Shui-bian was planning a visit to Yogyakarta in Indonesia in December.

In recent months, Beijing has taken a number of steps that show greater flexibility on issues related to Taiwan.  Beijing has said that cross-Strait transportation does not have to be called “domestic”; it has agreed to a proposal from opposition members in Taipei to permit charter flights and given up its initial request that some of the charter flights be flown by PRC airlines; and, in his meeting with President George W. Bush in Crawford, President Jiang Zemin indicated that China might reduce missile deployments opposite Taiwan if U.S. arms sales were reduced. A key question is whether these and other moves are just tactical maneuvers or a significant adjustment in Beijing’s approach to cross-Strait relations. Beijing’s moves represent a challenge for the Chen Shui-bian administration in Taiwan but present opportunities that Taipei and Washington should consider seriously.

The final quarter of 2002 was one of uncertainty in inter-Korean relations. At one level, it all looked very positive. Unlike the stop-go of the past, North and South Koreans met regularly, both officially at government level and in a variety of private or quasi-civilian milieux. (The gray area between the two, as ever, remained key: in one sense, on the Northern side, no one who gets to meet Southerners is ever really non-official.) Moreover, these three months saw several promising initiatives. Pyongyang formally designated two separate areas adjoining the demilitarized zone (DMZ) – Kaesong, north of Seoul, and the established Mt. Kumgang resort on the east coast – as special economic zones for South Korean business, while a high-powered delegation, including Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law and two ministers, spent a week visiting the cream of South Korean industry. Overall, Seoul’s Unification Ministry called 2002 the best year ever for inter-Korean contacts since these began on a regular basis in 1989.

Yet there were also negatives, both intrinsic and “noises off.” Some of these encounters were brief, formalistic, or limited. Family reunions, never remotely adequate to meet demand, may have stalled for now. Although road and rail links made great strides, with de-mining of two trans-DMZ corridors completed by December, Pyongyang’s refusal to admit the authority of the United Nations Command (UNC) meant that by year’s end a land route to Mt. Kumgang had not yet opened, nor had groundbreaking for the Kaesong industrial complex taken place. To Seoul’s puzzled disappointment, the North continued to stall even on basic rules for inter-Korean business agreed in outline two years ago, suggesting a lingering lack of commitment.

Over all this, for most of the quarter, loomed a nuclear cloud which by year’s end had become a full-blown storm. While the ongoing North Korean nuclear crisis per se is beyond the scope of this article, going forward its shadow cannot be avoided. On Dec. 19 South Korean voters narrowly elected a new president, Roh Moo-hyun, who is both committed to continue Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy and not minded to meekly follow a U.S. lead. It remains to be seen if Southern aid and other contact with the North will continue unconditionally, or even expand – possibly as part of an eventual package deal to settle the nuclear issue – or whether, on the contrary, rising tensions will see such projects as KEDO’s light water reactor (LWR) construction at Kumho, whose status as of now is in limbo, suspended or abandoned.

The last quarter of 2002 closed with a rush by Korean automobile manufacturers to invest in the People’s Republic of China as a strategy for capturing market share in a country projected to emerge as the world’s largest automobile market within two decades. China’s economic emergence has become a primary driver for Korea’s own economic reforms and strategy as China is increasingly both a source of growth and a stiff competitor, eroding Korean market share in third country markets and some key manufacturing sectors.

By placing North Korea’s designated director of a newly established Sinuiju economic zone under arrest, Beijing also made clear that it could put the brakes on North Korea’s economic reforms absent prior consultation by North Korea’s leadership with Beijing.  Likewise, China’s economic leverage and potential influence on the response to North Korea’s nuclear weapons production efforts became a potentially decisive focal point in shaping the contours of a strategy on which the Bush administration and South Korea’s President-elect Roh Moo-hyun have clearly stated differences.

Although top-level consultations between China and South Korea continued this quarter through the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, ASEAN Plus Three, and bilateral exchanges, it remains to be seen how newly selected leadership in Beijing and Seoul will position itself to manage a maturing and complex China-Korea diplomatic relationship – a relationship that may play an increasingly critical role as part of a likely re-ordering of regional ties in the future.

The quarter began with celebrations commemorating the 30th anniversary of the normalization of relations.  But, during the last quarter of 2002, Japan’s relations with China played second fiddle to relations with North Korea, and, after Oct. 3, the nuclear crisis emerging on the Korean Peninsula.

Though not in Beijing to attend 30th anniversary celebrations, Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro did meet with Chinese President Jiang Zemin at the end of October and Premier Zhu Rongji at the beginning of November.  Issues of the past, exemplified by the prime minister’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, and the future, North Korea and free trade agreements, dominated the discussions. However, even as the leaders met to advance cooperation, public opinion surveys in Japan and China pointed to problems ahead in the relationship.

Nevertheless, China’s new leaders, announced formally during the November People’s Party Congress, were favorably evaluated in Japan, in part as being less consumed with the issues of history.  In what many in Japan saw as a goodwill gesture aimed at getting off to a good start with the new leadership, Tokyo moved quickly to resolve sensitive issues involving Taiwan’s former President Lee Teng-hui and the activities of a Japanese military attaché in China.


China’s concerns over Japan’s surging steel exports caused Beijing to impose formal safeguards on five kinds of steel imported from Japan. At the same time, commercial relations continued to broaden and deepen, with surveys indicating Japanese companies focusing on China as the market of the future.

Do crises bring allies together or drive them apart?  The nuclear weapons “crisis” with North Korea put this question to the test this past quarter.  Trilateral coordination among Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo operated in overdrive as the three allies reacted to the revelations of North Korean nuclear intransigence, producing mixed results.  On the bilateral fronts, Japan-DPRK relations soured this quarter about as much as they had sweetened with the Koizumi summit in Pyongyang in September, over the very same issue: abductions.  Meanwhile, the Japanese wait nervously for the incoming Roh Moo-hyun government, virtually ignorant of the South Korean president-elect’s views on Seoul-Tokyo relations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s official visit to China in early December, though preplanned, proved to be both timely and imperative as Moscow and Beijing faced mounting internal and external challenges. The sense of uncertainty, and even crisis, went well beyond China’s leadership transition and beyond unprecedented terrorist activities in Russia. Despite the notable improvement in their relations with the U.S. in 2002, at the end of the year, both were sensing increasingly stronger winds of war from distant places (Gulf and Iraq) as well as from their door-step (North Korea).

During the two years since India-East Asia relations were last considered here (see “India’s Latest Asian Incarnation,” Comparative Connections, Vol. 2, No. 3, Oct. 2000), India has achieved incremental progress in building political, economic, and even limited security ties to countries in East Asia. India, however, is still not an integral part of the region’s international relations or a critical bilateral relationship for Southeast Asia, China, or Japan. India’s relationship with East Asia thus remains the weakest link when compared to the region’s other major partners. But India’s growing engagement with East Asia in 2001-2002 both on a bilateral and multilateral basis demonstrates that India has neither bid the region, nor been bidden by it, goodbye!

Daily Digest

Associated Press – Taiwan is selling more to the US than China in major shift away from Beijing

Whether it’s tapioca balls or computer chips, Taiwan is stretching toward the United States and away from China — the world’s No. 2 economy that threatens to take the democratically ruled island by force if necessary.

Associated Press – Kim’s sister denies North Korea has supplied weapons to Russia

The influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un again denied Friday that her country has exported any weapons to Russia, as she labeled outside speculation on North Korea-Russian arms dealings as “the most absurd paradox.”

Associated Press – China and Cambodia begin 15-day military exercises as questions grow about Beijing’s influence

Cambodia and China began 15-day military exercises on Thursday as questions grow about Beijing’s increasing influence in the Southeast Asian nation.

Associated Press – North Korea test-fires suspected missiles a day after US and South Korea conduct a fighter jet drill

North Korea fired suspected short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Friday, South Korea’s military said, a day after South Korea and the U.S. flew powerful fighter jets in a joint drill that the North views as a major security threat.

Reuters – South Korea urges better cooperation on supply chain with China

South Korea’s finance minister on Thursday said Seoul and Beijing should seek better economic cooperation on the supply chain for raw materials.

Reuters – Putin and Xi deepen partnership and scold the United States

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed on Thursday to deepen their “strategic partnership” while scolding the United States for a series of moves that they said threatened their countries.