Volume 7, Issue 2

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April - June 2005 · Published: Jul 2005

The North Koreans stayed away from the Six-Party Talks again this quarter, citing “mixed” and “confusing” signals from Washington as their main reason for not resuming the dialogue.  Meanwhile, Washington was sending mixed signals to Asia in general and to China in particular.  Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick had a successful trip through Southeast Asia, reassuring the ASEAN states about Washington’s continued commitment to the region, a message somewhat undercut at quarter’s end when it was revealed that his boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, would likely not make her scheduled first appearance at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) ministerial meeting in Vientiane in late July. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also sent mixed signals to China during his second appearance at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in early June, welcoming an emerging China “committed to peaceful solutions” as “an important new reality” while raising questions about the extent of its military build-up, since “no one threatens China.” There were also mixed signals from within ASEAN as to whether or not Burma/Myanmar would forego its chairmanship of ASEAN in mid-2006, amid mixed predictions as to the impact of Rice’s absence on this decision. Preparations also continued for this December’s first East Asian Summit (EAS) with more attention focused on who will attend than on what is to be accomplished.

US - Japan

April — June 2005

Tokyo’s Trials

Two issues dominated U.S.-Japan relations this quarter. The first, Tokyo’s bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), is a high-profile diplomatic contest that could strain the alliance even though it is not about the alliance. The second is the continuing effort to transform the U.S. military presence in Asia and how the resulting deployments in Japan will look. There was no resolution to either issue, nor will there be one in the immediate future: the interests and constituencies involved are so large that it will take considerable time to work out a solution acceptable to both countries. Smaller trade issues – beef and apples – were also back on the bilateral agenda.  Dealing with all these items will test the alliance management skills of the new team in the State Department, one that is increasingly depleted of senior Japan hands.

The 60th anniversary of the end of World War II poses challenges of its own. Many people, in Japan and elsewhere, see the 60th anniversary as especially significant, signaling the end of an era. Optimists see this as the moment that Japan emerges from its postwar slumber to assume a new role in Asia and the world; pessimists worry that part of the reckoning could focus on the U.S.-Japan alliance, and that the accounting of history that has so roiled Tokyo’s neighbors, will soon engulf the bilateral relationship.

America’s grievances with China mounted this quarter, signaling a likely end to the post-Sept. 11 honeymoon in China-U.S. relations and the beginning of a rocky phase.  On a range of trade and economic issues, the Bush administration adopted a harsher stance, increasing pressure on Beijing to appreciate its currency to fend off criticism from Congress and domestic groups that blame China for stealing U.S. jobs and unfairly creating a massive trade surplus with the United States.  Trade officials began taking action to curtail the flood of Chinese textiles and punish China for widespread violations of intellectual property rights. A takeover bid for Unocal Corporation by the PRC’s state-owned China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) raised cries in some quarters that Beijing’s offer was part of a long-term national plan to gain strategic advantage over the U.S.

Washington leaned harder on Beijing to apply economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea to rejoin the Six-Party Talks aimed at eliminating its nuclear weapons programs.  U.S. officials openly declared that they hold China largely responsible for reining in the nuclear ambitions of its formerly “close as lips and teeth” ally, North Korea.

China’s military buildup also came under sharper criticism. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld bluntly warned Beijing that its military spending and procurement programs are unjustified by any threat it faces. And China’s human rights abuses and suppression of political dissent and religious freedom figured prominently in U.S. official statements and reports issued this quarter.

Mindful of the benefits to the U.S. of cooperation with China where the two countries’ interests overlap and the dangers of engaging in full-blown strategic competition with China, President Bush and his Cabinet members attempted to keep the bilateral relationship on an even keel, while urging Chinese leaders to modify their policies to make them more compatible with U.S. national interests.

Speculation about a possible North Korean nuclear test spiked tensions on the Korean Peninsula this quarter as Pyongyang continued to refuse to return to the Six-Party Talks.  Pyongyang underscored its status as a nuclear weapons state by removing spent fuel rods from its five-megawatt reactor, and then testing a short-range missile in the direction of Japan.

If North Korea’s purpose was to heighten differences between South Korea and the U.S, and thus weaken the alliance, its efforts proved successful through May. The U.S., as a veiled threat, moved 15 stealth fighters to South Korea, broke off talks on recovering Korean War remains, and considered seeking sanctions against North Korea at the UN.

After Seoul openly rejected seeking UN sanctions, South and North Korean diplomats met for the first time in 10 months on May 15 to discuss “inter-Korean issues.”  Seoul promised North Korea large-scale aid if it returned to the Six-Party Talks, but gained no commitment from Pyongyang on the nuclear issue.

With Washington and Seoul far apart on how best to deal with North Korea, President George W. Bush and President Roh Moo-hyun held a one-day summit June 10.  Rather than resolving their tactical differences, the two leaders emphasized strategic agreement on the importance of the U.S.-Korea alliance and a peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue.

A few days after the summit, South Korea’s Unification Minister Chung Dong-young met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il who declared his country would rejoin the six-party process in July if the U.S. “recognizes and respects” his regime. Although U.S. officials remained skeptical since North Korea did not provide a firm date for attending the negotiations, it appeared Pyongyang might make a concrete commitment before or during a visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao in July.

The U.S. and South Korea settled a dispute this quarter over OPLAN 5029, a contingency plan laying out responses to cataclysmic events in North Korea, including regime collapse or a refugee crisis. South Korea had objected to putting its forces under U.S. command pursuant to this plan. The two governments agreed to further develop the concept of the contingency plan without deciding its operational components.

Incoming U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said this quarter the U.S. would not negotiate a free trade agreement with South Korea until “additional progress” is made on outstanding trade disputes. His position put pressure on Seoul to allow greater access for Hollywood films to the South Korean market and to end its import ban on U.S. beef.

Since the outbreak of the global war on terror in late 2001, leaders in Moscow and Washington have crafted a policy designed to minimize political differences in order to maximize the effectiveness of the “strategic partnership” in its struggle against terrorism.  But by late 2004 and early 2005, the limits of this partnership were becoming apparent.  The series of mini-revolutions or coups in the former Soviet republics along Russia’s border over the past quarter may have marked the beginning of the end of this so-called strategic partnership. Moscow now has serious concerns about the penchant for Washington to “export” revolution to Eurasia. Washington, meanwhile, continues to view political developments in Russia with great displeasure, calling each successive move by President Vladimir Putin to consolidate his power a step backward for Russian democracy. As in Eurasia, U.S.-Russian cooperation in East Asia seems to have reached its limit, as Moscow looks more and more to Beijing as a partner, potentially along with New Delhi.

As the new State Department team settled in, the U.S. attempted to maintain the heightened momentum in relations with Southeast Asia created by the tsunami relief effort earlier this year.  In May, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick travelled to Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia, using the trip to proclaim a new policy of greater attention to the region. President George Bush hosted Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) in May and Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai in June, inaugural visit to Washington for both leaders.  Also in June, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld attended the Shangri-La security meeting in Singapore and used the spotlight to criticize Beijing’s presumed expansionist aims. Rumsfeld’s choice of Singapore as a venue for the remarks, combined with Zoellick’s listening tour, signaled growing interest in Washington in China’s increasing influence in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia was of two minds about the U.S.  A recent Pew survey reported improvement of the U.S. image there because of tsunami aid, but demonstrations in Jakarta over the Newsweek story on Islamic prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay showed fresh resentment.  U.S. military cooperation moved incrementally toward a more regional approach, while several rounds of bilateral trade talks were held.  Human rights remained central to U.S. policy in Burma as Washington prepared to renew sanctions and made clear its opposition to Rangoon’s chairmanship of ASEAN in 2006.

Syntax and usage aside, the language of the subtitle of this analysis (paraphrased from an article in People’s Daily) captures fully the thrust and character of Beijing’s relations with Southeast Asia during the second quarter of 2005. Buoyed by a swift international response, a high level of assistance, and the success of their own hard work, the nations of Southeast Asia threw off the torpor induced by the tsunami of December 2004 and returned to business as usual. Beijing seized the opportunity and immediately reenergized plans placed in temporary, forced abeyance in the wake of the disaster. The result was yet another series of apparent Chinese successes in Beijing’s continuing drive to gain acceptance as a good neighbor and further enhance its regional status.

As the second half of 2005 begins, the prospects for inter-Korean relations appear more propitious than they have for at least a year. Not only has Pyongyang ended its wholly unreasonable boycott of most forums of North-South dialogue created after the June 2000 Pyongyang summit, but it has agreed to deepen and extend these in significant ways. If – always a big if – a 12-point joint statement signed in Seoul on June 23 is fully adhered to, then the summer and fall will see a busy calendar of meetings. Besides such familiar fora as ministerial talks (already resumed), the joint economic committee, and family reunions, there are to be military talks – but at remote Mt. Paekdu, of all places – plus new panels on cooperation in farming and fisheries. North Korea has even agreed to discuss the sensitive issue of persons “missing” (i.e., abducted, or POWs retained) from the Korean War.

So after a gray year, the Sunshine Policy, appropriately for summer, is now blazing brightly. Yet shadows persist. On past form, North Korea might not deliver; it may sulk, or take its bat home again. Above all, there is as yet no assurance that the DPRK will return to the Six-Party Talks. Although movement around this issue gives reasonable optimism that a much-delayed fourth round could be held in July or August, nothing is yet certain.

The two matters are patently linked. Continued nuclear defiance must set limits to how far Sunshine can go; though earlier fears of nuclear tests seem to have receded, any nuclear escalation would surely force Seoul to pull back. How to finesse the conditionalities here threatens in any case to be contentious, especially between a South Korea wedded to carrots and a skeptical U.S., which (at least rhetorically) would not rule out the stick.

The torrid growth in Sino-Korean bilateral trade relations has slowed by half to the 20 percent range in the first part of 2005 after expanding by almost 40 percent to $79.3 billion in 2004. Nonetheless, South Korean firms are working with their government to lobby for expanded access to China’s domestic market in key sectors. This quarter, the focus included the Chinese energy, insurance, and automobile sectors, cooperation in nanotechnology research, and facilitation of Korean expanded cultural exports to China. A bevy of South Korean ministers, CEOs, and opinion leaders flocked to Beijing – including separate visits by the prime minister and the Grand National Party (GNP) opposition leader – to meet Chinese counterparts and to lobby for expanded Sino-South Korean economic cooperation.  Presidents Hu Jintao and Roh Moo-hyun met briefly on the sidelines of a ceremony commemorating the end of World War II in Moscow, and Foreign Ministers Ban Ki-moon and Li Zhaoxing also met on the side of an Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Kyoto for consultations on the North Korean nuclear issue, including a “balanced” rebuke to both the U.S. and DPRK for exchanging vituperative rhetoric instead of face-to-face negotiations.


The Sino-Korean contact that did not take place this quarter was an anticipated call by PRC President Hu Jintao on the Dear Leader in Pyongyang. Despite extensive China-DPRK diplomatic activity in early April, including a visit to Beijing by Kim Jong-il’s trusted advisor Vice Minister Kang Sok-ju, the Chinese made no apparent progress in securing the DPRK’s participation in the Six-Party Talks. (The talks marked the first anniversary of their suspension in June.)  While Washington tried to turn up the heat on Beijing to turn up the heat on Pyongyang, Chinese diplomats blew hot and cold in public comments about when and whether North Korea would return to the talks.  Following a mid-May jolt from The New York Times, which reported that the U.S. intelligence community was debating an imminent North Korean nuclear test, Chinese and South Korean officials downplayed the possibility of a test and treated the reports with skepticism.

From the April anti-Japanese riots through Vice Premier Wu Yi’s snubbing of Koizumi and the June debates over Yasukuni and China policy within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and governing coalition, history demonstrated its power over the Japan-China relationship. The past influenced the present and future as sovereignty issues over the Senkaku islands and East China Sea were caught up in surging nationalisms in both countries. The Japanese prime minister’s visits to the Yasukuni Shrine to pay homage to Japan’s war dead touched almost every aspect of the relationship, including Japan’s official development assistance (ODA) program. Even traditionally robust commercial and economic ties wobbled.  History punctuated the end of the quarter as well, when, at the end of June, three Chinese residents of Guangzhou city were afflicted by poison gas leaking from shells abandoned by the Japanese Imperial Army and Chinese authorities in Dalian confiscated Japanese textbooks intended for use in the local Japanese school for inappropriate references to Taiwan.

The twin issues of North Korea and history continued to dominate Japan-Korea relations in the second quarter of 2005. Unfortunately, little progress toward resolution was made on either issue. In dealing with North Korea, Japan continued to mull sanctions or other measures against the North, although the government did not take any actions toward that end and Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro publicly disavowed sanctions in early June. In mid-June, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Koizumi met in Korea for a summit that failed to bring any progress on the range of issues between the two countries, from the disputed Tokdo/Takeshima territory to the issue of Yasukuni Shrine visits and how Japan’s middle-school textbooks treat the past. On the economic front, Japan and South Korea continued to deepen their relationship. However, increasing economic interdependence has hardly dampened political disputes between the two countries.

Past, present, and prospect were played out in the second quarter of 2005 when Russian and Chinese leaders commemorated the 60th anniversary of Russia’s victory (May 9, 1945) in World War II, mended fences in Central Asia in the wake of a surge of “color revolutions” in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, and toyed with the idea of a multilateral world order with a Russia-China-Indian trio in Vladivostok. The quarter ended with President Hu Jintao’s state visit to Russia, which aimed to elevate the strategic partnership to a new height. Meanwhile, Russian and Chinese generals were hammering out details of their first-ever joint exercises in eastern China to be held in the third quarter.

The visits of Kuomintang (KMT) chairman Lien Chan and People’s First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong Chu-yu to China have ameliorated cross-Strait relations. Cross-Strait tensions and the fears of potential conflict so evident throughout 2004 have eased, and the controversy over Beijing’s Anti-Secession Law has faded into the past. The visits illustrated the potential for dialogue if a different government were in office in Taipei, and produced a new verbal formula that could bridge differences over preconditions for talks with a future government. However, the visits have poisoned the atmosphere between Beijing and the administration of Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian. Despite speculation in Taipei, there is no prospect for political dialogue between the two. Furthermore, domestic politics is complicating the possibility for progress on functional issues such as transportation, agricultural exports, and tourism, which would be beneficial to both sides, particularly Taiwan.

Daily Digest

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