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Shorenstein APARC scholars offer comment as tensions rise on the Korean Peninsula

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The USS Wayne E. Meyer underway alongside the Republic of Korea's Wang Geon during a bilateral exercise.
Photo credit: 
U.S. Navy / Flickr

Northeast Asia relations are increasingly under strain as South Korea and China await shifts in political leadership and the threat of a sixth nuclear test by North Korea looms large. Scholars from the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC) have offered comment and analysis to media outlets about the evolving environment.

Gi-Wook Shin, director of Shorenstein APARC’s Korea Program, recognized in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor that, while threats posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile program aren’t new, it is best practice to always be prepared for the possibility of conflict.

“I’m someone who believes that you have to get ready for the worst-case scenario. If something does happen, the consequences will be huge,” said Shin, who recalled the air-raid drills of his youth in the Seoul metropolitan area, which is centered 35 miles from the border of North Korea.

Shin also spoke with Yonhap News about positions held by the Trump administration, which, he said, includes the view that the policy of “strategic patience” has failed and that tensions in Northeast Asia have led the administration to consider – with greater plausibility – the option of a preemptive military strike.

Addressing China’s relationship with North Korea, Shorenstein APARC Associate Director for Research Daniel Sneider wrote an analysis piece for Tokyo Business Today. He argued that, despite President Trump’s tense rhetoric, U.S. policy toward North Korea could so far be described as “‘let China do it.’”

“The ‘let China let do it’ policy is hardly new,” Sneider wrote in the piece, available in English and Japanese.

“Why does the Trump administration believe this will work now? In part, the answer is the same as under the two previous administration – there are no better options available.”

Last month, Kathleen Stephens, the William J. Perry Fellow at Shorenstein APARC, spoke at length about North Korea policy on PBS NewsHour following Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s remarks in Seoul, where he acknowledged, “all options are on the table.”

Asked about the significance of Tillerson’s remarks, Stephens said his speech would be "closely listened to and heard throughout the region, as well as [in the United States]."

“One thing that did strike me about Secretary Tillerson’s remarks was that he was quite specific and categorical in saying now is not the time for talks,” Stephens said in the interview. “I actually would have liked to have seen him keep the door a little bit ajar on that, because I think, when you do have a new administration in Washington…that's a good argument for trying to climb that mountain one more time and seeing what’s possible diplomatically.”