Regional Security Dynamics in Northeast Asia: Seoul's Perspective and Equities


As the new year begins, the administration of ROK President Lee Myung-bak faces an unusually complex and rapidly evolving regional security landscape as he seeks to craft a strategy that simultaneously deepens ties with the U.S., protects South Korean equities in North Korea, continues to reduce tensions with neighboring countries and promotes economic objectives in Northeast Asia (including eastern Siberia). What are his options, considerations and prospects for success?

The past year witnessed an accelerated pace and apparent deepening in substance of the nascent security ties between and among the nations of Northeast Asia. A veritable whirlwind of diplomatic activity featured “upgraded” dialogue and symbolic steps. Meanwhile, as token of warming relations and impetus for even closer regional cooperation, China, Japan and the ROK met trilaterally on an array of issues. Ambitious proposals – and cutthroat bargaining – attended competition for a stake in Russian energy resources and potential infrastructure projects in the conjunction of eastern Siberia, Korea and China. Through the year all involved parties – the ROK, China, Russia, Japan, and the U.S. – met in the Six-Party talks context. Each party, excepting North Korea, paid public obeisance to the goal of “transforming” the talks into a new regional security mechanism.

But the year 2009 dawns against the backdrop of uncertainties that cast a cloud over the promise suggested by these developments: the global economic and financial crisis; battered, untested or unpopular political leaderships; competing nationalisms – and national interests; and the import and implications of China’s “rise.”

Mr. Keyser retired from the U.S. Department of State in September 2004 after a 32-year career. He had been a member of the Senior Foreign Service since 1990, and held Washington-based ambassadorial-level assignments 1998-2004. Throughout his career he focused on U.S. policy toward East Asia, particularly China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and the Korean Peninsula. Fluent in Chinese and professionally conversant in Japanese, Russian and French, he served three tours at the American Embassy in Beijing, two tours at the American Embassy in Tokyo, and almost a dozen years in relevant domestic assignments. In the course of his career, Keyser logged extensive domestic and foreign experience in senior management operations, conflict resolution, intelligence operations and analysis, and law enforcement programs and operations.