April 18, 5:00 p.m - 6:30 p.m. PT / April 19, 9:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. JT
Russia’s invasion in Ukraine has transformed the landscape of international security in a multitude of ways and reshaped foreign policy in many countries. How did it impact Japan’s foreign policy? From nuclear sharing to the Northern Territories, it sparked new debates in Japan about how to cope with Putin’s Russia and the revised international order. With NATO reenergized and the United States having to recommit some resources in Europe, how should Japan counter an expansionist China, an emboldened North Korea, and a potentially hamstrung Russia to realize its vision of Free and Open Indo-Pacific? What might be the endgame in Ukraine and how would it impact the clash of liberal and authoritarian forces in the Indo-Pacific region? Featuring two leading experts on world politics and Japan’s foreign policy, this panel tackles these questions and charts a way forward for Japan.
Yoko Iwama is Professor of National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS). She is also the director of Security and Strategy Program and Maritime Safety and Security Program at GRIPS.
She graduated from Kyoto University in 1986 and earned her PhD in Law. Having served as Research Assistant of Kyoto University (1994–97), Special Assistant of the Japanese Embassy in Germany (1998–2000), and Associate Professor at GRIPS (2000), she was appointed Professor at GRIPS in 2009. She was a student at the Free University of Berlin between 1989-1991, where she witnessed the end the reunification of the two Germanies.
Her specialty is international security and European diplomatic history centering on NATO, Germany, and nuclear strategy.
Her publications include John Baylis and Yoko Iwama (ed.) Joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty: Deterrence, Non-Proliferation and the American Alliance, (Routledge 2018); “Unified Germany and NATO,” (in Keiichi Hirose/ Tomonori Yoshizaki (eds.) International Relation of NATO, Minerva Shobo, 2012).
Her newest book The 1968 Global Nuclear Order and West Germany appeared in August 2021 in Japanese. She is working on a co-authored book on the origins and evolution of the nuclear-sharing in NATO and a co-authored book on the Neutrals, the Non-aligned countries and the NPT.
Hiroyuki Akita is a Commentator of Nikkei. He regularly writes commentaries, columns, and analysis focusing on foreign and international security affairs. He joined Nikkei in 1987 and worked at the Political News Department from 1998 to 2002 where he covered Japanese foreign policy, security policy, and domestic politics. Akita served as Senior & Editorial Staff Writer from 2009 to 2017, and also worked at the “Leader Writing Team ” of the Financial Times in London in late 2017.
Akita graduated from Jiyu Gakuen College in 1987 and Boston University (M.A.). From 2006 to 2007, he was an associate of the US-Japan Program at Harvard University, where he conducted research on US-China-Japan relations. In March 2019, he won the Vaughn-Ueda International Journalist Award, a prize for outstanding reporting of international affairs. He is an author of two books in Japanese: “Anryu (Power Game of US-China-Japan)”(2008), and “Ranryu (Strategic Competition of US-Japan and China)”(2016).
Kiyoteru Tsutsui is the Henri H. and Tomoye Takahashi Professor, Professor of Sociology, Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and Deputy Director of the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, where he is also Director of the Japan Program. He is the author of Rights Make Might: Global Human Rights and Minority Social Movements in Japan (Oxford University Press, 2018), co-editor of Corporate Responsibility in a Globalizing World (Oxford University Press, 2016) and co-editor of The Courteous Power: Japan and Southeast Asia in the Indo-Pacific Era (University of Michigan Press, 2021).
Michael (Mike) Breger joined APARC in 2021 and serves as the Center's communications manager. He collaborates with the Center's leadership to share the work and expertise of APARC faculty and researchers with a broad audience of academics, policymakers, and industry leaders across the globe.
Michael started his career at Stanford working at Green Library, and later at the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, serving as the event and communications coordinator. He has also worked in a variety of sales and marketing roles in Silicon Valley.
Michael holds a master's in liberal arts from Stanford University and a bachelor's in history and astronomy from the University of Virginia. A history buff and avid follower of international current events, Michael loves learning about different cultures, languages, and literatures. When he is not at work, Michael enjoys reading, music, and the outdoors.
A new administration in Washington faces a familiar problem: North Korea is once again testing missiles, including ballistic missiles, in contravention of a UN Security Council resolution. Rather than retread dead-end paths, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has pledged to think anew on North Korea, and it has already distinguished itself from its predecessor by signaling that it will consult with U.S. allies and partners to formulate a strong response to Pyongyang that does not rule out diplomacy.
Such a reorientation is welcome. But if the new administration really wants to move the needle on North Korea, it will need to rethink the assumptions it has inherited about China’s role there. So far, the Biden team has cleaved to the long-held view that the United States and China share a common interest in the nuclear disarmament of North Korea and that U.S. policy there must make use of Beijing’s tremendous influence over the government in Pyongyang. During his visit to Seoul last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken asserted that “Beijing has an interest, a clear self-interest, in helping to pursue the denuclearization of [North Korea] because it is a source of instability.” Blinken further paid tribute to China’s “critical role" and “unique relationship" with North Korea.
But Beijing has demonstrated for almost three decades where its self-interest really lies, and that is in maintaining the status quo. China certainly doesn’t want to see North Korea weakened and the United States strengthened on the Korean Peninsula. But neither does it want the balance to tip so strongly toward North Korea that the United States feels compelled to bulk up its military posture. China is toeing a careful line to keep the prospect of peaceful denuclearization alive without provoking Pyongyang or aggravating tensions with the United States.
If Beijing were to do nothing to assist in denuclearization, the United States could lose confidence in diplomacy and decide instead to increase its military presence on the peninsula or even to take military action. But if Beijing does too much to help the United States, North Korea could collapse, and the whole peninsula could fall within the U.S. orbit. China’s North Korea policy is therefore an elaborate balancing act. Through it, Beijing seeks to maintain influence over the regime of Kim Jong Un without emboldening it; participate in multilateral efforts to pressure North Korea, such as the UN sanctions program, without exposing Pyongyang to pressure that could precipitate regime collapse; and offer the United States just enough hope for a diplomatic solution to forestall military intervention while simultaneously ensuring that any resolution contributes to China’s relative power, not that of the United States.
For better or worse, the past year has been one of great change in Chinese strategy and policy, especially toward its neighbors. China flew an unprecedented number of sorties into Taiwanese airspace, placed trade sanctions on Australia after the latter supported inquiries into the origins of COVID-19, and came to blows with India over a border dispute that had not seen armed conflict in decades. But in the case of North Korea, China has stuck to its balancing act.
Beijing and Pyongyang have been on tepid terms the past few years. On paper, the Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty makes the two countries allies. But in practice, the Chinese government has distanced itself from the alliance, stating that if North Korea provoked a conflict, Beijing had no obligation to defend it. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson remarked in 2006 that China was not an ally of North Korea, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has characterized the relationship as “normal state-to-state relations.”
A flurry of diplomatic activity in 2018 and 2019 gave many the impression that the two countries meant to repair and normalize their relationship. Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un met for the first time in March 2018, marking Kim’s first meeting with any world leader. Four more meetings between the two followed, in May and June 2018 and January and June 2019, and Chinese official media noted that the relationship “radiated a new vitality.” But despite numerous exchanges of platitudes since—just last week, Xi sent a message to Kim affirming that the countries’ traditional friendship is a “valuable asset” and seeming to suggest an intention to strengthen relations—Xi has maintained his distance from Kim and his regime.
The 70th anniversary of China’s entrance in the Korean War passed without a summit or fanfare about the nations’ closeness. Social-distancing requirements undoubtedly had something to do with the lack of a high-level meeting but could not explain the absence of the customary propaganda about how the two countries are like “teeth to lips.” Moreover, Xi continues to avoid referring to North Korea as an ally. After his state visit to Pyongyang in June 2019, Xi described the relationship as one of “friendly cooperative relations,” and on a January 2021 phone call with Kim, he characterized the bilateral relationship as one of “friendly socialist neighbors linked by mountains and rivers”—in the language of the Chinese government, hardly an expression of closeness and solidarity.
Then there is China’s approach to managing international efforts aimed at reining in North Korea. Here too, China has continued the same dance, trying to come off as a team player while restraining the international community from acting too harshly against the Kim regime. China voted in favor of all three of the UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea in 2017. In 2019, Beijing even garnered praise from then-President Donald Trump, who said that China was “a big help” in dealing with North Korea. On March 25, 2021, Pyongyang conducted two ballistic missile tests in violation of the UN Security Council resolutions, and Beijing’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not condemn them but predictably “call[ed] on all parties concerned to work together to maintain the situation of detente, and promote political settlement of the Peninsular issue through dialogue and consultation.”
Beijing has always been skeptical of using sanctions to coerce North Korean compliance on the nuclear issue, expressing concern that too much pressure could push Kim to lash out and undermine international efforts. When the United Nations imposed sanctions in 2017, China at first appeared poised to strictly enforce them. But then Beijing quickly reverted to business as usual, teaming up with Moscow to try to ease sanctions. China also allegedly violated the regulations by supplying North Korea with 22,730 tons of refined oil and helping Pyongyang export about $370 million worth of coal. Three months ago, the United States publicly accused China of circumventing the sanctions to aid North Korea, and China denied having done so.
Beijing’s North Korea policy is primarily motivated by a desire to counter U.S. power in the Asia-Pacific region and increase Chinese influence on the Korean Peninsula. The nuclear issue gives Beijing a pretext to call for the United States to reduce its military presence and activity on the peninsula on the grounds that North Korea would halt weapons development if it felt less threatened.
Beijing decidedly does not want a war on the peninsula. Such a conflict could destabilize the region and end with a unified Korea under U.S. influence. Trump’s “fire and fury” approach and his willingness to meet directly with Kim threatened China’s ability to triangulate between Washington and Pyongyang in order to ensure its own maneuverability. The real possibility that the United States would forcibly displace the North Korean regime convinced Beijing to both strengthen its ties with Kim and put real pressure on his government. But the last Trump-Xi summit, in February 2019, was a failure; the Trump administration seemingly abandoned its focus on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, and Beijing returned to business as usual.
To set a new course on North Korea, the Biden administration needs to throw Beijing off balance once more. The status quo—in which Beijing enhances its influence over the future of the peninsula and wins international image points while simultaneously undercutting the United States’ North Korea policy—is no longer acceptable. The United States needs to strike its own balance: one in which Washington makes progress on reducing the threat from North Korea while also gaining ground in its competition with Beijing.
Multilateral diplomacy that takes a more incremental approach to denuclearization, such as a freeze on North Korea’s current program, will not accomplish this end. Beijing would welcome such a move, as many in China thought that Trump’s demand for complete denuclearization was counterproductive and that Washington’s alienation of its allies risked spurring South Korea or Japan to develop nuclear capabilities. China sees a multilateral approach as one that affords it more influence on the relevant players and can help ensure a positive outcome for Beijing.
The White House should instead consider pursuing multilateral diplomacy that excludes Beijing or that at the very least does not give China pride of place. Such an approach would be consistent with the predilections of many of Biden’s advisers, who seek a pragmatic tack that does not rely on Beijing’s goodwill. China would likely react by scrambling to redefine its role in managing peninsular affairs in order to make sure that it is not cut out of any deal. China might tighten its relations with North Korea and Russia in order to influence policy through them as proxies. The United States could then join forces with European allies in response, whether to counter Beijing’s overreaching claims in the South China Sea or to buttress democracies against Chinese political interference.
Greater closeness between China and North Korea could prove useful to the United States. North Korea has in effect placed the harshest imaginable sanctions on itself, shutting its borders completely in January 2020 to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The country’s trade with China is down 81 percent as a result. China’s economic leverage over North Korea has thus dissipated—and with it, the effectiveness of sanctions as a coercive tool. China may now work to create new leverage against North Korea, perhaps through positive inducements, which could supply another tool for the Biden administration to use later on. And if Beijing cannot forge closer ties with Pyongyang, it might even seek to ingratiate itself with Seoul—also a favorable development for Washington, as such relations may allow the United States to pursue deeper military cooperation with South Korea’s regional allies without fear of provoking a strong Chinese response.
Some Biden advisers, including Kurt Campbell, have called for a bolder approach. One possibility is for Washington to shift its focus from denuclearization to arms control. Under this scenario, the United States would accept North Korea as a de facto nuclear state and take measures to enhance deterrence against it, such as stepping up the U.S. military presence and tightening military cooperation with allies in the region. China would have a harder time than before delegitimizing the U.S. military presence in the region and just might be compelled to do what is necessary to induce North Korea’s denuclearization, even at the cost of destabilizing the regime.
Biden’s new approach to North Korea must force China to tip its carefully constructed balance toward either complete cooperation or obvious obstruction. Depending on which way China goes, the United States can then decide whether to include Beijing or cut it out of its North Korea policy efforts. But one thing is clear: conducting business as usual with Beijing hurts U.S. objectives in both denuclearization and competition with China.
Mastro on the Conversation Six podcast
On the Conversation Six podcast, Mastro joins Ali Wyne, a senior analyst with Eurasia Group's Global macro practice, to discuss China's policy towards North Korea.
No Credible Military Defense of Taiwan: Oriana Skylar Mastro on the Munk Debates Podcast
The United States can no longer rely solely on its own military capability or influence to deter Chinese aggression against Taiwan, argues Oriana Skylar Mastro on a new episode of the Munk Debates podcast. Credible pushback can now only be achieved through international coalitions.
Military Competition with China: Harder to Win Than During the Cold War?
On February 10th, the APARC China Program hosted Professor Oriana Mastro to discuss military relations between the US and China, and why deterrence might be even more difficult than during the Cold War.
The China Program at Shorenstein APARC had the privilege of hosting Jude Blanchette, the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). The program, entitled "What’s ‘Communist’ about the Communist Party of China?," explored the goals and ideology of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), as well as what they might mean for the future of China in the global community. Professor Jean Oi, William Haas Professor of Chinese Politics and director of the APARC China Program, moderated the event.
After the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, the goals of the CCP became less clear. As the country began to adopt market reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, CCP theorists were forced into contortions providing ideological justifications for policies that appeared overtly capitalist. Deng Xiaoping’s concept of “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” came to be seen as a theoretical fig leaf rather than a description of an egalitarian economic system, and by the 2000s, a consensus emerged that the CCP had completely abandoned any pretense of pursuing the Marxist vision it purported to hold. With the rise of Xi Jinping, however, the Party talks with renewed vigor about Marxism-Leninism and the goal of achieving actual, existing socialism. Has the CCP re-discovered communism? In his talk, Blanchette discussed the abandoned and existing legacies of Mao Zedong, Marxism-Leninism, and the CCP’s vision of socialism. Watch now:
Domestic or International? The Belt and Road Initiative Is More Internally Focused Than We Think, Says Expert Min Ye
As US-China competition intensifies, experts debate the degree to which the current strategic environment resembles that of the Cold War. Those that argue against the analogy often highlight how China is deeply integrated into the US-led world order. They also point out that, while tense, US-China relations have not turned overtly adversarial. But there is another, less optimistic reason the comparison is unhelpful: deterring and defeating Chinese aggression is harder now than it was against the Soviet Union. In her talk, Dr. Mastro analyzed how technology, geography, relative resources and the alliance system complicate U.S. efforts to enhance the credibility of its deterrence posture and, in a crisis, form any sort of coalition. Mastro and Oi's thought-provoking discussion ranged from the topic of why even US allies are hesitant to take a strong stance against China to whether or not Taiwan could be a catalyst for military conflict. Watch now:
Domestic or International? The Belt and Road Initiative Is More Internally Focused Than We Think, Says Expert Min Ye
On February 10th, the APARC China Program hosted Professor Oriana Mastro to discuss military relations between the US and China, and why deterrence might be even more difficult than during the Cold War.
In his lead essay, Eric Gomez cites profound technological changes as the main reason why the United States should rethink its nuclear policy. However, there is one drastic change he does not adequately take into account: the rise of China. This response essay, therefore, focuses on the China factor in U.S. nuclear policy.
Chinese Nuclear Modernization
Since the turn of the century, China has been modernizing its nuclear forces in earnest. Currently, Beijing’s nuclear arsenal is estimated to number in the 200s. From 2017 to 2018, warheads increased by ten, and the Pentagon anticipates that the stockpile will double over the next ten years. These modernization efforts, such as moving from silo-based liquid-fueled ICBMs to mobile solid-fueled delivery vehicles, have focused mainly on improving force survivability. China also added a sea leg to its nuclear deterrent in 2016 with the introduction of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (JL-2) on its Jin-class ballistic missile submarine.
Additionally, China is producing ballistic missile systems with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) and maneuverable reentry vehicle (MaRV) technologies that enhance missiles’ effectiveness. To this end, China has launched more ballistic missiles for testing and training in 2019 than the rest of the world combined. Meanwhile, the PLA’s new hypersonic cruise missiles supposedly are capable of piercing existing missile defense systems. Furthermore, structural reforms in China’s military reveal the critical role nuclear weapons play in Chinese strategy. In 2016, the branch in charge of China’s nuclear deterrent, the Second Artillery, was upgraded to a service, the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force. Its commander was added to China’s highest military body, the Central Military Commission.
China’s drive to modernize, diversify, and expand its nuclear forces may cause some to argue with Gomez’s essential premise that new thinking is needed. This week, U.S. Strategic Commander Adm. Charles Richard remarked that China’s nuclear weapons buildup is “inconsistent” with their long-held no-first-use policy, emphasizing the need for the United States to pursue nuclear modernization. Indeed, there has been a resurgence in Cold War thinking about nuclear deterrence. For example, Former Senator Jon Kyl and Michael Morell argued for more low-yield nuclear warheads as part of an “escalate to deescalate” strategy. Similarly, Bret Stephens raised concerns that the U.S. arsenal is insufficient to prevent Chinese aggression.
However, I agree with Gomez that we need to rethink U.S. nuclear policy to ensure it can better meet contemporary challenges. Specifically, I argue that to best suit U.S. foreign policy interests, U.S. nuclear policy needs to minimize the role of nuclear weapons in U.S.-China great power competition and pave the way for arms control.
FSI’s Incoming Center Fellow Oriana Skylar Mastro Discusses Chinese Ambitions, Deteriorating U.S.-China Relations
Mastro, whose appointment as a Center Fellow at Shorenstein APARC begins on August 1, considers the worsening relations between the world’s two largest economies, analyzes Chinese maritime ambitions, and talks about her military career and new research projects.
In recent months, tensions have once again flared between Pyongyang and Seoul, calling into question the state of inter-Korean and U.S.-Korea relations. As the future of denuclearization talks with North Korea remains uncertain and the United States looks towards the November 2020 presidential election, APARC gathered experts on Korea and international security to provide analysis of where we stand with the DPRK and what considerations future Korea policies should involve.
Gi-Wook Shin, APARC’s director and the director of the Korea Program, moderates the APARC-led discussion hosted by the Freeman Spogli Institute. Robert Carlin, a longtime analyst of North Korea and frequent visitor to the DPRK, joins the panel from the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). Leading North Korea and international affairs expert Victor Cha provides insight into the public statements and apparent policy goals of North Korea's leadership, while fellow Georgetown scholar and imminent APARC center fellow Oriana Mastro offers commentary on the ongoing need for military stability in the area. Siegfried Hecker, an internationally recognized expert in plutonium science, global threat reduction, and nuclear security, adds his expertise in nuclear nonproliferation and arms control to the discussion.
Koret Conference Convenes Virtually to Discuss Human Rights Crisis in North Korea
Amid escalating inter-Korean tension and increasing economic and social strain on North Koreans in the era of COVID-19, the importance of keeping international attention on the DRPK’s human rights violations is more urgent than ever.
Led by APARC, a panel of scholars hosted by the Freeman Spogli Institute weighs in on the implications of recent events on the Korean peninsula and the ongoing uncertainties in charting a future course with the DPRK.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, North Korea continues to carry out weapons testing and to declare that not a single COVID-19 patient has emerged in the country. Analysts and medical experts, however, are highly skeptical of Pyongyang’s claims. A coronavirus outbreak would overwhelm the North’s weak healthcare system and would be devastating to its people, who suffer from relatively high levels of malnutrition and have no access to information about the pandemic.
North Korea is one of the worst human rights violators in modern history. In February 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Council published the landmark Report of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a comprehensive account of human rights abuses committed by the authoritarian country’s leadership against its people. It was seen as a major milestone in the effort to shine a light on the gravity and scope of the problem and to hold the perpetrators accountable by bringing them before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
Over the past three years, however, the momentum for action on the report’s recommendations has faded and the human rights issue has been largely viewed as less serious a concern than the regional and global security threat posed by the North Korean nuclear program and long-range missiles.
Coinciding with the sixth anniversary of the COI report, it was the goal of the Korea Program’s twelfth annual Koret Workshop to regenerate awareness of the role of human rights in policy toward North Korea by gathering experts at Stanford to discuss the topic and generate concrete recommendations for action. In this post, we share highlights from select presentations prepared for this workshop that was canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis.
As the Trump administration shifted from a “war of words” with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to prioritizing summit diplomacy, the focus on the human rights problem receded and many stakeholders, both within and outside the administration, preferred to play it down so as not to jeopardize the negotiation over a denuclearization agreement.
Yet the irony, argues Asian affairs and security expert Victor Cha, is that the denuclearization and human rights agendas are inextricably intertwined. “Human rights is an integral and unavoidable component of a comprehensive North Korea strategy,” he says. Cha, professor of government and holder of the D.S. Song-KF Chair in Government and International Affairs at Georgetown University, joined APARC as the Koret Fellow in Korean Studies for the winter quarter of 2020.
Cha notes that revenues gained from forced labor exports and other human rights abuses help the Kim regime finance its proliferation activities. Furthermore, improvements in the country’s human rights condition would reflect the leadership’s commitment to reform and make a denuclearization commitment by the DPRK more credible. The United States, claims Cha, must take actionable steps to include the human rights issue in bilateral relations with Pyongyang: establish a rights-first approach in future negotiations, resume humanitarian assistance, and fill the position of a Special Envoy for Human Rights as mandated by the Congress.
Watch Professor Cha discuss these issues in our recent virtual Q&A:
Tae-Ung Baik, professor of Law and director of the Center for Korean Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, calls for a step-by-step approach, advancing small, concrete changes that will have a cumulative effect toward better protection of the rights of the people of North Korea. For example, cooperation and consultation on human rights protection should be exerted to promote reform in specific areas such as the North Korean judicial and criminal justice systems.
Ambassador Robert King, who served as a special envoy for North Korean human rights issues at the U.S. Department of State in the Obama administration, also stresses that addressing the human rights problem is essential to making progress toward denuclearization and security goals. King argues that North Korea must accept international norms and standards for denuclearization, but its acceptance of international human rights standards is necessary if it is to win international legitimacy.
Listen to highlights from King’s talk at the Korea Program’s seminar, which he delivered in the fall quarter of 2019 while being affiliated with APARC as the Koret Fellow in Korean Studies:
Freedom of Information
Although the human rights condition in North Korea has not improved, the information landscape in the country has changed significantly over the past quarter-century. Nat Kretchun, deputy director of the Open Technology Fund, describes the transformation as “trending up from an extremely low base toward greater openness and access before, more recently, retrenching.”
In the years following the famine of the mid-1990s, information flowed into the country like never before, exposing North Korean citizens to a range of new content via an array of non-networked technologies, including information from China, South Korean entertainment media, radio broadcasts from NGOs, and outside broadcasts by Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. As they regained some measure of economic stability, however, the North Korean authorities began to reestablish control over information flows. The recent available data demonstrates that access to information is falling off and the era of more socially normalized consumption of outside information is over, says Kretchun. “The government has begun implementing a far more technologically savvy information control strategy than it previously had the capacity to do […in an] effort to move communications and media consumption onto state-controlled networks via state-controlled devices.”
Indeed, Martyn Williams, a veteran watcher of North Korea’s information technology sector, shows that, while the digitization of media was the catalyst that led to the mass spread of foreign content across the country, so too has the same technology been employed to help the government combat it. For example, every Android tablet and smartphone in North Korea logs every page a person visits with the web browser and randomly takes screenshots during his/her use of the device. Users are allowed to see this database of collected screenshots but cannot delete them. “The system is sinister in its simplicity. It reminds users that everything they do on the device can be recorded and later viewed by officials […] it insidiously forces North Koreans to self-censor in fear of a device check that might never happen.”
Furthermore, the security software pre-loaded onto North Korean phones and computers cannot be replaced and the state’s digital certificate system makes mobile devices little more than consumption tools for state propaganda and personal memories. “While digital technology has created new pathways for foreign content, the increased networking of products could work against information freedom and eventually lead to the creation of an even more Orwellian society,” concludes Williams.
Minjung Kim, director of the South Korean NGO Save North Korea, emphasizes that a key to addressing the human rights problem in the country lies in discrediting the regime’s ideology in the minds of the North Korean people. It is, therefore, necessary to further produce and deliver content that educates citizens on how the regime shapes and manipulates ideology.
The Role of the United Nations
The Kim Jong Un regime responded to the 2014 COI report with outrage and denunciation, and Pyongyang has continued to refuse to cooperate with UN Special Rapporteurs.
For three consecutive years following the publication of the report, the UN Security Council returned to consider the North Korean human rights record. Since 2018, however, the issue has not been placed back on the Security Council agenda, while the U.S.-DPRK summit denuclearization diplomacy has not included a single statement regarding improving the lives of North Korea’s people.
The North Korean human rights problem has long been subject to political debates. Still, claims Joon Oh, former ambassador of South Korea to the UN and former president of the UN Economic and Social Council, future efforts can focus on helping the North Korean people realize economic and social rights, as these do not necessitate political reforms that threaten the regime. The challenge here, though, Oh recognizes, is that such efforts require technical cooperation and humanitarian assistance, which, in turn, have been narrowed down since the UN security council imposed sanctions on North Korea in 2017 for its nuclear and ballistic missile development.
Former Justice of the High Court of Australia Michael Kirby, the chair of the COI report, who has argued that there will never be peace on the Korean peninsula as long as there are grave human rights abuses occurring in North Korea, claims that “When a state is unwilling or unable to halt or avert [mass atrocity crimes], the wider international community has a collective responsibility to take whatever action is necessary. […] It is not acceptable simply to wring our hands and cry ‘never again.’ Action must be taken, however difficult and even dangerous is the path of pursuing such action can sometimes be.”
Granted, the international community must urgently reduce and eliminate the dangers posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles. However, says Kirby, turning a blind eye to human rights crimes because their mention will upset those who are alleged to have committed them or permitted them to be committed in their name is neither a rational nor a just response.
Kirby urges the international community to engage the large population of North Korean refugees within South Korea and to learn from their experience about the needs of the North Korean people. "Imagination and new strategies are sorely needed," he concludes. "But releasing the pressure of sanctions without assured dividends in the observance of human rights, dismantling of weaponry and achievement of security is not the way to go."
About the Koret Workshop
The Koret Workshop, hosted annually by Shorenstein APARC’s Korea Program at Stanford, gathers each year an international cohort of experts to discuss pressing challenges in contemporary Korean affairs and U.S.-Korean relations, with the broader aim of fostering greater understanding and closer ties between the two countries. The workshop and the Koret Fellowship in Korean Studies are made possible thanks to generous support from the Koret Foundation. The twelfth annual Koret workshop, which was scheduled for March 2020 and canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, may be rescheduled to a later time.
North Korea continues to declare that it has not had a single case of COVID-19, but health experts find it inconceivable that the infectious disease would not be in the country given its proximity to China and South Korea, two early victims of the pandemic. A coronavirus outbreak in the North could be devastating, says Asian affairs and security expert Victor Cha, as it would act on an extremely vulnerable population with already-compromised immune systems and outdated health care infrastructure.
Cha, professor of government and holder of the D.S. Song-KF Chair in Government and International Affairs at Georgetown University, has joined Shorenstein APARC as the Koret Fellow in Korean Studies for the winter quarter of 2020. He spoke with APARC via videoconferencing about the threat of COVID-19 to North Korea, the deadlock in the diplomacy of denuclearization, and the North Korean human rights problem.
COVID-19 or not, the Kim regime has recently stepped up again its weapons testing. The North typically resorts to missile tests, notes Cha, in periods of non-dialogue with the United States, and the data also shows that North Korea will bolster weapons testing before and after U.S. presidential elections.
What is to be done about engagement with the North? Cha believes that any new U.S. administration should prioritize three areas: first, focus not only on North Korea’s nuclear program but also on its ballistic missile delivery capability; second, enable the flow of humanitarian assistance into the country; and third, genuinely work with our allies and partners in the region, “who have tended to be neglected lately and seen in largely transactional terms.”
While at Stanford, Cha has been researching a project that he calls “Binary Choices” and that examines how U.S. allies and partners in Asia react when they are forced to choose between the United States and China over various issues. Regardless of how one feels about the U.S.-China trade war, Cha concludes, the question is if we are “calculating the other externalities, in terms of how our allies make choices, into our net assessment of whether a policy towards China is working or not.”
Truth to Power, the first-ever history of the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC), is told through the reflections of its eight Chairs in the period from the end of the Cold War until 2017. Co-editors Robert Hutchings and Gregory Treverton add a substantial introduction placing the NIC in its historical context going all the way back to the Board of National Estimates in the 1940s, as well as a concluding chapter that highlights key themes and judgments.
APARC Fellow Thomas Fingar, who chaired the NIC from 2005 to 2008, is one of the contributors to the book. In his chapter “New Mission, New Challenges”, Fingar discusses some of the challenges during his service with the agency. In particular, he reflects on two specific obstacles he faced during his tenure: executing the intelligence reforms drafted in the wake of 9/11, and repairing damage done to the NIC’s credibility by the failures of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD).