Bonnie S. Glaser of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and CFR Senior Fellow Sheila A. Smith join Marcus Noland, executive vice president and director of studies at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, to discuss Chinese and Japanese perceptions towards North Korea since the death of Kim Jong-il. Glaser says that although China is moving away from a special relationship with North Korea and there is increasing criticism of North Korea in Chinese media, China is concerned with maintaining the status quo, fearful of changes such as Korean reunification. Smith discusses Japan's diplomatic isolation in the region since information sharing between Japan, China, and South Korea dwindled in 2012. The panelists also touch on Japan and China's relations with Russia.
Bonnie Glaser on Chinese and South Korean interests:
"South Korea would like to peel off China from North Korea, to strengthen the relationship with Beijing so that China will put, hopefully, more pressure on North Korea. And, then in the longer-term, President Park wants China's support for reunification. …On the Chinese side, they would like, and particularly I think Xi Jinping, would like to peel off South Korea from the United States. China, of course, doesn't like U.S. alliances."
Sheila A. Smith on the Japan–North Korea relationship:
"…the abductee issue has galvanized Japanese domestic politics in ways that have really limited in some respects the way the Japanese government can negotiate directly with the North. I think you find today, Prime Minister Abe has taken a rather bold initiative in responding to Kim Jung Un...his overtures to have a conversation, yet again, on investigating the whereabouts of Japanese citizens in North Korea."
Sheila A. Smith on Japan's security concerns:
"…Japanese security perceptions have always been slightly different than ours in the sense that they are more proximate to the peninsula. …Of course, they're worried about nuclear proliferation, and would be even more worried if those missiles had nuclear warheads. But I think right now they are so focused on how Japan would manage that kind of contingency that emanated, perhaps, from the Korean peninsula, I don't think you have a serious strategic vision beyond."
NOLAND: Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to welcome you to this meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations. My name is Marcus Noland. I am the Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. It is my honor and pleasure to preside over today's meeting on North Korea: A Look from Its Neighbors.
I'm not sure there are any experts on North Korea, but we are blessed with two experts on its neighbors.
NOLAND: On my far right is Bonnie Glaser, Senior Advisor for Asia, Freeman Chair in China Studies and Senior Associate, Pacific Forum, Center for Strategic and International Studies. There are more detailed bios in the—in the roster that you've been handed. And in the middle is Sheila Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, and author, "Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and Rising China." I'll try to say that three times before we quit.
NOLAND: So, now, in engineering, we have something called the signal extraction problem. And reading the newspaper, I have trouble following everything that's going on in Northeast Asia among North Korea and its neighbors. So, I guess to start, could each of you speak a little bit about the continuities and discontinuities in your respective countries' policies toward North Korea? Is what I'm reading in the newspaper, is that signaling real change? Or is it simply noise? And I'll start with Bonnie, 'cause 'G' comes before 'S' and 'C' comes before 'J,' so.
GLASER: Well, thank you, Marcus. It—it's an important question. China's policies towards North Korea, I think, fundamentally have not changed. But we have seen some interesting modifications under Xi Jinping since he came to power in China. We have not seen high level meetings between Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un.
Before Kim Jong-il died, the last few years that he was in power, travelled to China several times. It seems quite clear that Xi Jinping really dislikes the system in North Korea and speaks very disparagingly about Kim Jong-un when he meets with foreign leaders. This is quite unusual. Very different than Hu Jintao. And so at high levels, including a few notches below really the last high level visit, was July, 2013, when China's Vice President visited North Korea.
But the messaging is different. We have not seen the Chinese refer to Korean—North Korean leaders as comrades since Hu Jintao went to the North Korean embassy in China to sign the condolence book upon Kim Jong-il's death. So, there is an effort to move this relationship from what the Chinese used to call a special relationship to a more normal relationship.
Now, frankly, I recall a Chinese official telling me this was an objective as far back as 2006, but it was really rhetorical. And under Xi Jinping, there is a real attempt to implement this. So, for example, the foreign ministry is now in charge of the relationship between China and—and North Korea rather than the international department.
One last change that I would point to is the greater willingness on the part of China to implement sanctions. We have seen since U.N. Security Council Resolution 2094 that the Chinese have made greater efforts than they had in the past, and this is particularly evident in China's decision to publish an export control list last year, in September, which contains a very large number of dual use items. And that's really to try to gain some control over the individuals and the companies.
So, very quickly, I'll just point to some of the continuities. The Chinese continue to try to resume the Six Party Talks. Obviously, that is seen as the way forward diplomatically. The Chinese continue to have a no war, no instability and no nuclear weapons policy. And, frankly, I think that the goal of denuclearization for China is very much inextricably linked with no instability. So, denuclearization can only be pursued on the premise that—that—that North Korea will remain stable.
Economic engagement is still very much central to China's policy toward North Korea. They believe this is beneficial for China's Northeast Provinces. And that it is also good for the process of promoting change in North Korea. Indeed, they think you have to have economic reform development and then maybe North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons at the end of the process.
And the last point that I would mention as far as continuity in China's policy is the preservation of the status quo. The Chinese, I think, are still fearful of change, not knowing what a new status quo would look like. That includes reunification, although, of course, in principal they say that they support reunification. At the end of the day, they're quite fearful of what reunification might bring in terms of potential presence of U.S. forces closer to China's border.
So, some changes, but I think if you look at this strategically in the sort of fundamental sense of China's interest they have not changed, and so we've seen some tactical changes in their approaches.
NOLAND: So, Sheila, Bonnie says that China's interested in the preservation of the status quo, though it wants to go from a special to a normal relationship. Does Japan want to go from an abnormal to a normal relationship?
NOLAND: And is it also interested in preservation of the status quo? Or does it have greater ambitions.
SMITH: I think the one fundamental difference, when you think about Japan's interest in North Korea, is clearly Japan is a step back from the direct interactions on the peninsula. So, you look at Japan's post-war interaction with the Korean Peninsula and with North Korea, it's really viewed through the lens of the U.S.—Japan Alliance.
So, it's a Cold War strategy, right? The United—United States had bases in Japan. Japan was supportive of the U.S. thinking about the Korean Peninsula, and, of course, there's huge bases in Okinawa that would be useful to U.N. forces in the south. So, the Japanese view largely of the strategic value, or the strategic concern, about North Korea largely through the lens of the U.S.—Japan Alliance.
What's changed in the Japanese interaction with North Korea—and I'm taking a little longer view here than Bonnie did—is Japan's economic influence. There was always an anticipated influence that Japan was going to have when it normalized relations with the North.
There was always the anticipation of the big economic assistance package that would come with the peace treaty, but there has not been a peace treaty, right? And the public support in Japan for providing economic assistance even in the event of normalization has been—has been largely diminished in Japan. So, you've got domestic politics that are shaping the way Japan views its future, even a peaceful future with the North.
The other thing I think is very interesting is you also have inside Japan you have a Korean community that we don't normally—normally talk about we talk strategy, but there's about 600,000 Koreans living in Japan. Long-term residents. Those—that Korean community for many decades in the post-war period was one of the main sources of remittance payments for the North, so hard cash, currency. There was barter trade, there was other kinds of instruments. But the North Korean in presence in Japan shouldn't be forgotten when we talk about it.
The discontinuities really come when the Cold War ends, and we all know the—the markers, right? '93, '94, Washington was looking to Japan to see, should there be a need for a use of force, would the Japanese be with us, right? Can we count them in? Can we plan them in? And that was really an instigator of a really fundamental shift, post-Cold War shift, for the U.S. and Japan in thinking about how the Japanese would participate in the event of a contingency on the peninsula.
You go from that then to the Taepodong launch in '98, where the Japanese then begin to feel like the missile proliferation is a direct threat to Japan, and you get the Japanese investment in ballistic missile defenses and other kinds of independent satellite capabilities, et cetera. So, again, it's—it's security concern emanating from the north, and a reorganization of the way in which the U.S. and Japan think about how their alliance might work if you had instability on the peninsula.
What I think are the interesting markers, and particularly when we're thinking about what's going on today, is when Prime Minister Koizumi initiates his direct diplomacy with the north and Pyongyang. So, Prime Minister Koizumi in 2002 made a highly secret and very sudden, for many people, visit to Pyongyang, in which he met with Kim Jong-un, and which many people had suspected the stories about the abducted Japanese citizens. But many in Japan were deeply shocked when Kim Jung-un actually acknowledged ...
GLASER: Kim Jung-il.
NOLAND: Kim Jung-il.
SMITH: I'm sorry, Kim Jung-il, that's right. Kim Jung-il. Kim Jung-un's father. Thank you. He actually admitted that, yes, they had abducted Japanese nationals. And, yes, they would be willing to barter—barter some arrangement that would have some of those be returned to Japan.
I—I mentioned the shock in Japan, in large part, because of the issue of Japanese abductions has had a tremendous impact on Japanese public perceptions, perhaps even more than the threat perceptions in Japan. More than the Taepodong, I think the abductee issue has—has galvanized Japanese domestic politics in ways that have really limited in some respects the way the Japanese government can negotiate directly with the North. I think you find today, Prime Minister Abe has taken a rather bold initiative in responding to Kim Jung-un, this time...
SMITH: ...his overtures to have a conversation, yet again, on investigating the whereabouts of Japanese citizens in North Korea. And this investigation, different from the—the—the era of his father, is going to include not just the remaining twelve Japanese who the Japanese government identifies as abducted, but also the 800 something cases of Japanese who are missing who may have ended up—some—some of them may have ended up in North Korea.
But also the potential repatriation of what the Japanese call nihonjin zuma, or the wives' spouses of those—those Koreans in Japan, who repatriated in 1960, 1961, after Kim Il-sung—the grandfather—said, Come back home, right, to the Korean peninsula. 6,000 Japanese went home with about 80,000 Koreans in—in the '60s. So, that wave of repatriation of Koreans also has implications. There are Japanese who married, and who are in North Korea today that they are going to be talking about in this investigation.
So, that's a broad way of saying that the abductee issue doesn't necessarily drive completely Japanese policy, but in the domestic context the whereabouts, and Pyongyang's willingness to provide information on the whereabouts of those Japanese citizens, is a huge factor in terms of the government's decision making on this. So, to bring us right up today, this may be a discontinuity, it may end up being a continuity, because we're—we're not quite sure yet if anything is going to come with the current promise to reopen this investigation.
But right now you'll be reading headlines in Tokyo that says the Director General of the Asia Bureau, Mr. Ihara, who many of us know, is anticipated to be going to Pyongyang and within the month. The Abe cabinet has judiciously responded to domestic reaction to this by saying we haven't made our decision yet. But I anticipate that he is going. And he will be meeting with the head of the reinvestigation committee, who is the Vice Minister of the state security apparatus in North Korea.
NOLAND: I was once testifying in front of the House of Representatives and one of the congressman—who actually was an intelligent guy who asked really good questions—kept on referring to Kim Jong-il.
NOLAND: So, I think maybe, you know, we can just call them Kim I, Kim II, and Kim III.
NOLAND: You mentioned that Japan looks at this issue, in large part, through its relationship with the United States and I want to come back to that in a moment. But North Korea doesn't exist in isolation, even on the Korean peninsula, there is one other neighbor who is missing from the stage this afternoon, and that's South Korea. My sense is that China has an increasingly robust relationship with South Korea. How does its relationship with South Korea play into its diplomacy towards North Korea?
GLASER: Well, the Chinese are quite eager to have a closer relationship with South Korea, and President Park Geun-hye of South Korea is certainly interested in having a better relationship with China. Their agendas overlap. Both would like to see the removal of nuclear weapons from North Korea.
The Chinese certainly share Seoul's desire to not have North Korea engaged in conventional provocations. The Chinese, indeed, are worried about the consequences of those provocations as Japan and the United States have worked together to bolster their missile defense capabilities, which the Chinese worry have implications for their deterrent. So, there are these overlapping interests, but then they respectively have their own agendas.
So, South Korea would like to peel off China from North Korea, to strengthen the relationship with Beijing so that China will put, hopefully, more pressure on North Korea. And, then in the longer-term, President Park wants China's support for reunification. And, as we know, the reunification issue has been put now far more prominently on South Korea's agenda, so this is very important to South Korea.
On the Chinese side, they would like, and particularly I think Xi Jinping, would like to peel off South Korea from the United States. China, of course, doesn't like U.S. alliances. In fact, it was in the mid-'90s that China put forward a proposal for a new security concept that referred to U.S. alliances as Cold War alliances, and Xi Jinping has recently reiterated the idea of an Asian security concept, which has some similarities with the one from the 1990s.
So, there is this, I think, sort of respective competition. They both like to achieve their goals, and are using each other for their own purposes. Economically, they share a great deal of common interest. 2013, that bilateral relationship was $270 billion in trade, and expanding enormously. So there's—there's really a lot that the two nations, I think, are trying to achieve.
I would just add that when Xi Jinping was in South Korea, met with President Park in July, although in many ways it was a successful visit, Xi Jinping tried to convince President Park to take some steps on issues that she really demurred on. She was not eager, for example, to participate in commemorative activities for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Obviously an effort by Xi Jinping to woo her to engage in this set of anti-Japanese activities.
Then, secondly, Xi Jinping tried to dissuade President Park from deploying missile defense, particularly U.S. missile defense, the THAAD system in South Korea. So far it appears that South Korea has not responded to that. And then the third issue where Xi Jinping, I think, failed to make progress was to win South Korea's support for the—what I call the Asia for Asians concept. And this was put forward at this CICA meeting, confidence building and interactions, something like that that was recently held. And, although Xi Jinping I think has backed away a little bit from characterizing it as Asian security should be determined by Asians, nevertheless the South Koreans did not support it. So, I think China is pleased at some of the progress, but disappointed in some areas as well.
NOLAND: So, Sheila, I would be surprised if you used the term peeling off ...
NOLAND: ... with respect to ...
NOLAND: No, no, I think there's something qualitatively very different in Japan's relationship with South Korea and how that—how that interacts with its policy towards North Korea.
SMITH: Let me start with—I will talk about South Korea in just a second—since we're talking about how it's not in isolation, I think one of the pieces of the puzzle that people here in Washington particularly don't understand is the interaction between Tokyo and Washington on some of the ways in which the United States has sought to negotiate with the north. So, the Japanese were very comfortable way back when, in the Korean Energy Development Organization.
They were quite comfortable with Bill Perry's tea (inaudible) in the alliance first sort of approach. They were really not so comfortable with Six Party. With the framework that was led, largely, or anticipated to be led by China. And even that was back when there wasn't yet the Senkaku dispute, or there wasn't yet the full blown tensions that you see in that relationship today. But the regional approach has always made Tokyo somewhat nervous about where their equities would be and how they would navigate that—that—that balance.
They were supportive of Six Party, but a little bit worried about their place in the six parties themselves. And you certainly see that tension that between Washington and Tokyo emerge in the second Bush Administration, when Ambassador Hill was moving a little bit in—on the view of the Japanese a little bit too quickly, and with a little bit less consultation than I think Tokyo expected as an ally. Right? So, there is—there's always the Tokyo Washington piece of this puzzle to think about here.
Now, the—the Korean peninsula, I think, on one hand, everybody knows today that there has been a tremendous diplomatic estrangement between Japan and South Korea. So, when you watched Abe announce his initiative at the end of the spring, the first and most vocal response to that was Seoul. They didn't like it. They thought it was stepping out of the bounds of a—a cooperative arrangement between Washington, Seoul and Tokyo, but they also really, really didn't like the idea that Abe would move without consultations with them.
So, you always had quietly a very close conversation. Even the Koizumi moment you had as close cooperation—consultation after the fact with Seoul as you did with Washington. Today you don't have that, because you have a large, huge, gaping diplomatic silence, right, between the two. The causes of that we can talk about at a different moment, but—but it has hurt not only Japan, it's not only hurt the way the United States interacts with Seoul and Tokyo, it has also hurt what was a burgeoning, slowly emerging trilateral dialogue in Northeast Asia itself.
For those of you—it's not as specific to North Korea, but in December 2008, Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing began a trilat. Very tentative, very focused on economic issues, not hard security. Not hard politics of history. But, nonetheless, the North Korean issue, they briefed each other by 2009, by 2010. There was a—if not a coordination of policy, there was at least an information sharing effort in that process. That has stopped as well, and that was in—in response in 2012 to the island disputes with China.
So the trilateral, that kind of very incremental attempt to at least get a better understanding of the North Korean perspective of all three countries, that, too, is gone. So, you've got very significant silences, I think, at the regional level that I think really isolate Japan, or at least and—and—and make Tokyo worried about what the potential for serious diplomatic isolation is.
The other piece of the puzzle for the Japanese, of course, is that with the Six Party Talks not so clear in terms of what the ultimate outcome was going to be, the Japanese are also whole heartedly embracing the U.N.—the U.N. effort at nonproliferation, developing a role in nonproliferation. And the South Koreans and Japanese together were quite influential in—in—in that effort. So, the Japanese actually went multilateral in part because nonproliferation was something that mattered to them in North Korea, but it was sort of to offset in some ways their kind of frustration in the Six Party regional approach.
NOLAND: So, Bonnie, you mentioned the issue of unification. South Korea wants Chinese support for unification. There was a—a recent poll of 135 experts. I use this term advisedly in the context of North Korea, but, so-called experts. Vice President Mondale once told me that anyone who tells you they're an expert on North Korea is a liar or a fool.
But, anyway, the Ilmin Institute of International Relations in Seoul found 135 experts and polled them on the future of North Korea. And there was a range of views, but the consensus was that the Kim Jong Un regime had a life expectancy of ten to twenty years. That it would eventually fall due to intra-elite tensions. And that the ultimate outcome would be unification with the south. So, something sort of along the German lines I suppose.
What was interesting—there were many interesting things and I would recommend this report to all of you, you can download it on—online, it's Ilmin Institute for International Relations and just look for experts' poll in North Korea. One of the things that—that was in there was they asked everyone sort of who was going to be the winners and losers. And the result, as I recall, is that all the surrounding countries are winners, but the biggest single winner is China. So, has the Chinese leadership read the Ilmin Institute ...
NOLAND: ...survey? Or are they still committed to the status quo, as you indicated about ten minutes ago?
GLASER: I doubt they read the survey.
GLASER: I think that the Chinese, again, in principle, the Chinese have always said that they would support reunification. After all, China is still a divided country, and until there is reunification with Taiwan, certainly, the Chinese would never be seen as opposing reunification. Now, I also think that the Chinese might see reunification under some circumstances as serving China's interest.
But the question is again, what is out—what does the outcome look like? If the United States removes its troops from South Korea. If the peninsula is, if not pro-China, at least close to China, make decisions that take China's interests into account. Has trade with China. Doesn't make territorial claims on China, which is also a potential issue.
So, there's a lot of ifs here. Then I think that the Chinese could live with that outcome. And, in fact, I would argue, might see it as—as preferable to the situation today, which carries with it greater and greater uncertainty. No country likes uncertainty, and I think that the Chinese themselves don't really have a good window any longer into what is going on in North Korea. They—their ambassador, I am told, in North Korea may be able to go to a farm every once in a while, and help out with the harvest, but he really doesn't have ...
GLASER: ...access to the high level leadership any longer. In fact, we just saw the 65th anniversary passed of the founding of China's relationship with North Korea and this went totally uncelebrated and unnoticed. Whereas five years ago, the 60th anniversary, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao made a—a very important visit to—to North Korea.
So, I—my own argument is the Chinese worry about the process of reunification. Could be very messy. The notion of implosion, explosion, potentially U.S., South Korean troops going northward, this is a nightmare for China. So, you have to paint the scenario in a way that China's interests are protected and there is a knowable outcome that is in favor of China's interests. I think we would probably all agree that's not the way it's going to happen. And so as a result, as I said earlier, I think preserving the status quo, and that buffer along China's border, for the time being, is preferable to Beijing.
NOLAND: So, they have an Augustinian policy-- give me unification, just not now.
NOLAND: Japan, does Japan want to see unification? Or does it love Korea so much that it wants to see two?
SMITH: Well, let me see how I answer that question. You know, I—I wrote something earlier this year, in the spring, and I went through the entire Japanese literature looking for the debate on what would happen if they reunified Korea. There's very little. That doesn't mean that the people don't think about it, but there is—in terms of what that would mean for Japanese choices, there's really very little deep analysis at the moment.
What I think you would have Japanese colleagues tell you, if you sat down and had a drink, or not have a drink, was that obviously unification would not necessarily be in Japan's interest except if it was under certain circumstances. And those circumstances, I would guess, would be the continued presence of the U.S. military on the Korean peninsula.
A unified Korea that did not have an alliance with the United States I think would be strategically very worrisome for Japan. I think in the—in the—in the absence of a serious turnaround in the bilateral relationship between South Korea and Japan, I think it would get more worrisome. In other words, if this estrangement continues, and it's—it's long lived, then I think you'll get an increasing concern about what a unified South Korea—or a South Korean-led unified Korea might mean for Japan.
But I think the real—the real question here is, Japanese security perceptions have always been slightly different than ours in the sense that they are more proximate to the peninsula. They worried about missiles, short of the Taepodong, I mean the No Dongs and others they've had a much more intense concern about missile proliferation. Of course, they're worried about nuclear proliferation, and would be even more worried if those missiles had nuclear warheads.
But—but I think right now they are so focused on how Japan would manage that kind of contingency that emanated, perhaps, from the Korean peninsula, I don't think you have a serious strategic vision beyond. What I will say, obviously, in the very short run history here is that Madame Park's meeting with Xi was watched very intensely in Tokyo.
SMITH: As an obvious, and since Madame Park has come into office, her vision of Northeast Asian regionalism, for example, based on a correct understanding of history. And that—that use of that language, for example, is very concerning to—to Tokyo policy makers. Her—her kind of going to Beijing before coming to Tokyo. Engaging Xi before being willing to—to try to some kind of dialogue with Abe. All that means that this is a very strange relationship, and there's a deep worry that the strategic shift of South Korea may have as its price the relationship with Japan.
Now, that's a short run kind of commentary. I don't know how many serious thinkers in Japan really think that this—estrangement is the word I keep going back to—is long lived or temporary. I think they would like it to be temporary, but there's worry there about the South Korean strategic direction, and how the South Koreans are viewing their future role with China.
NOLAND: Fair enough. So, at this point, we'd like to open it up and invite audience members to join the discussion. The Council on Foreign Relations staff provided me with a cheat sheet to help me get through this part. They forgot they were dealing with an elderly person, so they put it in ten point font, but the next point ...
NOLAND: ...is—is in bold, so even I can read it.
NOLAND: It says please wait for the microphone and speak directly into it. Please stand, state your name and affiliation, and as in Jeopardy!, try to make your statements in the form of a question.
NOLAND: OK, so there's a roving mike, and I will identify questioners and then you're supposed to stand and I think you can all handle it. So, please, who would like to ask a question? Yes, please.
QUESTION: Hi, Andrew Yeo, Catholic University of America. Thank you so much for, you know, for this informative discussion. My question's for Bonnie Glaser. I was wondering what—in the Chinese media how is North Korea—how is North Korea discussed? Is it—is North Korea framed as, you know, is it, you know, China needs to support North Korea out of necessity? Or is it—is it sort of a reluctant form of relationship that's there? Or do they discuss North Korea in terms of, you know, we need to support them, we share, you know, common values, or a common ideology? They're—much like the way U.S. talks about South Korea, it's a blood alliance sort of thing. So, I'm just curious: how is—how is North Korea discussed within the Chinese—within the Chinese media?
GLASER: Ever since the North Koreans conducted their first nuclear test in 2006, we have seen a more open Chinese debate about North Korea. And it has gotten very interesting. It is impossible to say whether these articles that are written by scholars or commentators at news outlets really reflects any debate at the top of the system. I think it did under Hu Jintao. I don't know really the extent to which it does today.
But, you see at one extreme, experts who describe a—North Korea that is vulnerable. That should get security assurances from the United States. That faces a challenge very similar to what China faced when it was under pressure from the outside world. So, very sympathetic with North Korea.
And, frankly, very suspicious of the United States. We rebalanced Asia after all, is seen as very harmful to Chinese interests, and these people would express concern about the potential for the United States to take advantage of signs of instability in North Korea to possible force reunification. But, at the other end of the spectrum, you have many scholars who are very critical of North Korea, and some who have called for regime change.
There was a very interesting article just a few weeks that was in the "Beijing News," not the most authoritative news organ, but nevertheless authoritative. And this article talked about the Cheonan incident, the Yeonpyung Do incidents of 2010, and essentially said they were provocations by North Korea. Now, that certainly doesn't reflect the position that the Chinese government took at the time, and emphasized the need for denuclearization as soon as possible. So, there really is just a range of views, this ongoing debate. Sometimes the North Koreans complain when there are critical articles in the—in the Chinese media about them.
But these articles, nevertheless, continue to be published. And so my own read is that that represents this constant churning in the system. There are people in—in the public—public opinion in general, particularly in the northeast area, who are quite worried about North Korea's behavior. The last time there was a nuclear test, people were writing on—online that they were worried that the water could be contaminated, or the soil. This—these—this nuclear test took place rather close to China's borders.
So, public opinion has begun—has begun to turn against, I think, North Korea. And sometimes public opinion can influence Chinese policy, and other times the—the government ignores it.
So, it's a very interesting process to watch. So, hard to say if it really represents authoritative thinking at the very top, Xi Jinping in particular, since he has so much control in his—in his hands, but nevertheless I think is—it's—it will be an important, I think, indicator going forward as to whether or not there might be a sort of real turn against North Korea. If we really see media drop the sympathetic line, and get more and more critical then I think that that would be an important development.
QUESTION: Thank you.
NOLAND: Yes, please?
QUESTION: Thank you. I'm Roy McCall, an institutional investment advisor. Following up on Andrew's good question, can anyone speak to the Korean viewer flavor in the press? I haven't been to South Korea since I visited Pyongyang, where I noticed busloads of Chinese tourists, as well as Japanese tourists were there in abundance between Pyongyang and Kaesong. But what's the Korean view of ...
NOLAND: North or South?
QUESTION: South Korea.
NOLAND: I'm just the presider.
NOLAND: Look, in—in South Korea there's—there's a range of views. You have maybe a quarter of the population concentrated among the older people, who have very harsh views towards the north. You have a bulk of the population that feels some ambivalency. And then you have a group in the population, which is, again, probably a quarter, something like that, who are probably now in their early fifties, forties, that generation who have, I don't want to say favorable views of the north, but they feel greater solidarity with the north than the rest of the country does. And then it kind of among the youngest people there's just lack of interest.
And I've—my—my sense is that one of the reasons that President Park has been trying to sort of promote unification was precisely trying to exert some political leadership, especially with regard to younger voters who seem simply to be losing interest. Interestingly enough, there was a—a public opinion poll done recently in South Korea and views towards Japan were influenced by exposure to Japan through cultural products or other ways. But the single biggest explanator in a quantitative sense, in the statistical models, were attitudes towards the U.S.
If you had a favorable—so if you—the more educated people, the young, there was younger and kind of exposed to cultural products had favorable views towards Japan. But if you had favorable views towards the United States, you really had favorable views towards Japan. And likewise with regard to—to China, it was older people, less educated people who had been to China, but it was also views towards North Korea. If you were relatively positively disposed towards North Korea, then you liked China. So, take that for what it is. Yes, the gentleman, two chairs down. Right here.
QUESTION: David Sedney, formerly with Defense Department. One—one other neighbor who's not setting up their representative is Russia, part of the Six Party talks. I'd love to get your views of the—the role of Russia and how both China and Japan might see Russia's involvement in Korean peninsula affairs.
SMITH: I can start if you like. I—I think the Japanese—this cabinet, the Abe cabinet has been very forward leaning on the relationship with Russia. And Abe and Putin have met until the—the Crimean annexation, they met five times. So, there was a lot—there was a kind of personal enthusiasm for some kind of engagement in upping the ante in terms of their relationship. They agreed to have a two plus two, which is a security consultative mechanism, regular talks, right? Which is a first for Japan and—and Russia. They agreed also to talk about energy deals and the specifics of that I—I won't going into but—but the real question for Prime Minister Abe was whether he could get Mr. Putin to sign on to a discussion about the—what the Japanese call the Northern Territories, and what the Russians call Kurils.
And—and there—there was a dialogue that was established. I, personally, was not terribly optimistic that there was going to be a breakthrough on the territorial issue, and there have been at least three rounds of serious Japanese, Soviet, Japanese Russian negotiations on that, right? But I think the fact that there was an agreement on both sides to sit down to discuss it had strategic value for Abe.
He could say to others, We can negotiate. We can discuss these issues. We can come to some accommodation. To send signals, obviously to Beijing, and perhaps less so to—to Seoul that he really did want to talk through these disputes in some way. That was all brought to a sharp close, or maybe not such a—not such a sharp close, a gradual close, right, by the events in Crimea, and then more broadly the—the sanctions. Japan participates in the G7 sanctions on—on Russia today, but it does so at a lower level than the United States and a lower level than the Europeans, but nonetheless has begun the sanctions.
So, right now things are on hold. Mr. Putin continues to say publicly that he wants to have his state visit to Japan, which was scheduled for this fall. I can't conceivably see that that's going to happen. But he still—he's—he's continuing to put out there the fact that he wants this relationship with Mr. Abe, despite the fact that his relationship with Washington may be not so good. And so Mr. Abe there's a—there's a certain kind of disquiet about the fact that they are now unable to pursue that geostrategic dialogue with Russia.
GLASER: The North Koreans have reached out to Russia, so they are trying to develop a closer relationship with Russia, and particularly in the energy sphere. I think from China's perspective, this is really not seen as a problem. After all, China has been tightening its own relationship with Russia. Xi Jinping has met with Putin many times. Increasingly, they are expanding their cooperative agenda. Potentially resuming some important weapon sales from Russia, which we really haven't seen for a while. They obviously agree on the agenda of opposing U.S. hegemony. And in the economic sphere the relationship has been expanding.
So, given that North Korea has been so dependent on China, and some of the statistics put its trade dependency on China—South Korean statistics—as high as 90 percent. I don't know if that's accurate. I think that the Chinese actually would favor North Korea expanding its trade relationship with Russia. And as long as China has a good relationship with Russia, you know, why is that really a—a—a problem for—for China?
It will be interesting to see if Kim Jong Un, at some point, makes his first trip abroad. We are approaching the three year mark of Kim Jong Il's death. And there is a possibility that he would make a trip abroad. Now, does he want to visit Russia first? Or China? I think, in the current circumstances, he probably would go to Russia. If you pay attention to the North Korean press, I talked about China's attitudes towards North Korea, but the north is obviously quite irritated at China. Says a lot of very negative things about the Chinese, increasingly explicitly. And sometimes their media doesn't mention important dates, such as the anniversary of the security treaty between the two nations.
So, I think Xi Jinping probably would not do anything to give North Korea enough carrots to get Kim Jung Un to come to China first. I don't think he cares that much. As long as, as I said, the relationship between China and Russia is good, I don't think that the Chinese are going to be worried about North Korea expanding a bit and having better relations with some of the other neighbors, and particularly Russia, as well as South Korea.
NOLAND: North Korea's kind of a Rorschach test. If you—if you show North Korea to economists they say barbarism. If you show North Korea to political scientists they see a country that brilliantly uses an extremely weak hand to—to get what it wants. And it has a history of playing these countries off against each other, and for the last two months statements by President Putin or statements from Russian leaders have been on the front page of Rodong Sinmun. And statements from Chinese president, and Chinese leaders have been on page three. Whether the—whether other partners fall for this routine, again, is another question. There was a hand up in the back. There's a hand here, and a hand there. Well, ladies first, please.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Kristin Kim, I'm with the Medill news service. Thank you so much for your discussion today. I was just wondering, you know, due to North Korea's political, economic instability, reunification can come in the form a dramatic downfall, or it can be a more gradual process. So, are China and Japan ready to confront such a situation? I know in the status quo they're trying to push off their decision for as long as possible, but given their current policies, what is the mostly likely response in the face of a real reunification?
GLASER: Well, first I would say that the Chinese do not believe we're going to see a collapse of North Korea any time soon. They have their own experience in assessing North Korea. They've listened to Americans, some, predict collapse for a long time. And they believe that there could be some instability, but the potential for whether it's economic or political instability actually spilling over the borders is considered to be fairly low. But they don't rule it out. And they have made some preparations.
So, for example, the PLA exercises regularly along the border, and it—I have been told that there is a plan in place to try and close the border, which is very long, and they are not completely confident that they would be able to do that. They talk about privately possibly setting up refugee camps they—which they say would be on the Chinese side of the border, not the North Korean side of the border in order to ensure that refugees that come flooding over would be containable.
There's a very large Korean population in Northeast China. At least one million people. And so they feel obligated to help any North Koreans that come across the border, these brethren who came across many years ago, or their family did. They feel compelled, I think, to—to support them.
What I think the Chinese are not so well prepared for is how to deal with a potential U.S.-- South Korean response to instability in North Korea. And as we know the U.S. and ROK forces do exercise and focus on nuclear sites and other WMD sites in North Korea. Some of which, quite frankly, are very close to the Chinese border. The Chinese would certainly not like to see U.S. forces up there.
But the U.S. has reached out many times to China through diplomatic, intelligence and military channels to talk about contingencies, and to really try to discuss some division of labor, or at least how to de-conflict, so that we don't come into some military confrontation. And the Chinese thus far have been unwilling to do so. They have been fearful of North Korea's negative reaction. They think it is unlikely to occur in the near term. And they don't trust the United States. That could change in the future. Some Chinese say if we think that instability is pending, don't worry, we'll talk to you. And, of course, my message to them is, by that point it would be too late.
SMITH: I think my answer on the Japanese side is—is a little bit of repetition of what I've already said. But, you know, in the early 1990s you had a—a significant Japanese debate about development assistance, or you had still a kind of understanding that perhaps the option of a peaceful unification might be viable. So, you had Japanese who thought about that, what the Japanese role could be, what kind of assistance, et cetera. I think today that's largely gone. I think there's more concern in Tokyo that the—the unification process will not be peaceful. That it will be either the implosion of the north, or some kind of interaction that is very unpredictable, to go back to Bonnie's earlier statement about uncertainty. So, the Japanese focus largely today is about how to defend Japan in the case of that kind of worst case scenario.
NOLAND: We had ...
SMITH: I mentioned ballistic missile defense. You've seen the PAC-3, you know, air defenses being deployed in Okinawa and other parts around Japan. You have a war plan, for lack of a better word, you have a war plan that with the United States that really does think about that contingency in very detailed ways. One of the challenges for Japan, of course, is that there are many Japanese in South Korea, so if you had that kind of worst case scenario, how would you get those civilians out and back home to Japan? So, that's been something that up until the—the last year of Lee Myung-bak's administration the Japanese and South Korean governments actually had some dialogue on some of those contingencies.
And I think the—the South Koreans and Japanese had decided that they needed a little bit more information sharing. There was an information sharing agreement. There was what's called a cross servicing and acquisition agreement ready to be signed, so that they would know what to do. So, the dialogue between Seoul and Tokyo had progressed a little bit more on that kind of thinking. That ended in the last year of Lee Myung-bak's administration and—and given the tensions today, they are not yet able to go back to thinking out loud together about that process.
There's been quite a bit of concern in the South Korean media about the U.S.—Japan guidelines discussions that are ongoing today. And there's worry that in that guidelines process there may be some introduction of Japanese military forces on the Korean peninsula, but there is no Japanese plan to land forces on the peninsula without the permission of the South Korea government. But I think the media—the South Korea media questions that I got directly were really about that civilian evacuation component, and worry that Washington would be sanguine about allowing the Japanese to build that into their bilateral alliance planning.
But, just—just as far as I know anyway, there is no U.S.-- Japan planning that involves that kind of activity. That would have to be a Tokyo—Seoul conversation.
NOLAND: In the front row.
QUESTION: Ken Lieberthal, the Brookings Institution. Question is for Bonnie Glaser. Bonnie, you've done a wonderful job of articulating a nuanced, complicated terrain that China has to operate in when it considers what to do vis-a-vis North Korea. And, the bottom line seems to be that they can indicate their displeasure, but they aren't going to do very much to force a change in the situation because of uncertainties about how that initiative would play out and the possibility that it would make things much worse from their perspective.
So, I have two questions. One is, if you could advise Xi Jinping is there any—I got asked a question like this in a recent meeting, and hated it, but I'm sorry. But, seriously, if you could advise Xi Jinping, respecting his concerns and his kind of framework of analysis, is there any major shift in policy, or evolution of policy that you would advise him to make that you think would, you could argue convincingly would leave China better off than it is now, vis-a-vis North Korea? Number one. Number two, would your answer change, and if so how, if North Korea conducts a fourth nuclear test? Thank you.
GLASER: Very tough question, Ken. Thank you very much. If I'm advising Xi Jinping as an American, I might have different things to say than advising him as a Chinese. But, so you want me to do this as a Chinese?
QUESTION: As a very brave...
GLASER: As a brave Chinese.
GLASER: I would—I would as a brave Chinese advise Xi Jinping to try to have a quiet conversation with the United States about the future of the Korean peninsula. Whether or not we could actually prevent leaks, I don't know. But I think that there are possible reassurances that the United States might, or at least in my view, should consider in the event that there is some instability on the peninsula.
Could we reassure the Chinese that if we were to deploy forces north of the 38th parallel for the purposes of stabilization, securing nuclear facilities, other missions, that those forces would not be there in perpetuity. That there would be a withdrawal of those forces south of the 38th parallel. I think that's a great concern to—to the Chinese, and there might be some other things that they could seek from the United States.
I don't think we should promise in advance that we would leave the peninsula. That's ultimately—ultimately something that's up to South Korea and the United States to discuss. But I think that we could provide them with some reassurances that the peninsula would not be used in a way that would threaten Chinese interests. And that's insurance South Korea can give really, not—not just the United States.
So, I think that's a conversation that he really—that he should have with the United States. But, I—I would not advise him to put a great deal more pressure on North Korea. I know that many people think China should just cut off oil deliveries to North Korea. So, as a Chinese, as advising him as a Chinese, I would say that, yes, there is a potential for instability in—in North Korea. The Chinese don't want to see sudden regime change. So, maybe there can be some gradual working towards cooperation with the south and the United States without—without promoting regime change, because I think, ultimately, that is what the Chinese really do fear.
Second part of the question? Oh, the—the fourth nuclear test. My guess is that as we have seen with other nuclear tests with North Korea, the Chinese incrementally are willing to put a little bit more pressure on North Korea each time. And as I said, there is now some seriousness in implementing sanctions, although when it comes to luxury goods I think they still—in many cases look the other way.
But I—I think that in the case of the fourth nuclear test we will see some greater cooperation from China, but within these boundaries.
Again, the Chinese don't want to see instability. So, if I were advising Xi Jinping, I would say, Let's look for individuals, companies that are potentially violating some of these security sanctions. We can do a better job of enforcement. Maybe we can even join the proliferation security initiative, which China has refused to join so far. There are things that they could do. The real threat, I think, will come if they are really able to marry that nuclear warhead with a long-range ballistic missile, and the day that that happens, if the United States responds very strongly, then China is going to have to make some very difficult choices, I think.
NOLAND: OK, so we have time for one last question. Before I take it, I am supposed to remind that this meeting is on the record. Feel free to quote our speakers, Bonnie Glaser of the CSIS, Sheila Smith, Council on Foreign Relations, and author, "Intimate Rivals—Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and Rising China."
SMITH: They trained you well.
GLASER: And buy the book when it comes out.
NOLAND: Just spell their names correctly. So, for the last question, yes, please.
QUESTION: Mike Moesittig, PBS Online Newshour. Bonnie, following up on your last point, the last time American troops approached the Yalu River, China responded with tens of thousands of volunteers. Has there been any suggestion in the military press, or among some of these hawkish generals that the U.S., if they cross a certain line, then China is going to respond militarily? Or so far all has been diplomatic?
GLASER: I can't recall. I mean, I don't rule that some hawkish PLA generals have said if the U.S. took that first step across the border China should respond. But, I think generally speaking the Chinese are looking to avoid sending forces, once again, into Korea. This was something they paid a very, very high price for. And the Chinese they, you know, they even have told me privately, and that—and probably others as well—that their government has tried to convince North Korea to excise the clause in their mutual security treaty that would obligate China to come to North Korea's assistance. And this has happened more than once. The North Koreans have refused. So, it remains in place. I understand that the Chinese have basically said, But don't count on it. Now, it still exists, they could use it if they chose to intervene, but I frankly think that only in the most dire of circumstances would the Chinese, once again, send troops into—into North Korea.
NOLAND: And on that uplifting note, consideration of a second Korean war ...
NOLAND: ... I would like to thank all of you for participating in today's meeting. I'm sure you agree with me that this has been a fascinating meeting and will join me in thanking our speakers, Bonnie Glaser of CSIS ...
NOLAND: ...Sheila Smith of Council on Foreign Relations and author of ...
SMITH: That's OK. It's OK.
NOLAND: I declare this meeting adjourned. Thank you.