Can Donald Trump and Xi Jinping keep their relationship off the track to war?


The Telegraph, 6 April, 2017

Today sees the first day of a historic US-China summit in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, which will see two strongmen, Xi Jinping and Donald Trump sitting down together and thrashing out bilateral economic and security issues. Seen by many Washington insiders as premature, the summit with China seems to have come before President Trump has fully fleshed out his cabinet, and, some would say, before he has fleshed out his Asia policy. Whatever the case, the White House has indicated that North Korea, trade, and the South China Sea will be high on the agenda for the US side. For the man who talked of China over and over again on the campaign trail, a meeting with the Chinese president has been a long time in coming.

For his part, China’s President Xi Jinping has played China’s cards close to his chest. The China Daily, a state-owned newspaper, claimed the meeting was merely for the two leaders to “compare notes” and “help stabilize political relations” between the two. The ultimate aim being to avoiding what many academics call the “Thucydides Trap” in which an established power’s fear of a rising power leads to escalation and eventually war. Despite Trump’s fiery campaign rhetoric about China “raping” the US, manipulating its currency, and stealing American jobs, Beijing has muted its response to these charges, preferring to see him as a businessman, with whom they can make a deal.

Certainly, he presents a challenge. According to Fred Fleitz, a former Bush appointee, “China is coming here to try to figure Trump out.” In an age of twenty-four hour news, tweeting, and rapidly-changing policy positions, it is rare for political figures to defy interpretation.

So will the Chinese give him a deal? Some have argued that they will give him some sort of concession over North Korea. Not that Beijing genuinely believes US threats to consider “all options on the table”, i.e. military means, but they recognize serious signalling when they see it.

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America has a THAAD Missile Problem in Korea– It Must Move Quickly and Carefully to Resolve It


With Jake Ramsamugh, Researcher, Henry Jackson Society

IAPS Dialogue, 6 April, 2017

As President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping sit down together in Florida, it is clear that the White House’s priority is the Korean peninsula. North Korea’s nuclear missile program is putting the American mainland increasingly in range, changing the strategic calculus in Washington.

The Pentagon stresses that its THAAD missile defence system is intended to protect South Korea and Japan from a North Korean nuclear missile strike, but China worries that it will compromise its position in the Pacific region. The deployment was arranged during the final months of the Obama administration with the now deposed South Korean President, Park Geun-hye. Unsettlingly for the new US administration, the next presumptive President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, favours a much more cooperative approach toward North Korea and may order the removal of the missile system. China’s anger and Moon’s coolness to THAAD contrast starkly with President Trump’s brash attitude towards diplomacy and his determination to “solve North Korea”.

Whether or not THAAD is maintained in South Korea, things are headed toward crisis-level on the Peninsula.

THAAD, a US operated anti-ballistic missile system, is expected to be fully operational in South Korea by the summer. In many ways, it is difficult to understand why the Chinese resent the system so much. With an effective range of over 200 kilometres, it is designed to intercept incoming ballistic missiles at speeds of over Mach 8 and is a defensive, rather than offensive system. The missiles do not even carry warheads, relying solely on the kinetic energy of impact to destroy incoming missiles. Despite this, China’s Ambassador to South Korea, Qiu Guohong, has gone so far as to say that the deployment of the system could destroy the Beijing-Seoul relationship “in an instant”. It appears that the main sticking point for the Chinese is the powerful X-band radar that is part of the missile systems compliment. It has a far-reaching detection range, capable of penetrating Chinese territory. Here in lies China’s fears, as theoretically speaking, using the long range radar the US could spy on Chinese air force activities.

The recently ousted President Park took a firm policy line against North Korea, advocating a stronger South Korean military contribution to the US-Korean alliance, and vowed not to be threatened by North Korean provocations. However, her fall from power, after a corruption scandal now put the agreement at risk. Fresh presidential elections are due in May and the front-runner, Moon Jae-in, has a very different policy stance towards the North. A former aide to former President Roh Moo-hyun, Moon’s policies are often referred to as “Sunshine Policy 2.0”. If he wins the election on May 9th – as polls currently predict – he will likely soften his country’s policy towards North Korea and consider removing THAAD from South Korea.

In a major policy speech last month Moon stated, “We have no choice but to recognize Kim Jong Un as a counterpart” signalling his intent to pursue a more cooperative partnership with rogue state to the north. This poses a serious break with US policy which has become even more determined to tackle the “big, big problem” that Trump sees with North Korea. Worse still – from Trump’s point of view – Moon may also see getting rid of THAAD as a way of buying Chinese favour and of calming the growing crisis in Sino-Korean relations.

So what are Trump’s options? The President, a former businessman, is well known for his “never back down” negotiation attitude. Nevertheless, he may want to tread lightly if he wants to balance coming down hard on North Korea, maintaining South Korea as a close partner and calming Chinese concerns over THAAD’s deployment. In response to North Korean escalation of its nuclear programme China has banned coal imports from the country but, as North Korea imports most of its energy and food supplies from China, analysts say that it’s not enough. A possible route for Trump is to craft a deal that would involve China drastically increasing its economic sanctions against the rouge state in return for a drawdown of THAAD. This option could have the potential to please everyone. It will ensure that a South Korea under Moon would not drift away from the US towards China, as it would meet his desire to have the missiles removed from the country. China would be also be comforted by the removal of THAAD. North Korea may be squeezed so tightly that it may have to draw back on its nuclear ambitions and Donal Trump get to play the deal-maker.

If Trump still wants to play hard ball with North Korea he is going to need to face down these two major problems sooner rather than later, he could try the diplomatic route, but his foreign relations so far have been defined by trade and military capabilities. He may not even consider the removal of THAAD as in his mind it would be a symbol of America on the retreat rather than compromising. If he does not resolve this crisis quickly, with China’s anger and Moon’s preference for cooperation over confrontation, Trump could find a North Korea still as dangerous and unstable as before but with few partners in the region to work with to bring about a solution to the North Korean problem

America, Japan and the UK: A New Three-Way Alliance?


With Chris Bew, Researcher, Henry Jackson Society

The National Interest, 4 April, 2017

In January 2016, standing on the flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier based in Japan, the UK defence secretary, Michael Fallon, spoke of Washington’s commitment to a “three-way alliance” between the United Kingdom, Japan and the United States. He stated that the three countries would develop their commitment to interoperability by working closely together in the future. This is significant because it comes at a time when there are serious questions about stability in the region, and when the East and South China Seas may become crucial issues in relations between Beijing, Washington and Tokyo.

Putting this rhetoric into practice, on October 20, 2016, the chief of the Japanese Maritime Force and the chiefs of the British and U.S. navies sat across the table from each other at the Pentagon to sign a trilateral cooperation agreement. This agreement commits all three navies to closer cooperation, with increased exercises and joint patrols in the future. Signed at the service-level, this agreement sets forth a roadmap for what it calls “mutually desired strategic effects.”


–>Why Team Up?
In the context of an increasingly uncertain world, we are seeing more and more states aligning with each other in non-traditional security relationships at the global level. These alignments are non-traditional in the sense that they are not formal alliances, but rather informal and ever-expanding arrangements. Covering a host of different areas, they are in many ways a reaction to the complex level of threats facing liberal democracies these days. Considering Britain’s imminent departure from the European Union, forming alliances with other powerful nations around the world is fundamental. With the United Kingdom, United States and Japan each being liberal democracies and having vested interests in the maintenance of the international rules-based system, they make natural bedfellows.


UK-Japan Relations
Focusing closer on the relationship between the UK and Japan, the current bastion of UK-Japan security cooperation is the 2+2 meetings. These have been held annually since 2015. At these meetings, the foreign and defence secretaries from both sides come together, usually for two days of meetings, to discuss a range of common areas of interest. The 2+2 arrangement allows both states to talk about areas of common concern, which allows them to signal both each other, and third-party states about their intentions and interests.

During the January 2016 2+2, both countries affirmed their support for the rule of law in the East and South China Seas. They also expressed a full commitment to Ukrainian sovereignty, adding their concern over North Korea’s missile and nuclear program. To those listening, the 2+2 is perhaps a hint of the security preferences of both the UK and Japan. Other purposes of the 2+2 meetings include helping to socialise each other towards common security interests and enabling both countries to create a framework for bilateral security cooperation.

In the last January 2017 2+2, both countries signed the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) to facilitate closer bilateral defence logistics. This agreement will enable the two militaries to cooperate abroad on combined exercises and peacekeeping operations, alongside humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions. Ultimately, this will increase the efficiency of both country’s forces. So, for instance, British tankers will be able to refuel Japanese aircraft, or Japanese ships might be able to refuel British vessels, and so on. An ACSA is really the first step in the holy grail of interoperability for conventional militaries. This agreement improves future cooperative expediency because it removes the need for further individual case-by-case agreements.

UK-Japan Future Cooperation
The tightening of UK-Japan relations comes at a time when rising powers in Asia-Pacific are causing critical uncertainty in the region and beyond. This has led to policymakers strengthening alliances around the world. The United Kingdom and Japan are a strong example of such an alliance that has been redoubled in recent years.

Another significant area of future cooperation between London and Tokyo includes a joint research project on Chemical and Biological Protection suits and other weapons systems. In an age of shrinking defence budgets and rising threats, it makes sense to partner with other liberal democracies, sharing useful technology and pooling precious research and development funding. This follows the success of the first round of talks of a new Joint New Air-to-Air Missile. This sharing of technology is significant because it builds a framework for ever-closer collaboration between both countries for the foreseeable future in a world where nations are choosing their alliances extremely carefully. In a time of growing insecurity, such partnerships are to be welcomed.

Review: The Trump Phenomenon and the Future of US Foreign Policy / Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World

The RUSI Journal, 3 April, 2017

The first month of President Donald J Trump’s administration has been as tumultuous as any in US domestic politics. Headlines have concentrated on the immigration ban, on British Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit, Trump’s subsequent affirmation of his country’s support for NATO, and various controversial aspects of Trump’s diplomacy with Mexico, Australia and Russia. As many have noted, the real question on his foreign policy has been to separate Trump the election campaigner and Trump the president. The fact he continues to view himself as outside the ‘Washington establishment’ means that he relishes unorthodox policies and unorthodox ways of communicating them. His brusque telephone calls with some world leaders, his continued reliance on Twitter and the seemingly amateur nature of his communications team have served to muddle the line of what is likely to be one of the US’s most epoch-changing presidents.

These two books – Daniel Quinn Mills and Steven Rosefielde’s The Trump Phenomenon and the Future of US Foreign Policy and Peter Navarro’s Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World – provide crucial insights on this question. While Navarro’s work was published two years ago, this is more than made up for by the fact that he is a close associate of the president and has been selected to head the newly formed National Trade Council. Taken together, the two books provide a useful framework for understanding the new administration’s domestic drivers and its foreign policy approach in Asia.

Mills and Rosefielde are both prominent public intellectuals. Mills, a professor at the Harvard Business School, has strong connections with Asia, and has written on the different leadership styles in Asia and in the West. Rosefielde, a Harvard graduate and economics professor at the University of North Carolina, is a Sovietologist-cum-Russia expert. His 2009 book Red Holocaust is a comprehensive study of the death toll as a result of communism during the twentieth century. Similar to Stephane Courtois’s The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Harvard University Press, 1999), the study is a serious effort to come to terms with an ideology that repeated the brutality of fascism, but nevertheless continues to have adherents within leftist parties inside the West.

In a sense, both authors are what might be described as ‘small c’ conservatives, a political outlook that has been challenged by figures such as Trump. Indeed, Mills and Rosefielde argue that the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ have obscured the real debate in the US domestic system and they set themselves the Herculean task of re-establishing what the ideological posts are to be in a post-Trump US. They tell us to forget the classical positions drawn around the Republican and Democratic parties over the past half-century. These have now shifted dramatically. Trump represents a revolt against the old guard – those politicians who assumed positions of power in both parties after 1945, and who followed what Mills and Rosefielde call ‘international cosmopolitanism’.

Trump’s revolt is not so much a cry for isolationism – as many have claimed – but a demand for a new ‘democratic nationalism’. The term indicates a US foreign policy more narrowly justified, where US national interests – rather than appeals to lofty ideals – determine US policy: ‘a city on the hill’ simply becomes a ‘city’. Intriguingly, democratic nationalism attempts to fight off accusations of autocracy, while echoing ‘sovereign democracy’, a term once in vogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other United Russia party politicians. It is interesting that both creeds came after Washington and Moscow failed to transform the world in their likeness.

This is not to say that this development is a marked change from US political culture. Indeed, the authors view international cosmopolitanism as the important post-1945 departure from the American creed. By becoming the champion of Western security, particularly after the end of the Cold War, the US forfeited its own security. By prioritising open trade and engagement with the world, the US has gradually bankrupted itself, apart from a small select class of Wall Street financiers. By prioritising Chinese growth and stability, previous US leaders impoverished their own working and middle classes – once the bulwark of US democracy. However, they insist – and this is where readers must read between the lines – that they are not advocating the old canard of American isolationism. They are arguing for a US that existed in the 1890s – one that operated internationally, but along a more narrowly defined set of national interests.

In many ways, Trump’s inauguration speech was shocking as it refuted long-held assumptions about the US’s role in the world, its willingness to ‘bear any burden’, and bolster European and Asian security. If said by another foreign leader the statements may have been unremarkable. Yet there has been an implicit contract between Washington and its Western and Asian allies since the period following the Second World War – US leadership was accepted in exchange for deference to US foreign and security policies.

What does Trump’s open rejection of the global role that the US has assumed mean for its allies? If the new president is not an internationalist, does that mean he is an isolationist? Mills and Rosefielde insist this is not the case. ‘To modern nationalists, minding one’s own business does not preclude international involvement and self-defence. It only means that we should stop trying to impose our values on the world while actually trying to serve insider special interests’. Some of the cabinet picks support this interpretation. Rex Tillerson, the new secretary of state, is a long-term planner, a trait fostered by his background in the energy sector, and is unworried about day-to-day fluctuations. General James Mattis, the new secretary of defense, is a soldier’s general, and known to see Russia and China as a continuing security threat.

This perception of China-as-threat seems to be the organising principle to much of Navarro’s Crouching Tiger. It is a must read book for anyone trying to understand the suddenly hard line the Trump administration has adopted toward Beijing. The account is similar to that of long-term China-watcher (and adviser to the Trump administration) Michael Pillsbury, whose own book, The Hundred Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower (Henry Holt, 2014) was influential among a small group of Asia analysts in Washington. As with The Hundred Year Marathon, Navarro’s work is an in-depth analysis of the Sino-American relationship, with particular reference to the security side of the relationship.

Navarro explores the familiar tropes of what drives China. He mentions the Thucydides trap – that rising powers are bound to challenge status quo hegemons – that has gained prominence among American international relations scholars, such as Harvard’s Graham Allison. He also discusses the offensive realist notion that all powers are bound to seek maximum power in order to gain national security – the security dilemma – which shapes the structure of Sino-American relations. This structural factor is – he believes – far stronger than that of the promise of ‘peace-through-trade’, which has driven Sino-American relations for the past three decades. He also raises China’s historical humiliation at the hands of foreigners, the ‘century of humiliation’, as well as Beijing’s dependency on the Malacca Strait to give a context to China’s military build-up.

For many decades, the US–China relationship has been typified by two, often-contradictory characteristics. On the one hand, both sides emphasised the cooperative elements of the relationship, but on the other, there was much distrust between the two. Far from changing China, US trade seemed only to entrench and strengthen Beijing’s autocratic government, gifting it one of the most modern militaries in the world. Books on China in the early 2000s tended to look at transparency issues and note that China’s naval build-up should be monitored. However, at the time few – if any – scholars or analysts viewed the Chinese military as capable of challenging the might of US naval power in the Pacific. Navarro’s book comes as American naval thinkers realise that they are now on a par with their Chinese colleagues, with Chinese military capabilities presenting serious challenges to US naval vessels operating in the Western Pacific. His work examines capabilities in order to make truly significant policy recommendations.

Navarro reveals that despite many myths surrounding the subject, US and Chinese military spending are far closer than many thinkers realise. Furthermore, as the world’s largest manufacturer, the ability of China to out-produce the US in the building of ships, aircraft and munitions is entirely possible, and the fact that Chinese doctrine and planning is purely regional gives it a focus that the US’s globally stretched forces find difficult to match. Ironically, the Chinese back their grand strategy by using the US naval doctrine put forward by Alfred Thayer Mahan, an American turn-of-the-century naval strategist, who argued for naval pre-eminence. The subsequent decision by the father of the Chinese navy, Admiral Liu Huaqing, to attempt to break out of China’s ‘near seas’, or the first island chain, is what drives Chinese actions in the South China Sea and East China Sea.

The remainder of Navarro’s book is a critique of subsequent attempts by the US to deal with both the drivers of Chinese action and China’s maritime grand strategy. The US has been successful in neither, he concludes. Those who worry about his approach towards any possible war with China may find solace in the fact that he says those who entertain the idea of a ‘short, decisive war’ are fantasists. Indeed, his primary policy objective seems to be to deter conflict by convincing China’s naval strategists that a short winnable war with the US is impossible.

Navarro’s policy prescriptions will be calming for worried regional allies. The US cannot, he asserts, hide behind the Pacific Ocean, or cede sea-lane control to China’s navy. Korea and Japan are the front lines to US security, not Alaska or California. He argues not only against neo-isolationism, but for a beefed-up military presence in the Asia-Pacific, a sort of ‘peace through strength’ as practised against the Soviets in the 1980s. This is not so much to confront China, but to show Beijing – as with the Soviet menace in Cold-War Europe – that it cannot challenge US interests or allies without costs. The build-up is pure Reagan logic: the larger the stick, the greater the deterrence effect may be. Furthermore, Navarro’s vision is beyond fleet numbers. His policy prescription is to build the US’s comprehensive national power, a term borrowed from Chinese policymakers, by putting its domestic house in order. He mentions the rebuilding of America’s decaying infrastructure, the reform of its tax structures, and a major overhaul of the education system.

In many ways, Navarro is a revolutionary thinker. Many books on the region or on China’s rise have fallen on vague recommendations to ‘monitor’ the situation, or to seek a diplomatic solution, as if finding one were easy. Navarro’s work therefore differs markedly from that of scholars in the region – such as the Australian analyst Hugh White who has suggested the creation of a congress of great powers, a form of US–China power-sharing, which has been rejected by both Beijing and Washington.

While Navarro’s policy recommendations are revolutionary in scope and could conceivably work – see Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s shrewd offer to help to rebuild US infrastructure – the real question is whether President Trump can handle the domestic fallout of some of his policies. Domestic turmoil weakens his ability to implement such far-reaching structural reforms. Furthermore, will Navarro be able to push his policies unimpeded with a White House where Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner seek to exercise policy influence? President Reagan was the ‘great communicator’, and was a welcome flag-bearer in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Trump is seen even by his own supporters as ‘telling it like it is’. No doubt his Asia policies will face much opposition within a population already concerned with his social, immigration and legal policy programmes. In addition, unlike the USSR during the 1980s, China’s economy is far more integrated with the US, and Beijing has many more domestic allies within the US system to attempt to counter Navarro’s grand strategy.

The coming four years are bound to be beset with political turmoil and security challenges for the US, Europe and Asia. An age of rising powers, the resurgence of religious wars and a crisis in liberal internationalism have all come together, resulting in domestic and international policy confusion. President Trump’s election is an answer to some of the inequalities and injustices that have been created by trade at the domestic level. Reading both books, however, highlights that he is not an answer to liberal internationalism. His outlook is that of an economic nationalist, advocating a narrow version of the US’s role in the world. However, it is by no means an attempt to forgo this role altogether. It is a plea for US allies and friends – long-time beneficiaries of US leadership – to start giving back. They can do this by supporting the US economy, by spending more in NATO and by accepting the imperfections of this president. Despite the rhetoric of his opponents, Trump’s policies are not – as yet – fascist and to see them as such would be to ignore the real perils that beset the Liberal West. 


Brow-beating China about North Korea is a risky business – Donald Trump should tread carefully

The Telegraph, April 3, 2017


US President Donald Trump’s ultimatum to Chinese President Xi Jinping over North Korea, raised the possibility of US taking unilateral military action, just as the two approach an upcoming summit in Mar-a-Largo, Florida. The summit is meant to set the tone of the superpowers’ relationship, so Trump’s warning was obviously an opening gambit in what look to be a complex set of negotiations.

As political commentators react to the incautious nature of the threats, two things are rapidly becoming apparent: first, the strategic calculus inside Washington has dramatically shifted as North Korea gets closer to developing a nuclear-strike capability on the continental United States. And second, President Trump has decided to approach North Korea as a “China problem”, proceeding from the assumption that a China-problem demands a China-solution.

For all the comments made about keeping military options “on the table”, the fact is that American Presidents have few choices on the Peninsula. Certainly, Washington has a strong military presence in the region, capable allies nearby, and a nuclear deterrence tempered and honed over the past 70 years. But North Korea has its own strong cards, which even the game immensely.

First, it has one of the region’s largest militaries, which it hangs over South Korea like Damocles’ Sword. Second, it has up to 13,000 artillery pieces, buried deep within bunker emplacements along the border, prepared to fire at Seoul, one of the world’s most densely populated cities. Third, it has developed a ballistic missile system and nuclear weapons programme, which it continues to develop in order to gain parity with the US and its allies. Fourth, it has the threat of its own demise which it implicitly uses to gain Beijing’s unconditional support, knowing full-well that China fears a collapse and chaos on its border more than it fears nuclear weapons. Weapons which are after all, pointed away from China.

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Tense times for South Korea, the shrimp surrounded by whales

Protest against President Park Geun-hye in South Korea

The Interpreter, 11 March, 2017

The decision by South Korea’s Constitutional Court to uphold the National Assembly’s impeachment of beleaguered President Park Geun-hye is the starting gun in a 60-day race to the Blue House.

The Constitution requires that an election be held within that time period, which means a new leader will be elected by 9 May at the latest. According to most polls, the next leader of South Korea is expected to be Moon Jae-in, the leader of the Minjoo Party, who came a close second to Park in the 2012 presidential election. While much can happen in two months in Korean politics, if Moon does become the next President, it will likely complicate South Korean politics and security policy even further in what has already become an incredibly tense period.

In recent weeks tensions on the Korean peninsula have been ratcheted up to their highest level in some years, following a North Korean assassination in Malaysia and a series of missile tests into the Sea of Japan, that were supposedly in response to this year’s Foul Eagle US-ROK exercise. As if that were not enough, China-ROK relations have also plummeted over the decision of the Park government to deploy the American Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) ballistic missile defence system in South Korea. As the system was deployed in Seoul, Beijing vented its fury by cancelling tour groups to South Korea and by sanctioning certain South Korean businesses in China. Adding a new South Korean leader to the mix could go in a number of ways.

First of all, what is Moon’s policy platform? Many of his views that first emerged during the 2012 election have come into sharper focus in the past few months. Like many Korean politicians from the left, he has an antagonistic relationship with South Korea’s security agencies. Like his mentor, Roh Moo-hyun, president from 2003-2008, Moon has been arrested for his views. Consequently, he has pledged to reform government organisations, saying earlier this week: ‘The authorities, such as Cheong Wa Dae, the prosecution, and the Intelligence Service, have been the main culprits undermining democracy’. Faced with a slowing economy and high unemployment – particularly among the young – Moon has promised ‘a revolution to create more and better jobs’. With a slogan of ‘people first’, he has also stated that he intends to reform the chaebol system, in which large conglomerates dominate the Korean economy and are said to have contributed to a widening between haves and have-nots.

In terms of the relationship with the United States, Moon has a mixed record. On the one hand, has called the US the ‘most important country’ for Seoul, while at the same time stated that he’s against the deployment of the THAAD system inside the country. The system was hastily deployed earlier this month, perhaps in anticipation of Friday’s ruling. Moon asserted, ‘Reconsidering THAAD would have to be proceeded with diplomatic efforts, including diplomatic efforts with the US. I don’t think…[it] would harm the South Korea-US alliance. Given the transactional nature of the Trump administration, removing a system which gives early warning of a North Korean missile launch to US forces in Japan or the continental United States, this assertion is dubious. The fact that Moon Jae-in is also known to favour an engagement-heavy approach toward North Korea may also push the relationship into crisis, since the Trump administration has signalled that it favours a hard line on the regime.

On the other hand, Moon’s approach will please Pyongyang and Beijing, which have have both resented the Park government’s close ties with Washington. Beijing will be particularly pleased if Moon withdraws the American radar system from the peninsula, since it worries about the system’s ability to gather data on its nuclear deterrent. Warning both about ‘consequences’, China has already begun sanctioning South Korean companies and blocking Chinese tour groups from visiting the country. With regards to Moon’s approach toward Pyongyang, Chad O’Carroll from NK Watch states, ‘Moon Jae-in’s election could result in the largest ever shift from one administration to another of North Korea policy in South Korea’s history. As this will likely cause issues between Seoul and its allies, O’Carroll asserts that ‘the North will exploit any policy confusion as soon as it begins to arise’.

Former-President Park Geun-hye has spent her last night in the Blue House presidential palace. Her isolation now is in many ways a striking metaphor for South Korea’s own position. Historically, Koreans have referred to their state as a ‘shrimp surrounded by whales’. The pressures, internal and external, on the Korean polity from Beijing and Washington, from Tokyo and Pyongyang, reveal a kernel of truth in this odd saying. Whoever becomes the next President of South Korea will have many issues to navigate, and many choices to make. Let’s hope they bring calm and some security.

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