A Structural Analysis of the U.S., China, South Korea and North Korea Quadrilateral Relationship

  • Date:2018-11-20

Prospect Journal No.20 (October 2018)


The immense challenges that militate against a resolution of the conflict in the Korean Peninsula, regional dynamics, chief among them China's efforts to displace the U.S. as the top player in the Indo-Pacific, are also influencing — and often undermining — negotiations with Pyongyang.
Source: The White House, Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/WhiteHouse/photos/a.1709578419129884/1710094679078258/?type=3

After the Trump-Kim Summit, the whole world has been deeply concerned about northeast Asia. This issue of the Journal features essays by invited scholars who are long-term observers of northeast Asia, to structurally analyze relationships among the key countries in the region—China, Japan, North and South Korea and the USA—and understand how Taiwan can respond. The essays also provide policy suggestions to serve as a reference for think tanks worldwide.

A Structural Analysis of the U.S., China, South Korea and North Korea Quadrilateral Relationship

J. Michael Cole
Senior Non-Resident Fellow, China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham,
Associate Researcher, French Centre for Research on Contemporary China


     The North Korean nuclear issue has challenged negotiators for decades. Involving interactions between various players, the problem also has real and direct ramifications for the security environment of all the participants. Despite unprecedented bilateral summits between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Moon Jae-in and Donald J. Trump in the past year, new dynamics in the Asia Pacific arising chiefly from China's growing assertiveness and Beijing's efforts to displace the U.S. as the principal power in the region are adding even greater complexity to the equation and will make resolution of the decades-old conflict in the Korean Peninsula even more difficult to achieve. Recent events have reaffirmed the reality that the China-American relationship is the overarching and transcending factor in the region and the key issue driving the calculations of policy makers in Beijing, Seoul, Pyongyang, Tokyo and Washington on all other issues of concern. Rising China-American tensions amid an unprecedented trade war initiated by President Trump, and closer ties between Washington and Taipei, among other developments, will arguably compel Beijing, the DPRK's sole ally, to once again use Pyongyang as a proxy and source of instability in the region so as to tie down U.S. and allied forces and dilute their ability to challenge China elsewhere in the region.

Keywords: North Korea, South Korea, United States, China, Denuclearization


Mission Impossible or Possible?

Establishing a Permanent and Solid Peace Regime on the Korean Peninsula

Mandy Hsiao-chuan Liao
Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science,
National Taiwan University


      The joint statements of Moon-Kim and Trump-Kim both disclose a desire to establish a permanent and solid peace regime, which suggests the promise of durable peace on the Korean Peninsula. Institutionists argue that a nuclear-free peninsula has gradually been accepted as the principle of this regime. With continuing talks and the implementation of the two statements, a peace regime is possible and feasible. However, three factors influence the establishment of a peace regime. First, power distribution between the two Koreas and among Northeast Asia defines the power and international role of states. The increasing power of North Korea relies on its nuclear capability and sophisticated ballistic missiles. Without a promise of assured protection, Kim will not sincerely go nuclear-free and make himself a weak stakeholder. Second, the intensive China-US trade war discourages the development of a peace regime. China will not expect to promote this regime and lose the North Korean card during negotiations with the US. Last, the agendas and personalities of the leaders of the two Koreas, China, and the US influence the formation of a peace regime. Kim and Xi focus more on domestic needs and on consolidating their regime than on the peace of the peninsula. Moon has a willingness to try but his presidency is limited to a five-year term. Trump is capricious and cares more about whether the US will benefit. Overall, a peace regime remains an impossible mission in the near future.

Keywords: Peace Regime, Korean Peninsula, Nuclear-free, Trump-Kim Summit, Inter-Korean Reconciliation


The Relationship between China and North Korea after Trump-Kim Summit:

A Realist's Perspective

Kuo-cheng Chang
Professor & Deputy Dean,
Center for General Education, Taipei Medical University


      This year, the United States talked with North Korea in Singapore. In the first summit between the leaders of the United States of America and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), they signed a joint statement, agreeing to security guarantees for North Korea, new peaceful relations, reaffirmation of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, recovery of soldiers’ remains, and follow-up negotiations between high-level officials.

      I argue that the most important factor influencing the China-North Korea relationship in the future is the US-North Korea relationship development after the Trump-Kim summit. China's influence over North Korea may decline following the improvement in the US-North Korea relationship. In order to avoid being marginalized, China will seek a diplomatic solution that would preserve China's influence and interests in stability on the peninsula. Therefore, China is bound to improve the relationship with Kim Jong-un. The most feasible way is to have China and North Korea work together to promote reform and opening up that is restricted within a small scale that will not challenge the legitimacy of North Korea's leader or its regime.

Keywords: Trump-Kim Summit, North Korea, China-North Korea Relationship, Korean Peninsula Affairs, Northeast Asia Security


An Analysis of Changes in the US-Northeast Asian Alliance after the Trump-Kim Meeting

Ming-juinn Li
Taiwanese Society of North-East Asia


      After the Trump-Kim meeting, every country is likely to adjust its diplomatic policy with the reformation of the strategic structure in Northeast Asia. For instance, military pressure has eased in South Korea, the threat of a “Decapitation Strike” by the US army has been removed from North Korea and Kim has asked for support from China, which allows Northeast Asia to enter a new international framework and makes confrontation in the economy and over trade between the US and China become a focus, with the appearance of a new US Indo-Pacific strategy. As of now, a second Trump-Kim meeting is being prepared, but given Trump's “America First” policy, what will happen to the US army in South Korea and to the THAAD? How will the US-Japan Alliance be influenced? Will a summit meeting be held between Japan and North Korea? How will relations between Japan and North Korea be transformed? These are the questions we should pay more attention to.

Keywords:Trump-Kim Meeting, Northeast Asia, US-ROK Alliance, US-Japan Alliance, Japan-North Korea Relation




How Should Taiwan React to the Changing Dynamics of Northeastern Asia?

Shih-chung Liu
Vice Chairman,
Taiwan External Trade Development Council



      Over the past year, the world has witnessed a major dynamic change in northeastern Asia. The exchange of provocative rhetoric and finger-pointing between the President of United States, Donald Trump, and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, in 2017 was replaced by hand-shaking and ice-breaking summits between these two leaders and their mediator, the South Korean President, Moon Jae-in. Despite signs of reconciliation and willingness to move toward denuclearization, uncertainties remain as there is lack of trust between Washington and Pyongyang. Another issue is the evolving concept of “Indo-Pacific strategy” introduced by the Trump administration, which has received a mixed response largely due to the ongoing trade, security, and diplomatic wrestling between the U.S. and China. Most countries in this region, including Taiwan, have adopted a cautious and low-key policy to react to the U.S.-China power competition. This paper dissects the elements that led to the change of the security landscape in the Korean Peninsula and analyzes the impact it will have on Taiwan. It also addresses the structural constraints of the “Indo-pacific strategy” and advises Taiwan to cooperate more with related parties. It recommends Taiwan be prepared for a full-blown competition between Washington and Beijing in order to preserve its own national interests.

Keywords:Korean Peninsula, CVID, Indo-Pacific Strategy, U.S.-China Trade War, GCTF



  • Update:2018-11-20