The peace pact between the North and South Korea in 27th April 2018 was a historical moment for the Koreans after 65 years of civil war. It also sparks new hope for the Korean Peninsula.
The peace process was a long effort and highly desired for South Korea and Japan. It escalated the tension within the region since 20 ballistic missile launch from the North crossed Japan sea territory and even tested hydrogen bomb. It gave tremendous pressure for Japan to either resolved it with military or involving the US into nuclear peace negotiation with the North.
Military approach is the last resort for Japan, not only because it is costly, but before that they also need to revise their peace of clause in the National Constitutional Article 9 which forced Japan to limit their military capability and capacity and prohibit Japan to declare war and maintaining war potential.
Revising Article 9 not only takes time, but it also will make the Japan neighbour including South Korea and China which had a war history with Japan. It will significantly influence the political-economic landscape in Korean and Japan Peninsula.
In another hand, Japan does not have any alternative left. Through negotiations with the US, Japan able to convince Donald Trump administration to be more flexible for Japan to expand their military forces. Later on, Trump gave more slot for Japan and South Korea to increase their defence capability by buying military equipment for the US.
However, this step will only escalate tension within the Korea and Japan region. Therefore, there should be an alternative solution for each country.
Lack of Options for the North
Meanwhile, the North Korea government is not ready for war. They need more time to develop their military equipment. Beside that War will destroy what their elites have enjoyed so far from exploiting their own people. It is different from the North people itself, where they are ready for war. Especially after three generations under the Kim administration, there is no significant change for them.
According to Ji Seong-Ho, a defector from North who stay in South Korea stated that Kim Jong-Un faced tremendous pressure from their people due to economic sanctions which hurts their economy and an earlier warning from Kim administration for the North to be ready facing famine.
The North seems doesn’t have a good option either you die during war or die of hunger. It also makes their people have a huge disappointment and doesn’t trust Kim leadership anymore. Kim obsession with Nuclear weapon development makes their own people questioning, why the government spend so much money on nuclear program but in other hand let their own people suffer from hunger.
In another hand, Kim is also facing internal pressure from his own elites, where so far, he can make them support him through bribing him. But facing the harsh trade sanction, it gives a lot of financial pressure for the North.
The only hoped for Kim was coal export to China. But, since China cut its consumption on Coal due to severe environmental damage, weakening of the global economy and their shift into renewable energy makes its demand on North Korea decrease from year to year. China’s policy to halt import from North Korea products contributes 86.1 per cent of its North Korean economic value since 2017.
Not only that, from the China side, they also have to freeze export of petroleum and other products to Pyongyang due to UN sanctions on the North Korean Nuclear testing program.
It seems like Kim does not have any more menu left on the table, in which forced him to pay a visit to Beijing on 28th March 2018. And it also forced him to gamble a chance to negotiate with the US. Luckily for the North, Trump positively responds the invitation from the North to meet, of course after being persuaded by Japan and South Korea who will avoid war at any cost with North Korea.
The response from the US opens the chance for the North and South to discuss the peace talk forum between the two countries. Without the US blessing, the South will not make any movement because so far, they also depended on the military support the US.
So what Next?
The next challenge is the upcoming meeting with Trump and Kim which possibly hold in either in Singapore or Mongolia somewhere in May and June 2018. This meeting will give an impact to countries in the Korean peninsula. For Japan itself, they don’t want any potential deal with just deal involved a bilateral deal between Washington and Pyongyang in which does not give any significant benefit for Japan security. Whereas for China and South Korea, a peace pact will give benefit for the upcoming economy.
Although it is almost impossible for North Korea to give up their nuclear program fully, they might state that they are willing to give up their nuclear program, but it will be a different story in practice. Besides that, they will not have any bargaining position if they don’t have a nuclear program. Unless US military presence is completely clear in Korean and Japan Peninsula, then it might open a chance for the North nuclear program stopped.
Meanwhile, the hope for reunification between the North and South is simply impossible for the moment. The huge gap of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) between the South (US$1.411 trillion GDP) and North ($US 28.50 billion) is just too big for the north to catch up. It will give a significant burden for the taxpayer for the South, besides that many of the young generation opposing this reunification. Both the North and South Korea will keep their administration, but the improvement of Korean relations gives hope economic hope for the North, and it opens the opportunity for the South to expand their market and economy in the North as well it is a just a conducive environment to balance the rising of China military power. It is clearly a win-win solution for both countries.
Written by Asmiati Malik| A political Economist based in Jakarta