Asia-Pacific Journal of Marine Science&Education convened roundtable on Northeast Asian security and cooperation on May 5. The roundtable brought together scholars from ADM Nevelskoy Maritime State University (MSUN), Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU), Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (FEB RAS) and KMI (Korean Maritime Institute). Participants had many questions to discuss, given the global shifts that the region and world have experienced in recent months. The pandemic and the ongoing rivalry between the United States and China have been exacerbated by major changes on the Korean Peninsula, the Ukrainian crisis, open confrontation between the collective West and Russia, and new massive quarantine measures in China that have further aggravated the difficult situation in international logistics.
The Korean Peninsula has traditionally become one of the central topics of discussion. Since the beginning of 2022, several significant events have taken place there. North Korea has put an end to its voluntary moratorium on long-range missile launches. Since January, more than 10 missile test launches have been carried out, including at least three tests of intermediate and intercontinental missiles.
On April 25, a parade was held in Pyongyang to mark the anniversary of the Korean People’s Army. The parade not only demonstrated the country’s progress in nuclear and missile sphere, but also confirmed the obvious failure of the tough international sanctions imposed against the DPRK. Strategic weapons systems similar to those used by the world’s leading nuclear powers, including missiles with a hypersonic warhead, were demonstrated. Increased activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, Sinpo South Shipyard, and at Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center means that the DPRK can test both SLBMs and low-yield nuclear warheads for its tactical systems, and launch military satellites into orbit.
All this is happening against the backdrop of the transfer of power in ROK to the new president Yoon Seok-youl. Already during the election campaign he voiced his conservative position regarding relations with the DPRK and advocated more intensive cooperation with the United States and Japan. Particularly, he proposed redeployment of U.S. nuclear bombers and submarines to the Korean peninsula as well as resumption of joint military drills with the United States that had been perceived as a threat by the DPRK. All this does not contribute to the normalization of the situation around the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia.
The situation in the regional and global economy is probably even more pessimistic. Participants noted that the economy was objectively more inertial compared to politics, like wind and waves: a squally wind came up and subsided, but the waves caused by that wind still sink the ships and wash away the coast… International trade, still suffering from supply chain disruptions and the pandemic-driven global downturn, is currently experiencing blow after blow. The events around Ukraine have become a catalyst for the process of redistribution of the global logistics market, and the new lockdowns in China, striking in their scale, have finally unbalanced the system that had been built for decades. So, in April-May, more than 200 million people were simultaneously in full quarantine in China; 344 large merchant ships were waiting off Shanghai as of May 3. China’s “zero-tolerance” policy at a time when the rest of the world has largely forgotten about the pandemic cannot but raise questions about its true goals. At the end of discussion, the participants agreed that contacts between scholars and researchers from the NEA countries should continue regardless of the current political situation, because too much is at stake. It can be destroyed very quickly, but restoration will be long, painful and costly. Our region has long surpassed Europe in terms of economic indicators. Therefore, at least, we should not consider the West a “beacon” of politics, morality and culture and blindly accept its attitudes if they lead to real damage to economy and standard of living of the population of the NEA countries. And as practical steps, in particular, it was proposed to shift the focus to the development of ties between small and medium-sized businesses and the implementation of new projects, including in the field of tourism, environmentally friendly fuel, and agriculture.