Securing Peace between East and West Korea

Kent Boydston (PIIE)



The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz reports a watershed moment in US foreign policy towards the Korean Peninsula: Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson announced recently that he will fully support our West Korean allies and get tough on East Korea. Although policy-makers have long focused on North-South relations, Mr. Johnson’s statements suggest that the real source of tension may instead be rooted in deep-seeded divisions between the Eastern and Western regions of Korea. This week Johnson doubled down on this strategy to downplay the importance of the North-South Korea relationship by deftly refusing to even say the name of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in comments to the New York Times. This is the kind of creative thinking that could break the cycle of tension and distrust on the Peninsula that has plagued its recent history.

We have long noted the politics of these East-West regional divisions and in particular draw your attention to a map, which we produce below, of the incremental intrusion of East Korean hostile political influences in the West. Mr. Johnson is right to suggest that our allies in West Korea need our support to fend off aggression from East Korean forces who are slowly moving westward from their bases in North and South Gyeongsang, and Gangwon Provinces in East Korea. As the map shows, since 2007 East Korean forces have occupied the critical port city of Incheon, Gyeonggi Province and both Chungcheong Provinces, which were all previously controlled by West Korea. East Korea captured the capital city of Seoul and Daejeon in 2007 but after a hard-fight battle repelled the East Korean aggressors in 2012. The security of these important cities remains tenuous, however, as both are completely under siege. We support Mr. Johnson’s pledge that he will “do everything in my power as President to support our allies in West Korea.” It is crucial that we maintain the Gwangju perimeter in southwest Korea as well.

But as we always argue in this blog, “getting tough on East Korea” must be part of a broad, robust diplomatic drive. We recommend that a President Johnson work aggressively from day one to bring forth a political solution to make peace with President Park Geun-hye, whose support is garnered predominantly from East Korean elements. Fortunately, Johnson has an ace up his sleeve. Last week Johnson refused to list even one leader on his coveted “most admired world leaders list.” Insiders suggest he is reserving endorsement of Park Geun-hye until the conclusion of a comprehensive peace treaty between East and West Korea.

With an obvious paucity of ideas in the US-Korea foreign policy community, we need fresh thinking and that starts with turning the map ninety degrees. East and West Korea have been in conflict for too long. Gary Johnson is the man with the tools to do the job.

Source: Yonhap News

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