CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.

Posts by Author

Showing posts for "Scott A. Snyder"

How to Spot A Shadowy North Korean Business

by Scott A. Snyder
Workers are seen inside a North Korean flagged ship Chong Chon Gang docked at the Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon City on July 16, 2013. Panama detained the North Korean–flagged ship from Cuba as it headed to the Panama Canal and said it was hiding weapons in brown sugar containers, sparking a standoff in which the ship's captain attempted to commit suicide (Carlos Jasso/Courtesy: Reuters). Workers are seen inside a North Korean flagged ship Chong Chon Gang docked at the Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon City on July 16, 2013. Panama detained the North Korean–flagged ship from Cuba as it headed to the Panama Canal and said it was hiding weapons in brown sugar containers, sparking a standoff in which the ship's captain attempted to commit suicide (Carlos Jasso/Courtesy: Reuters).

The latest UN Panel of Experts report reveals that North Korean businesses connected with the illicit arms trade are most effective when they hide their North Korean colors and blend in to the international trading environment as nondescript entities. Their North Korean origins may be concealed by a web of false fronts, dizzying name changes, and layered ownership structures that distance them from their North Korean origins. In other cases, some North Korean companies may continue to operate openly despite having been sanctioned by the UN. Without sufficient due diligence, unwitting companies could be doing business with North Korean firms in violation of UN sanctions on North Korean nuclear, missile, and conventional arms traders. Read more »

Despite North Korean Political Risks, Sino-DPRK Trade Shows Stable Growth

by Scott A. Snyder
sinuiju-trade North Koreans sit beside bags of chemical fertilizer in Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, in March 2013. In 2013, China stepped up checks on shipments to and from North Korea almost two months after agreeing to new U.N. sanctions that demand greater scrutiny of trade, but the flow of goods in and out of the reclusive state appears largely unaffected. Picture taken March 29, 2013 (Jacky Chen/Courtesy: Reuters).

North Korea’s dependency on China for energy and food has long been cited as a source of Chinese political leverage and a primary factor that could influence North Korean stability.  But if North Korea depends on China for the bulk of its food and fuel, why does China not punish tiny North Korea for biting the hands that feed it?  On the contrary, underlying trends run in the opposite direction, possibly due in part to China’s energy demand and in part to North Korea’s growing foreign currency need. Read more »

Behind the Chong Chon Gang Affair: North Korea’s Shadowy Arms Trade

by Scott A. Snyder
uden-oh-snyder The United Nations Panel of Experts on North Korea released their final report on compliance with sanctions on March 6, 2014. CFR Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy Scott Snyder (far right) joined (from left) UN Panel of Experts on North Korea coordinator Martin Uden, Foreign Press Association president and panel moderator, David Michaels, and ROK Mission to the UN in New York representative Ambassador Oh Joon, to discuss the report’s findings and implications at a press conference on March 18, 2014, at the ROK mission to the UN in New York (Courtesy: FPA).

Buried within the annexes of the latest United Nations report by experts impaneled to investigate North Korean efforts to circumvent sanctions placed on the country following its 2009 nuclear test is a tale of subterfuge worthy of a Hollywood thriller. Read more »

A Divided Family Reunification Bonanza in Korea?

by Scott A. Snyder
korea-family-reunions South Koreans on a bus bid farewell to their North Korean relatives after the November 2010 inter-Korean family reunions at Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea. This week’s reunions are the first held since they were suspended in 2010 following increased tension between the two Koreas. (Kim Chang-Gil/Courtesy Reuters).

A few lucky Korean family members from North and South will meet loved ones that they haven’t seen for over sixty years at the snowy, virtually abandoned Mount Kumgang tourist hotel complex, which itself is an apt backdrop for an uncertain “breakthrough” in inter-Korean relations. Fueled by parallel New Year’s speeches and resolutions by South and North Korean leaders last month (Kim Jong-un pledged to seek inter-Korean rapprochement; Park Geun-hye called reunification a daebak, or “bonanza”), North Korea has actually lived up to National Defense Commission declarations and pledges to set aside slander (for now) and possibly even to ignore the annual U.S.-ROK training exercises set to start on February 24 so that these inter-Korean family meetings can go forward. But on the rare occasions when inter-Korean relations ease, such circumstances always engender doubts about how and when the other shoe will drop. Read more »

Kerry and the Diplomatic Dead End With North Korea

by Scott A. Snyder
kerry-in-beijing U.S. secretary of state John Kerry walks off after a news conference in Beijing on February 14, 2014. Kerry urged the Chinese to use “all of the means of persuasion that they have” to achieve a denuclearized North Korea (Evan Vucci/Courtesy Reuters).

Secretary of State John Kerry’s first visit to Northeast Asia last April was consumed with near-term crisis management since it coincided with the peak of regional tensions driven by North Korea’s provocative rhetoric. In contrast, his second visit to the region last week occurred against the backdrop of apparent easing of inter-Korean tensions and afforded a better environment for long-term coordination toward North Korea. Unfortunately, the visit appears to have illuminated the dead ends the administration faces on denuclearization of North Korea rather than showing a way forward. Washington has placed its bet on pressure from Beijing as the best hope for turning Pyongyang back to denuclearization, but Kerry’s conversations in Bejing raise questions about whether this route can really succeed. Read more »

Overcoming the Japan-South Korea Historical Identity Complex

by Scott A. Snyder
abe_park Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korea's President Park Geun-hye link hands during the family photo at the ASEAN Plus Three Summit in Bandar Seri Begawan on October 10, 2013. (Ahim Rani/Courtesy Reuters)

This blog post was co-authored with Brad Glosserman, executive director of Honolulu-based Pacific Forum CSIS. A version of this post also appeared as a Pacific Forum CSIS PacNet publication, and can be found here.

The announcement that China has cooperated with South Korea to open a memorial hall in Harbin in honor of Ahn Jung-geun, the independence activist who in 1909 assassinated Hirobumi Ito, Japanese colonial governor of Korea (then a Japanese protectorate), symbolizes the historical obstacles to forward-looking Japan-South Korea relations. The ensuing controversy reflects divergent views of history – one man’s terrorist is another’s “freedom fighter” – but this incident also illuminates a deeper, and more compelling, dimension of the split between Japan and the ROK as it is currently framed: contradictory conceptions of national identity that stand in the way of reconciliation steps necessary to improve relations. Read more »

North Korea’s Test of Trustpolitik

by Scott A. Snyder
park-geun-hye-newyears South Korean president Park Geun-hye speaks during her New Year news conference at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on January 6, 2014. (Jung Yeon-Je/Courtesy Reuters).

South Korean president Park Geun-hye came to office last year pledging a policy of trustpolitik designed to promote inter-Korean reconciliation through principled engagement while holding North Korea to account. The Economist suggested the policy should be named “distrustpolitik,” asserting that “the south does not trust the north to keep its promises; the north does not trust the south to follow through on its admonitions.” Both sides took the measure of each other last year during the closure and reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the industrial park in North Korea that combines North Korean labor with South Korean capital to produce goods to export internationally. That experience provides a valuable lesson for inter-Korean relations. Read more »

New Year’s Greetings From Kim Jong-un

by Scott A. Snyder
new-years-2014-in-pyongyang Fireworks explode in the sky over Pyongyang as part of New Year celebrations in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency. (KCNA/Courtesy: Reuters)

From fireworks over the Potonggang to the inauguration of a mysteriously newly procured ski lift at Masikryong Pass, North Korea’s leaders have undertaken great efforts to project a return to normalcy and the façade of unity under the Party’s leadership, progress in economic development, and the strengthening of national defense. These themes were reflected in Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s Day address, which annually sets the tone and states the priorities of the North Korean leadership. The speech focused on practical steps to improve North Korea’s domestic economy across a wide range of sectors under the Party’s centralized leadership. “Factional filth” of uncle Jang Song-taek is gone; keep calm, labor on. Read more »

North Korean Leadership Tremors: Catalyst for U.S.-ROK-China Cooperation?

by Scott A. Snyder
park-and-xi-in-beijing-june2013 South Korean president Park Geun-hye and Chinese president Xi Jinping agreed to push for new talks with North Korea at their first meeting on June 27, 2013 in Beijing. Following recent news of internal political upheaval in Pyongyang, coordinating the direction of South Korea-China-U.S. cooperation is all the more important (Wang Zhao/Courtesy Reuters).

I participated last Friday morning in a perfectly timed, wide-ranging panel discussion hosted by The Korea Society and named in honor of Robert A. Scalapino, formerly Professor of Political Science at UC Berkeley. (Bob was an excellent mentor, gentleman, and scholar-diplomat, in addition to being the broadest and deepest scholar on Asian politics of his generation.) Read more »

Kim Jong-un’s Post-Jang Song-taek Foreign Policy Void

by Scott A. Snyder
hu-and-jang-in-2012 Prior to his dismissal, Jang Song-taek was seen as a proponent of increased business ties with China. Here, Jang (L) shakes hands with Hu Jintao, then president of China, in Beijing on August 17, 2012 (China Daily/Courtesy: Reuters).

Following the drama of Jang Song-taek’s humiliation at a Korean Workers’ Party conclave and execution following a military tribunal last week, the next big question for foreign observers is what the implications are likely to be for North Korea’s relations with its neighbors. China’s perception of Jang as an economic partner may make Beijing unsure of their relationship with Pyongyang in the near term, and the consolidation of power under Kim Jong-un will make Seoul likewise wary of working with the young leader. Read more »