Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 11/2013

The Tenth Korea-U.S. West Coast Strategic Forum

June 2013

Asia-Pacific Research Center


Meeting after North Korea had raised tensions on the Korean Peninsula in the spring, participants in the Tenth Korea-U.S. West Coast Strategic Forum focused on the implications for the Korean Peninsula of leadership changes in North and South Korea and especially China. Participants also focused on regional dynamics, including increased confrontation between China and Japan and various, sometimes conflicting, efforts to increase regional economic integration in Northeast Asia. Participants differed about the extent that changes may be underway in North Korea and, if they are, whether they represent systemic reforms or only tactical adjustments by North Korean authorities. Some argued that North Korea has indeed shifted from its traditional military-first policy to pursue the simultaneous development of military (including nuclear) capabilities and economic growth, the path of “parallel development” ( pyeongchin ) espoused by North Korean leaders. Others insisted that the two are incompatible goals and that the military remains the regime’s highest priority. Some said that the regime has a political stake in making its cities and their infrastructures appear modernized—to bolster Kim Jong-un’s image as a capable leader—but participants wondered how North Korea is managing such increased construction despite recently toughened international sanctions. Some experts attributed the apparent increase in resources available to the regime to increased Chinese investment and trade situated along the border area.