New book reviews struggles, engagements between N.Korea and US
30-year Asymmetric Game
Published: Apr 03, 2023 07:30 PM
Book cover of An Asymmetric Game: The Thirty Years of US-DPRK Relations (1988-2018) Photo: Courtesy of Han Xiandong

Book cover of An Asymmetric Game: The Thirty Years of US-DPRK Relations (1988-2018) Photo: Courtesy of Han Xiandong

During a time when the world remains greatly concerned by the ongoing geopolitical crisis in Ukraine, the Korean Peninsula has also been experiencing tension with US and South ­Korean mili-tary drills posing great threats to North Korea and Pyongyang responding by launching missiles. Readers who look to better understand the situation on the peninsula now have a great resource to turn to: A new book reviewing the complex and long-lasting game between Washington and Pyongyang over the past 30 years was published in March.

In 1988, after South Korea hosted the Summer Olympic Games, the US and North Korea started a dialogue via a secret channel in Beijing, China's capital. Over the following three decades until their historic summit in Singapore and Hanoi, the two countries have experienced a series of struggles and engagements.

Comprehensive coverage

There used to be no books, either in China or other countries, which thoroughly reviewed this history from a neutral or objective perspective backed by a systemic and comprehensive collection of documents, information and data from all relevant parties. An Asymmetric Game: The Thirty Years of US-DPRK Relations (1988-2018) is a valuable academic work that fills this blank. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or the DPRK, is the official name of North Korea.

Han Xiandong, the author of the book and a professor at China University of Political Science and Law, has been researching Northeast Asian studies and the peninsula issue for more than 20 years. He earned a PhD degree in Korean studies at Kyungnam University of South Korea, and also had academic exchanges in North Korea, the US, Russia, Japan and the UK during his career.

Han said it took him 10 years to finish the book. He explained that the reason why he began such a difficult task is that in 2000, while working on a research program, he realized that US-DPRK relations are the main variable that affects the situation on the peninsula and that there were no academ-ic monographs systemically reviewing these relations post-Cold War.

"This made me determined to start working on this research and write such a book," he noted.

The book, which covers 30 years of complex history, not only collects published documents and open information reported by media, but also includes many firsthand resources, especially concerning details of DPRK-US negotiations.

"Only by figuring out these details, we will be able to understand the key issues between the two sides, and predict the trend and direction DPRK-US relations will take. This is also the most difficult part and where I spent a huge amount of time and effort," Han noted.

Han Xiandong Photo: Courtesy of Han Xiandong

Han Xiandong Photo: Courtesy of Han Xiandong

Steadfast hope

The book has caught the attention of professional researchers on the peninsula issue. Dong Xiangrong, a senior fellow at the National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that she was happy to see that there was finally a book that can clearly review the tangled history between the US and the DPRK and what happened over the past three decades.

There are many interesting points in this book, Dong shared with the Global Times. She said, "China held many rounds of the Six-Party Talks in the 2000s, but how did the George W. Bush ad-ministration use the incident of 'money laundering' by the Macao-based Delta Asia Financial Group to interrupt efforts for denuclearization? Donald Trump had three historically significant summits with the top leader of the DPRK, what were the perceptions and misperceptions that led these two unique leaders to come together and leave without a deal? What caused the situation to become a deadlock again? This book presents some detailed answers to these questions."

Han does not give conclusions to these questions directly, but provides information and data for readers to seek the answers on their own, which is why the book is a valuable academic work that can help readers understand the complicated issue from an objective and neutral third-party perspective, said some experts.

In addition, the book not only includes published documents from the relevant countries' governments, but also includes the international organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN, so that it presents a more comprehensive and detailed review to help readers better understand these significant but strange events and incidents apart from media reports, said analysts.

"By learning the history of the DPRK-US relations in the past 30 years, from Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il and on to Kim Jong-un, we can see that Pyongyang's stance, or its demands, remain almost unchanged, that is to become a military power that cannot be ignored, and what it wants from the US is basically the same, a normalized relationship, no matter how harsh the world is," Dong said.

However, the stance or the approaches of Washington have always changed with the power transi-tions between the Democrats and Republicans. Even presidents from the same party, like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, and their administrations took entirely different approaches in dealing with the DPRK, and this is a key reason why denuclearization has been more and more difficult to achieve over the past 30 years, Dong said.

Han uses the word "asymmetric" to describe the game between Washington and Pyongyang, Dong noted.

"From 1988 to today, we can clearly see that, if the denuclearization is the purpose of the US, Washington and other parties have obviously pulled further and further away from their objective, because North Korea has in fact already become a nuclear-armed country with no legal identity. This is a proof that in international relations, when a weak and small country plays the game with a super power like the US, achieving its goal is not entirely hopeless for the weak side."