It’s a country few people ever visit, but everyone is concerned about. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has hit the headlines throughout the year as the isolated communist state ramped up its long-range ballistic missile tests, edged closer to nuclear capability and exchanged threats with the United States. Then came a surprising summit between the two nations, with handshakes, smiles and talk of peace.
The fast-moving, unnerving scenario that some feared could end with a nuclear apocalypse has been a focus for Massey University’s international politics specialist Dr Marc Lanteigne, whose academic interests span Asia and the Pacific as well as the Middle East, Africa and even the polar regions.
In a lecture on 5 July, the latest in the Our Changing World free public series hosted by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences on Massey University's Auckland campus at Albany, he will discuss China’s critical role in helping to broker and maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula amid the flexing of military muscle and tweeted insults.
A senior lecturer in Massey’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies and a frequent visitor to China on teaching and research trips, Canadian-born Dr Lanteigne says travelling widely as a youngster sparked a fascination in other countries and cultures.
“As I got older, I became much more interested in government and how countries interacted with each other. I started my academic career looking at the former Soviet Union, but then switched to China and East Asia studies,” he says.
His doctoral thesis explored how China has made effective use of international organisations to develop as a great power, suggesting an alternative approach to just looking at China's economy or 'hard power' capabilities.
While East Asia (China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Macau, Mongolia) is his main focus, China rules his scholarly work, “especially as the country embarks on an expanded foreign policy, as well as the oft-cited 'Belt and Road'. I'm also developing research about how Asia is engaging the polar regions, including developing shipping lanes and trade in the Arctic and expanding research diplomacy in Antarctica.”
North Korea remains at the top of the list in terms of security concerns, he says. Asia-Pacific economic security is on his radar too, “especially in the wake of a potential trade war between China and the United States which could create serious aftershocks all over the region. Maritime security will also be an important issue, which also involves sometimes competing American and Chinese interests.”
Keeping abreast of the latest developments in so many global hot spots in an era of 24/7 news coverage has its challenges. “It often means getting up early! I try to keep up with the major Western and Chinese news services, and attempt to look at the major Asia-Pacific issues from different viewpoints. I enjoy being able to incorporate current events and debates into my teaching.”
And while it seems there is a never-ending litany of conflicts around the world, Dr Lanteigne says there is “reason for hope that even though there are many differences in the world today, there is also the great possibility of resolving them through more tools than have ever existed before”.
New Zealand’s relative isolation makes it “a very distinct place in the world, geographically and politically. It has been fascinating to look at many global issues through a New Zealand lens."
But he is concerned about how the issue of China's rise in the international community has been viewed in a “very one-dimensional fashion by some commentators in New Zealand – I think the time is overdue for an expanded conversation about where China-New Zealand relations are going, in a more cool-headed fashion.
“Beyond China, New Zealand also has much to contribute in current debates about the direction of the global economy – New Zealand being a free trading state for many decades – and building bridges to the Pacific Islands region.”
LECTURE: Can China call the shots with North Korea?
Thursday 5 July 2018 | Dr Marc Lanteigne
Nerve-wracking incidents last year, when the world feared a nuclear catastrophe sparked by North Korea's missile tests and warhead detonation, as well as impulsive rhetoric between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and United States President Donald Trump, have caused much global concern. Is China prepared to step up and play a critical role in reducing regional tensions and brokering a lasting peace? Asian politics and security specialist Dr Marc Lanteigne shares insights on the complex historical relationships and political currents that will determine North Korea’s next moves.