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Addressing North Korea’s problem requires completely new constructive approach

22:53 | 28.02.2017 | Analytic


28 February 2017. PenzaNews. China invites the United States to intensify dialogue with the DPRK to resolve the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang on Tuesday, February 21.

Addressing North Korea’s problem requires completely new constructive approach

Photo: David Stanley, Flickr.com

“We keep repeating that the crux of the Korean nuclear issue lies with the contradictions between the US and the DPRK. China always supports relevant parties in strengthening communication to enhance mutual understanding and in finding a way out through dialogue and consultation,” Geng Shuang said.

“Under the current circumstances, we hope that relevant parties can try harder in this direction and jointly play a constructive part in maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and properly resolving the Korean nuclear issue,” he added.

The threat from North Korea also became the main topic of the telephone conversation between US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi.

“The two sides agreed on the need to address the threat that North Korea poses to regional stability,” says the statement following the talks.

Earlier, US Media reported that representatives of the North Korean government may come to the United States to meet former US officials, which would become the first meeting of that format in five years.

According to several analysts, China shares US concerns about Pyongyang obtaining a nuclear weapon, but prefers negotiations to sanctions, which it fears could destabilize North Korea.

Meanwhile, Bonnie Glaser, former consultant for US Departments of Defense and State, Senior Adviser for Asia, Director, China Power Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies, expressed the view that the Trump administration, like its predecessors, is encouraging China to do its utmost to influence and constrain North Korea’s provocations as well as nuclear and missile programs.

“If Beijing complies with UN Security Council resolutions and puts greater pressure unilaterally on North Korea, that would be welcomed by the US, and would certainly promote better US-China relations,” she told PenzaNews.

Commenting on possible Track 2 negotiations, the analyst pointed to their importance.

“There have previously been such meetings, and it will be interesting to see if the DPRK officials have any new signals or messages to convey. The US side won’t include Trump officials and therefore will only represent their personal opinions,” Bonnie Glaser explained.

There is evident growing concern throughout the region regarding North Korea’s missile and nuclear developments; concerns are likely greatest in South Korea and Japan, but also exist in Southeast Asia and in China, she said.

“[It] remains to be seen if North Korea is interested in dialogue, and whether Kim Jung Un would agree under any circumstances to limit missile and nuclear developments. I’m personally not very optimistic,” she added.

Wendell Minnick, Senior Asia Correspondent, Shephard Media, also drew attention to the impressive advances of North Korea missile and nuclear program.

“These developments have put added pressure on the US and China to come up with a solution. China is the key. As a border country and ally and its number one trade route, China could easily bring Pyongyang to its knees and impose changes,” the analyst said.

However, according to him, talks of a possible meeting between former US officials and the DPRK authorities remind “hopeful banter.”

“The key word here is ‘former’ and that means nothing more than an opportunity to boost their individual credentials. Nothing will get done, and they’ll go back and be able to raise their ‘value’ financially and that of influence in the Washington Think Tank world. Such unusual opportunities give former government folks a lot of face time, elevate their sense of self importance, and it can later be translated into real dollars via speaking tours and salary at whatever institute they are now at,” Wendell Minnick said.

In his opinion, there are no major changes in US-China engagement on North Korea.

“I would wonder how long North Korea can survive in a world where AI and robotic technologies are beginning to influence our lives. Every year the leaders of North Korea grow smaller in an ever increasing complex world that would just as well forget they exist,” the expert added.

In turn, Jasper Becker, journalist and writer, author of books on China, Mongolia and the DPRK, expressed the view that in the near future the situation around the Korean Peninsula is unlikely to change.

“All the recent stories about DPRK have been exciting. Yet if you look back over the last 30 or even longer, nothing much has changed either internally in North Korea or in the regional alliances. Hopes of domestic reform have been raised and dashed many times. Efforts to engage the DPRK through international negotiations have never led anywhere. I don’t think Pyongyang will bargain away its missiles and nukes. Beijing won’t abandon Pyongyang or trade it away. For what? So what you get it is a great deal of posturing and empty gestures,” the expert said and added that Iran is not a model for any future agreement as well.

However, Jasper Becker does not believe that US and China will deepen their cooperation on this issue.

“Trump would have to be ready to start a huge fight with China over many issues including trade, Taiwan, South China Sea. I don’t see any signs he will now address Korea problem. Meanwhile, China will continue to secretly pay off the Kim dynasty just to keep them quiet. So we have seen this movie before. Many times in fact under different Chinese, American, North and South Korean leaders,” the analyst reminded.

Meanwhile, Peter Hayes, Honorary Professor, Center for International Security Studies in Sydney University, Director, Nautilus Institute in Berkeley, stressed that it is always possible to find a way out.

“China acted recently with its DPRK coal import cut to put the onus on the US to now deal with the key DPRK security issues directly. Without it doing so, no solution is possible. This was a major powerplay by China. Trump is unable to act until after the US-ROK military exercises. Assuming that there is no military clash with the DPRK in March-April period, it is possible that Trump could explore some form of dialogue about a deal in May-June this year. That depends on what happens to DPRK in responding to China – nuclear test – or to possible additional sanctions in response to VX use in Malaysia to kill Kim Jong Nam,” the expert said.

According to him, there will be no meeting of the US side with North Korea senior representatives in the near future.

“NGO planned a Track 2 meeting with DPRK officials in NY, but did not have visas. If they were ever filed, the visa applications were not issued. No visas, no meetings. Even if they had gone to NY, no US officials would have attended or met with DPRK participants,” the analyst said.

He also noted that China may reconsider its ban on North Korean coal import, if it does not see decisive action on the part of Americans.

“China will argue that they have now fulfilled all their obligations. If the US does not now do its bit to engage the DPRK, then China may recalibrate its coal import ban to allow for humanitarian exports from DPRK to China later in the year. China will not allow the DPRK to collapse,” the analyst said.

It is the most dangerous period in Korea since the last major military crisis in August 1976, he believes.

“Third parties must do their best to assist China and the US avoids needless war with the DPRK and to stabilize the DPRK itself so that the risk of loose nukes or nuclear use by the DPRK is minimized. Most important in the short term is that the US and the ROK modify their military exercises so that there is no chance of misperception that the exercises are a cover for an actual attack on the DPRK. This the moment for Russia to make a real difference in the DPRK’s calculus,” the expert said.

Meanwhile, Denny Roy, Senior Fellow, East-West Center, shared the opinion that the North Koreans are making steady and visible progress in the field of nuclear weapons, complicating the situation in the region.

“North Korea’s relations with South Korea have always been extremely tense, but in recent years Pyongyang's relationship with China, supposedly its best friend, have also deteriorated dramatically,” he explained.

At the same time, third parties’ interests on the Korean peninsula are quite different, he believes.

“The USA and China have such different priorities that in effect they have policies toward North Korea that partly work against each other. China agrees to but undermines the international sanctions against North Korea. Dialogue has not only failed to solve the problem, but the United States and North Korea cannot even agree on the preconditions for negotiations. Washington insists on what is impossible for North Korea to give, and the North Koreans insist on what is impossible for Washington to give,” Denny Roy said.

According to him, many smart people in previous administrations have repeatedly run up against the same seemingly immovable barriers truing to address this crisis.

“It will be interesting to see if the Trump Administration has a creative new way to approach the problem. If there exist potential solutions that would not seriously compromise well-established US positions and interests, they are not visible,” the analyst added.

In his opinion, the North Korea problem will continue to be a point of minor friction between China and the USA until there is major new development, such as an act of war by Pyongyang or a collapse of the North Korean government.

“This may lead to either greater cooperation or greater conflict between China and the US. Meanwhile, North Korea’s successful development of a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile will cause the United States and South Korea to think more seriously about more aggressive action to pressure the Pyongyang regime, which will put China in an even more difficult position than now. The fact that US-China relations are rather poor at the moment does not increase the chances that China will choose to cooperate more fully with the democracies in dealing with North Korea,” Denny Roy said.

In turn, Jonathan Berkshire Miller, International Affairs Fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, based in Tokyo, suggested that the DPRK is not ready for the dialogue.

“The regime of Kim Jong-un in North Korea continues to expand the size and scope of its nuclear weapons program and its ballistic missile capabilities. Since the beginning of 2016, Pyongyang has conducted two nuclear tests and numerous tests of its missiles. The North has also worked on the miniaturization of a nuclear warhead. But, despite all of these provocations and an umbrella of sanctions and efforts to deter Pyongyang there is no indication that the North is willing to negotiate in good faith to rollback its nuclear weapons capabilities – as demanded by the US, South Korea and others in the international community,” the analyst said.

This has raised the spectre, in some circles in Seoul and Washington, that it might be time to put more serious thought into a pre-emptive strike or other military action against the North, he said.

“While the end result would almost surely be the end of the Kim regime in the North, the costs of such potential action remain unacceptably high, leaving the prospect of pre-emptive military action on the Korean peninsula a last case and undesirable policy option,” Jonathan Berkshire Miller said.

Instability on the Korean peninsula will undoubtedly remain a concern for the Trump administration and there are no silver bullets, he added.

“[Barack] Obama – and his predecessors – have tried almost every option in their playbook with the aim of convincing the North to give up its nuclear capabilities and restrain the growth of its missile program. Despite this, the US needs to remain steely-eyed and focused on the evolving threat from Pyongyang. In response, Washington should accelerate deterrence efforts and double down on its trilateral coordination with its Northeast Asian allies – Tokyo and Seoul. […] However, despite the lack of trust, pressure and coercion alone will not lead to denuclearization in the North,” the expert said.

In turn, Tariq Rauf, Director, Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Program at SIPRI, reminded that North Korea continues to make progress in developing different types of ballistic missiles.

“North Korea has a fast developing ballistic missile program for strategic missiles for launching from land-based and sea-based launch platforms. In 2016, North Korea carried out 24 missile tests, some were successful others not. However, it is worth remembering that both the USSR and the USA in the early years of their missile development in the late 1950s and 1960s also suffered many failures before they could develop reliable missiles,” the analyst said.

Under pressure from the US and several Western states, many other states do not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, he said.

“The DPRK nuclear crisis cannot be solved in isolation; it requires addressing the fundamental security, economic, social, and human rights issues. Whether we like it or not, the DPRK will retain its nuclear weapons in the near term as a hedge to provide for its security. No degree of economic pressure and coercion, no economic reward, no military threats will persuade the DPRK leadership to surrender its nuclear weapon program,” Tariq Rauf said.

“International sanctions have not been successful against the DPRK, just as they have failed in the cases of India, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Pakistan – and the concept of ‘smart sanctions’ is an oxymoron,” the expert added.

In his view, the elements of a possible DPRK-US nuclear compromise do not include strict demands for disarmament.

“Denuclearization should be off the table as a starting point; the DPRK could retain a ‘sufficient’ number of nuclear weapons for deterrence and cap its program with a moratorium on further nuclear and missile tests; economic assistance could be provided through international financial institutions for developmental requirements; the IAEA would resume monitoring of non-military nuclear facilities; a China-Russian Federation-US team of nuclear and missile scientists could engage with their DPRK counterparts on monitoring of a moratorium and lab-to-lab threat reduction cooperation – this may not be an ideal solution, but a realistic one that could lead to some form of nuclear normalization in the Korean peninsula,” the analyst concluded.

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