[EDITORIALS]Time for China to step inNorth Korea’s nuclear aspirations, which have been pushed out of the headlines because of the Iraq war, are again drawing the international community’s attention. As of Thursday, North Korea is effectively free of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to discuss the North Korean nuclear issue on Wednesday. Some observers are optimistic that Pyeongyang has made up its mind to break through the current standoff because North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appeared in public after 50 days of seclusion.
Before the matter is taken up at the UN Security Council, North Korea’s neighboring countries are speeding up their diplomatic efforts. Yuri Fedotov, Russian deputy foreign minister, visited Beijing last Thursday and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi visited China on Sunday. South Korea sent its national security adviser, Ra Jong-yil, to China last week; South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan will visit China on Thursday. At the recent foreign ministers’ talks between China and Japan, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing spoke of Beijing’s opposition to Pyeongyang’s withdrawal from the nuclear treaty and its nuclear development.
The international community has hoped that China would exert its influence on Pyeongyang. Beijing, however, has been passive except to call for bilateral Pyeongyang-Washington talks; but it has recently shown signs of life, probably to protect its influence on North Korean issues when, after the Iraq war, they become a major international issue again. China’s new government also may want to be more responsive to calls for more active diplomacy.
Neighbors of the North increasingly agree that multilateral diplomatic efforts are the way to solve the problem. China stands at the center of such efforts to persuade the North. It should act in a timely manner to resolve the North Korean issues in a way that respects Pyeongyang’s dignity and sovereignty, rather than by a U.S.-led UN resolution.