[GLOBAL EYE]Viewing a post-nuclear peninsula

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[GLOBAL EYE]Viewing a post-nuclear peninsula

Seoul and Beijing are desperate to revive the stalled six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear program. The six countries ― South and North Korea, Russia, China, Japan and the United States ― first met in Beijing in August in a multilateral effort to resolve the nuclear threat posed by Pyeongyang.
Initially, North Korea had insisted on a two-way dialogue with Washington. But the Bush administration thinks that Pyeongyang undermined Washington by failing to comply with the 1994 Agreed Framework signed by the Clinton administration, and the last thing the United States wanted was to sit down at the table with North Korea alone.
The six-nation approach was a way to detour around a bilateral meeting. For Washington, Beijing is the best mediator it could hope for. China is the North’s only close ally and has become a lifeline for Pyeongyang. Considering that the North could never ignore Beijing, the six-nation talks were Washington’s outsourcing project to China.
Both the Democratic administration of President Bill Clinton and the Republican administration under President George W. Bush have highly respected Beijing’s role in the resolution of nuclear tensions. Whenever the opportunity arose, the White House expressed its appreciation and anticipation of China’s contribution.
When Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited the White House last week, Mr. Bush sided with Beijing on the sensitive issue of Taiwan. Mr. Bush’s gesture prompted speculation that Washington might have given up on the policy of “strategic vagueness” it had followed on China-Taiwan relations. It is ironic that China, which is considered the only country that can rival the superpower United States in the 21st century, has become a crucial partner when it comes to dealing with Pyeongyang.
Beijing and Washington participated in the armistice treaty that severed the Korean Peninsula five decades ago. The two countries have returned as leading players to the negotiating table that will determine the fate of the peninsula. For Koreans, the situation is an unbearably painful deja vu.
Facing the cruel irony of history, we Koreans need to understand the true meaning of the six-nation talks. The heightened nuclear tensions have made the neighbors gather, and while the agenda focuses on the security of the peninsula and regional stability, each country comes to the table with its own interests in mind. The key to solving the six-way equation is to stand by our views in our relations with Washington, Beijing and Pyeongyang.
To make matters worse, an increasing number of South Koreans think the United States is a greater threat to the security of the peninsula than the nuclear weapons Pyeongyang possesses. But no one points a finger at the threat posed by Beijing. Even in the framework of the six-way talks, the United States looks like a hindrance. In contrast, Beijing appears to be working hard to make negotiations possible. It is realistically difficult to be sympathetic to Washington, which wants to corner Pyeongyang.
It is Seoul’s official position that we cannot coexist with a nuclear North Korea. But even when Pyeongyang openly acknowledges its nuclear capability, there is not much Seoul can do. In view of such limits, we should look at Washington and Beijing with sharper eyes.
We have to be prepared for a post-nuclear Korean Peninsula. The six-way talks are not just about finding solutions to the nuclear threat. They are about the future of the country.

* The writer is an editorial writer and director of the JoongAng Ilbo Unification Research Institute.

by Kil Jeong-woo
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