[VIEWPOINT]Look at all options with NorthAfter North Korea declared that it has nuclear arms on Feb. 10, neighboring countries concerned with the nuclear crisis are moving fast to resolve the situation. They continue negotiating with and pressuring North Korea to draw Pyeongyang back to the six-nation talks.
At a conference at Peking University last October, I mentioned the possibility that the six-party talks might not resume at all. Even if they do take place for one or two more sessions, it would not be easy to end North Korea’s nuclear aspirations through the six-party talks, I said. That was the impression I got from Chinese officials I met at unofficial private gatherings during my one-year stay there.
During his visit to Pyeongyang, Wang Jiarui, head of the International Liaison Department of China’s Communist Party, met with Kim Yong-nam, chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly Presidium, and senior North Korean Foreign Ministry officials who handle the nuclear issues. Mr. Wang also met with Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader.
It is, however, difficult to say that Mr. Wang’s visit to North Korea will bring Pyeongyang back to the negotiation table soon. After South Korea’s special envoy Chung Dong-young visited China in December, it was agreed that a senior Chinese official would visit the North.
Chief negotiators of Washington and Seoul for the six-party talks met with Mr. Wang on the eve of his trip to Pyeongyang in mid-February. They were asking China to play its card of influence over North Korea.
At a joint meeting of ministers of defense and foreign affairs of the United States and Japan, the ministers urged North Korea to return to the six-party talks unconditionally, and asked China to play an active role as a responsible player, not as a mediator.
China has been providing half of the food that the North is short to feed its people, and it supports most of the energy that the North needs. There could still be a difference between Beijing’s capability and willingness to exert its influence over North Korea.
If China stops its aid, that will send a clear message to the North. And yet, China, which does not want the North Korean regime to collapse, appears to have no intention of joining economic sanctions against the North although it has the ability to do so.
Kim Ha-joong, the South Korean ambassador to China, said there are 15 roads and railroads connecting China and North Korea. He said China has a card that is worth more than what it appears to be. He presented a hypothetical situation that China block three of the 15 passages. China, however, will unlikely pressure North Korea through such means. It seems that China does not have many cards that it is willing to use to influence North Korea.
Five members of the six-nation talks ― Beijing, Moscow, Seoul, Tokyo and Washington ― all want Pyeongyang to give up its nuclear arms programs. If North Korea continues holding onto its nuclear program, the United States may seek a leadership change in North Korea in any form, whether it is a regime change or a regime transformation. If the United States feels confident that North Korea is not nuclear armed, Washington may give a silent nod that a new pro-China regime is placed in North Korea.
China does not necessarily disagree with a change in leadership as long as North Korea does not collapse and the new one doesn’t want nuclear arms. When the interests of the United States and China coincide, the future of the Kim Jong-il regime will not be guaranteed.
The North Korean leader may believe that nuclear arms will be the only means to protect himself and his regime. If that is his survival tactic, giving up the nuclear programs will be an extremely difficult choice for the North.
North Korea may even believe that becoming an overt nuclear state will not only free itself from military threats from other countries but also guarantee the regime’s security. North Korea may believe that it has gained spotlights of neighboring countries and efforts at negotiations have been made, because it had declared itself a nuclear power.
A war on the Korean Peninsula will likely result in hundreds of thousands of casualties, and we must stop military options at all cost.
But, we cannot cope with Kim Jong-il’s survival strategy with a groundless optimism that the six-party talks will resolve the nuclear crisis diplomatically. It is time to forge a new, consistent policy based on the accurate assessment of nuclear arms in North Korea’s possession.
* The writer, a professor of international relations at the Graduate School of International Studies at Korea University, is a visiting professor at Peking University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily. staff.
by Ahn Yin-hay