[OUTLOOK]Changes could have been expectedHalf a year has gone by since the six-nation talks in Beijing produced the September 19 joint statement. The Korean government, which once displayed confidence that it had finally found a key to resolving the nuclear tension, is now talking about “subtle changes of the political climate.” It is true that the situation has changed. However, the point of the problem is that the Korean authorities failed to read the changes in advance and prepare solutions, and are seeking a breakthrough after the changes have happened. The “subtle changes of the political climate” in the last six months were not unpredictable. The development of the situation after the joint statement has run its expected course. Nevertheless, the government failed to forecast the expected path of the nuclear typhoon because Seoul has no proper understanding of the basic formulae. If you try to solve a problem that can be easily solved using the wrong formula, you will only waste time and energy and end with no solution. In a deluge of information, if we make forecasts like a blind man feeling an elephant, we run the risk of drawing an unrealistic roadmap over and over again.
The expected course of the nuclear problem is relatively clear. Most of all, we need to pay attention to the upcoming summit meeting between the United States and China on April 20. It is not hard to guess what U.S. President George W. Bush will say to Chinese President Hu Jintao on the North Korean nuclear issue. The answer can be easily found in the National Security Strategy paper, which the White House published on March 16. The report, which Pyongyang harshly condemned as a “paper declaring war,” concisely summarizes the basic national security strategies pursued by the Bush Administration in its second term. Washington finds the ultimate triumph of its ongoing war against weapons of mass destruction and terrorism has been ending tyrannies and spreading efficient democracy around the world. Of the seven despotic states the United States named, it highlighted North Korea first. To achieve the victory of freedom, the paper proclaims that Washington will use all possible measures, including political, economic and diplomatic means. At the same time, it calls for multilateral cooperation for the development of a worldwide democratic community.
Let’s use this formula. President Bush will continue to pursue six-party talks to implement the September 19 joint statement if Pyongyang gives up its nuclear program first. However, if the six-party talks fail to bring substantial results, Washington has to reinforce its efforts to end tyranny in North Korea, and it will expect at least a stakeholder like China to join that effort, if not the European Union or Japan. On the other hand, the already widely publicized Chinese formula was reconfirmed at a news conference given by Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing. The most urgent issue China is facing is its domestic economy and, while Beijing stresses international peace, development and cooperation, it will do whatever is necessary for the interest of the state. For the sustainable development of its domestic economy, China wants to maintain stability in the North Korean nuclear issue. Instead of prematurely accepting a request from Washington, Beijing would try to mediate the discord between North Korea, which prioritizes the safeguard of its leadership system more than anything, and the United States, which cannot compromise over the abandonment of the nuclear project by Pyongyang, by resuming the six-way talks, which are mixed up with the so-called “quadrilateral entanglement” of nuclear abandonment, economic assistance, the normalization of relationships and the establishment of a peaceful system.
The eye of the typhoon is North Korea. General Secretary Kim Jong-il praised China in an unprecedentedly flattering manner when he spoke at a banquet during his visit to China in January. He said that he was far more impressed by China’s development than when he visited the completely renewed city of Shanghai five years ago, and he was happy to see China’s thriving performance everywhere. He also expressed sincere gratitude for Beijing’s support and assistance to North Korea. Just as we have seen in the recent counterfeit dollar and human rights issues, Pyongyang has chosen to flatter China as the Bush Administration gears up its political, economic and diplomatic warfare to end despotism, with no visible outcome from the six-party talks. However, Pyongyang’s effort to solve the problem with China as a shield is a tactical choice, not a strategic decision. While it can buy some time from the U.S.-China summit meeting, the nuclear typhoon will grow bigger and land on the Korean Peninsula sooner or later. Without the North Korean leadership abandoning its nuclear program, plus a strategic decision for the country’s opening and reform, along with economic assistance, improved relations and a peaceful system, the typhoon will never die away.
Then what will be Korea’s strategic choice?
* The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University. Translated by JoongAng Daily staff.
by Ha Young-sun