[Outlook]Korean security is at stakeIn early November 2005, the first-step meeting of the fifth round of the six-party talks was held. Before the meeting, people predicted that providing North Korea with a light-water reactor would be the core issue. That was because a joint statement was adopted two months earlier, but South Korea, North Korea and the United States have since been in conflict with one another over the statement. Song Min-soon, South Korea’s incumbent foreign minister and top envoy to the meeting at that time, first addressed this issue when he met with Kim Gye-gwan, the North’s vice foreign minister and chief delegate to the meeting.
However, Vice Minister Kim did not respond as expected. He did not show any interest in a light-water reactor. He instead confessed that he had another serious problem, which was the freeze on$25 million in North Korean holdings at Banco Delta Asia. This proved that measures the United States took against the bank suspected of involvement in money laundering turned out to be effective in putting pressure on the North Korean leadership.
Mr. Kim raised the bank issue only two months after the measure was implemented. It was because of the financial sanctions that North Korea were begging and even proceeded with a nuclear test over the course of the past 18 months.
However, the United States did not pay attention to North Korea’s moves and imposed a series of financial sanctions. In a working-level meeting in March 2006, Washington pushed Pyongyang into a corner, saying that illegal acts were not subjects to negotiation. A North Korean top envoy said Washington even ridiculed North Korea, asking what country on earth would go to this kind of trouble for a mere $25 million.
The Bush administration has mostly clung to its hard-line stance on North Korea, but beginning late last year it lifted part of its sanctions on the North. This time around, the U.S. decided to lift all sanctions, exactly what North Korea demanded. North Korea’s diplomacy won. The Bush administration was anxious to achieve visible diplomatic victories before the 2008 presidential election. For this reason, the United States surrendered to the North’s demand that it would freeze nuclear facilities in Yongbyon only if sanctions on its funds were fully lifted.
Meanwhile, there is something else that South Korea needs to pay attention to. The United States and China are revealing their intention to intervene more in issues on the Korean Peninsula. When negotiating the BDA issue, North Korea, the United States and China had conflicts at the last minute as to whether the sanctions on the BDA would be lifted fully or partially.
The issue could have fallen through as negotiations have in the past. However, China’s State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan tried to mediate and U.S. President George W. Bush sided with the State Department, which emphasized negotiations, rather than the Treasury Department, which took a hard-line stance. The two countries took very active positions, unlike in the past.
China’s principle for diplomacy for the coming 20 years is that the country will stand firmly to maintain peace. The country will host the Olympic Games in Beijing. The country needs stability on the Korean Peninsula more than ever. China needs to do whatever it can to prevent tensions produced by North Korea’s nuclear threats from increasing. It is desirable for China if the United States coaxes North Korea and makes it abandon its nuclear development program.
Since the end of the Korean War, the United States has focused on stabilizing the Korean Peninsula by providing deterrence against North Korea. But since late last year the Bush administration has revealed its determination to readjust this order from the Cold War. The most important thing is to ease tensions with North Korea and to resolve its nuclear issue. The United States may believe it would do no harm to free North Korea from China’s influence. Beijing’s views on Washington and Washington’s concept of its national interests regarding Pyongyang seem to be changing from the past.
This improvement of the situation offers us a good opportunity. The core issue is whether we can make North Korea abandon its nuclear arms entirely. When this happens, North Korea and the United States should normalize their ties, North Korea should implement reforms and open its doors, and inter-Korean relations must be improved.
However, if the United States and China are satisfied with North Korea’s promise to freeze its nuclear facilities in the future, and accept affairs as they are, the security in South Korea will face a crucial crisis. Not only the incumbent administration, but also the next should bear this in mind.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Ahn Hee-chang