[Viewpoint] The ‘necessary steps’ before talksThere is no need to worry about inviting North Korea to the six-party talks without asking it to take responsibility for recent military attacks and violations of international obligations and commitments. In a joint statement announced on Wednesday, President Barack Obama of the United States and President Hu Jintao of China “agreed on the critical importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula as underscored by the Joint Statement of Sept. 19, 2005,” and “called for the necessary steps that would allow for early resumption of the six-party talks process.”
There are two things mentioned in the joint statement as “necessary steps.” First, the two leaders expressed concern over heightened tensions on the peninsula triggered by recent events. Second, they expressed objection to “all activities inconsistent with the 2005 Joint Statement and relevant international obligations and commitments.” And for the maintenance of peace and stability on the peninsula, the two leaders “emphasized the importance of an improvement in North- South relations and agreed that sincere and constructive inter-Korean dialogue is an essential step.”
The joint statement divides the issue into maintenance of peace and stability on the peninsula and the denuclearization of it, and demands to take necessary steps on both sides; constructive inter-Korean dialogue for peace and stability on the peninsula; and dismantling of all activities inconsistent with the 2005 Joint Statement for the goal of denuclearization.
On South Korea’s side, holding inter-Korean dialogue first to be followed by the six-party talks is the due sequence of the event. Holding South- North talks, in which North Korea apologizes for the sinking of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and promises not to repeat brutal attacks, and then resuming the six-party talks was the precondition South Korea demanded for the resumption of the sixparty talks.
However, China, which sided with Pyongyang when the sinking of the Cheonan was debated at the UN Security Council, proposed to resume the six-party talks without any preconditions, even without holding North Korea responsible for the brutal bombardment of the island in which four lives, including two civilians, were sacrificed. Since then, the resumption of the six-party talks has become synonymous with a “free lunch” for North Korea and the three participants in the talks, South Korea, Japan and the United States, rejected the Chinese proposal.
The fact that the leaders of the United States and China called for “necessary steps” that would allow for an early resumption of the six-party talks can be interpreted as a measure that put the talks and the denuclearization process on the track of multilateral negotiations. The six-party talks in the past concentrated attention on the dismantling of the North’s nuclear development program, and as a consequence, the practical negotiations progressed through direct contact between the United States and North Korea. It was actually a bilateral negotiation under the coat of multilateral talks. On the other hand, the measure taken by the statement, resolving that sincere and constructive inter-Korean dialogue is an essential step for resumption of the six-party talks, upgrades the talks to a multilateral dimension in which South and North Korea are the countries directly involved, while the United States, China, Japan and Russia participate as allies and interested parties.
The “objection to all activities inconsistent with the 2005 Joint Statement and relevant international obligations and commitments,” the second necessary step, includes the uranium enrichment program that the North claimed recently and all other actions the North took in defiance of the 2005 Joint Statement, such as the extraction of plutonium from used fuel rods, nuclear tests and missile development. That is, there are many things that the North should do in order to satisfy “necessary steps.”
North Korea still refrains from making official comments on the joint statement. It will be difficult for Pyongyang to oppose or reject the measures on which China, the guardian of North Korea, agreed. On China’s part, too, it will be difficult, from now on, to evade or refuse to exercise influence on North Korea. It will also be difficult for the country to stand on the side of North Korea when the latter provokes armed attacks or violates international obligations or commitments. The whole international community will watch to see whether China exercises leadership commensurate with a G-2 state.
Whether China can actually persuade the North to meet the demands of the Joint Statement or not will be proven sooner or later. On Wednesday, North Korea’s Minister of the People’s Armed Forces, Kim Youngchun, sent a telegram to South Korean Defense Minster Kim Kwan-jin, proposing dialogue between high-level military officials from the two Koreas. Although the sincerity of the North’s proposal is not tested, it seems, at least, the North has started to comply with China’s demands.
*The writer is a visiting professor of media studies at Myongji University.
By Park Sung-soo