Time for a more active roleThe United States and China agree on the urgency of containing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. But they are still poles apart on the means. Washington maintains Beijing could do more and should exercise its “unique” influence on Pyongyang. It believes that China - still the primary economic supporter of the North - can reign in Pyongyang if it has the will. Beijing thinks the opposite. It sees the key to the North Korean nuclear problem in the Washington-Pyongyang relationship. It believes America and North Korea can talk out the problem through a quid-pro-quo deal. In a recent high-level strategic dialogue in Beijing, the two sides reconfirmed their divergent differences on the solution to the nuclear issue.
In a press conference following the 6th U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the two countries “agreed on an important urgency of achieving a denuclearized, stable and prosperous Korean Peninsula, and we discussed specific ways in which we can advance that goal.” He did not elaborate on meaning of “specific ways.” “We both understand that there’s more we can do in order to bring North Korea into compliance with its obligations to denuclearize,” he said, again falling short of presenting a concrete action plan. The run-of-the-mill rhetoric suggests the two countries still haven’t reached an agreement to renew stalled six-party talks. Washington demands concrete actions and commitment from Pyongyang before the negotiations can resume, while Beijing argues it is more important to first draw Pyongyang back to the negotiating table. Beijing claims Pyongyang will never walk into the dialogue unless Washington lowers the bar.
The United States spent the past five years using so-called “strategic patience.” Many among Barack Obama’s inner circle criticize this policy. Robert Einhorn, former special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control at the State Department, said the Obama administration’s policy of resisting engagement with North Korea in favor of political and economic pressure has not produced any better results than previous policies and urged Washington to hold bilateral talks with Pyongyang.
It is time for South Korea to play a more active role. It must come up with inventive ways to persuade America and China to find a middle ground.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 12, Page 30