Experts discuss North Korea at Jeju peace forum

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Experts discuss North Korea at Jeju peace forum

SEOGWIPO, Jeju - American, Chinese and Korean foreign policy experts put their heads together at the 12th Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity on Thursday to discuss ways the three governments could counter military threats from North Korea.

“Several presidents have said that having a nuclear North Korea is unacceptable, but it’s becoming increasingly untenable to say something is unacceptable when capabilities are being demonstrated before our very eyes,” said Douglas Paal, vice president for studies and director of the Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Paal was on the National Security Council of former U.S. presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

“We have to place our hopes for the comprehensive verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of the North Korean nuclear capabilities onto a long-term time horizon, and focus on our immediate objectives,” he added.

“[Some] say it is better to pursue an imperfect but more realistic [strategy of] freezing all nuclear and missile capabilities of North Korea at the current level to later pursue the final denuclearization,” said Yoon Young-kwan, former minister of foreign affairs and trade. “They simply believe that full rollback of North Korea nuclear project to zero nuclear warhead will be unrealistic because Kim Jong-un would never accept that idea. But there are some defects in this proposal, because it may amount to accepting North Korea as de-facto nuclear state.”

North Korea carried out its ninth missile test this year and the third since the inauguration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Another hurdle in addressing the North Korea issue in the region is the fact that regional powers don’t see eye-to-eye on the implications of military provocations from the North, experts said.

“In essence, Beijing seems to make a distinction between missiles test, which don’t warrant additional UN sanctions, and a nuclear test, which would cause Beijing to support an additional sanctions resolution,” said Gary Samore, executive director for research at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs of the Harvard Kenney School.

Samore was the White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction during the Barack Obama administration.

“The problem with this distinction between missile and nuclear tests is it leaves Kim Jong-un free to conduct missile tests with impunity,” he added.

Chinese scholars agreed that China needs to play a bigger role in seeking a regional solution to the matter, and that it is ready to engage in more dialogues.

“From the Chinese perspective, a nuclear accident or conflict or conventional civil war in North Korea may mean huge humanitarian disaster, as it can also lead to other problems like refugees,” said Jia Qingguo, dean of the School of International Studies of Peking University. “China is likely to entertain the idea of bilateral and trilateral dialogues on all issues including contingency plans. Crisis can happen any time. China agrees that the issue is becoming more urgent.”

“In the past China always said that the United States and North Korea are two major players in the region and China should provide the platform in between,” said Zhang Tuosheng, chairman of the academic committee of the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies.

Zhang added, “But now, more people believe China should play a bigger role, otherwise we can’t solve this problem.”

Korean scholars welcomed the regional powers’ increased sense of responsibility over the issue.

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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