On January 20, 2011 (22:00 KST, 08:00 EST) South Korea’s global broadcaster Arirang News interviewed Duyeon Kim, Deputy Director of Nuclear Non-Proliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferaiton, about the U.S.-China Summit with regards to the North Korean nuclear issue. Click here for the video.
U.S.-China Summit & North Korea
As expected, the joint statement produced by Presidents Obama and Hu was not ground-breaking on the North Korean issue. It is hard to say that there were any substantially new achievements. However, it was still a positive outcome with some meaningful points because it reflected both sides’ positions on contentious issues (regardless of an agreement), and it generally kept in line with the position of Washington’s allies.
Washington and Beijing agreed on some key points in general and in principle, but many of those key points are reaffirmation of each other’s original positions. The language is also heavily nuanced, which is normal in public diplomatic rhetoric. It appears Beijing has not steered far away from its original stance, and we can still see that Washington and Beijing hold differing views on those same key points.
Here’s a run-down of some initial thoughts on points that stand out: (Click “read more”)
(1.) “The United States and China emphasized the importance of an improvement in North-South relations and agreed that sincere and constructive inter-Korean dialogue is an essential step.”
It’s clear South Korea’s position was reflected in the joint statement because Seoul, Washington and Tokyo are pushing for inter-Korean dialogue to precede the Six Party Talks in the wake of consecutive North Korean attacks.
(2.) “(In this context), the United States and China expressed concern regarding the DPRK’s claimed uranium enrichment program”
This is perhaps the most eye-catching because the joint statement specifically mentions “uranium enrichment program,” which is a term President Hu avoided in the joint press conference. This sentence is significant because it’s clear that Washington’s (and its allies’) position has been reflected in the joint statement, and it’s significant because it the term “uranium enrichment program” is specifically mentioned. It also shows Beijing is concerned about Pyongyang’s nuclear developments.
At the same time, however, the language has been left a bit vague to reflect Beijing’s main position with the phrase “claimed” uranium enrichment program. Just days before the summit, China’s foreign ministry made a public comment that failed to acknowledge the existence of a uranium enrichment facility shown to an American scientist last November. So it’s clear there are fundamental differences here.
Still, “the United States and China reiterated the need for concrete and effective steps to achieve the goal of denuclearization and for full implementation of the other commitments made in the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks.” Hopefully this will translate into real action to jumpstart dialogue.
(3.) The joint statement did NOT specifically condemn North Korea’s attacks on South Korea: “Both sides expressed concern over heightened tensions on the Peninsula triggered by recent developments.”
However, President Obama said in their joint press conference that the two sides “agreed that North Korea must avoid further provocations.”
What’s most important is how North Korea will respond, and how Washington and Beijing will follow up on their joint statement.
The joint statement says, “The two sides called for the necessary steps that would allow for early resumption of the Six-Party Talks process to address this and other relevant issues.” However, Washington and Beijing still disagree on the mechanics of moving forward. The U.S., South Korea and Japan want inter-Korean dialogue first, then the Six Party Talks. China, on the other hand, wants the Six Party Talks first and THEN deal with all outstanding issues. The concern surrounding Beijing’s proposal is that Pyongyang’s attacks will remain unresolved and overshadowed by six party nuclear negotiations, which many argue is exactly what North Korea wants.
The allies want the road to dialogue to generally look something like this:
Some gesture of taking responsibility for attacks ==> Inter-Korean dialogue ==> Genuine action reflecting a sincere will to denuclearize ==> U.S.-North Korea dialogue ==> Six Party Talks.
Washington will be debriefing Seoul on the summit by sending a senior official to South Korea. But aside from the summit’s results, we’ll likely see a flurry of diplomacy among the six parties in the weeks and months to come. While it’s always tough to make predictions about diplomacy, we may see some real action as early as February, which is after President Obama’s State of the Union address next week.
Obama & Hu: Hit or Miss
Opinions are split on whether one should hope that Wednesday’s U.S.-China summit will help jumpstart diplomacy on the long dead-locked North Korean issue. Will it be clouded by other pressing issues like the economy? Does the U.S. have leverage? Will China move on North Korea? Will the summit end in symbolic formalities or tangible results?
But the reality is that this is perhaps the Obama administration’s only real chance to make a difference since both countries will soon begin preparations for leadership transitions in 2012. The most effective way to move Beijing is to persuade the Chinese president himself by an American president, head-to-head.
The summit’s joint statement will provide essential clues about the direction of diplomacy on North Korea. But the two leaders are walking into the summit oceans apart on some key points on mechanics. (Click “read more”)
President Hu Jintao has made Beijing’s position clear in his latest joint interview to the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal – he wants to first resume the Six Party Talks and then discuss all matters of concern including Korean tensions. Washington, on the other hand, wants inter-Korean dialogue to precede the Six Party Talks as well as a sincere North Korean gesture to denuclearize prior to negotiations.
Perhaps one of the biggest sticking points is North Korea’s recently unveiled uranium enrichment program. Beijing fails to publicly acknowledge the existence of the facility and has defended Pyongyang’s right to use nuclear energy. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said “We’ve never seen North Korea’s uranium enrichment facility… The situation is unclear right now.”
But Washington wants to work with Beijing to put an end to the North’s uranium enrichment program, which has clearly violated UN Resolutions and Six Party agreements. The two sides could revert to dealing with the uranium enrichment issue at the Six Party Talks, but the question is how to get there?
The fundamental challenge is persuading Beijing to move Pyongyang. China’s top policy priority is its own peaceful development, which it believes will only be achieved if there is regional peace and stability. This is particularly crucial as Hu Jintao hands over the reins to Xi Jinping next year. This means Beijing will be especially reluctant to aggravate Pyongyang as it fears instability in North Korea could cause spillover effects in Chinese territory.
The window of opportunity for Obama and Hu to find a lead and create an environment conducive for progress on North Korea will become increasingly narrow after the summit. President Obama needs to prod Hu to help contain further North Korean provocations and help create an environment for inter-Korean dialogue and eventual six nation dialogue.
This year and the next will be an attractive time for North Korea to engage in more provocations as Washington, Seoul and Beijing become preoccupied with leadership transitions in their respective countries. It will be an appealing time for Pyongyang to shake the U.S.-South Korea alliance as well. It will also be an opportune time for Pyongyang to show its “might and power” as it approaches its own 2012 deadline – perhaps with a bang or a barrage of fireworks, or both.
Until now Washington has maintained a reactive, rather than proactive, approach to the North Korean dilemma. Its will to make progress may have grown after revelations of Pyongyang’s uranium enrichment program.
Still, Iran overshadows North Korea on the White House policy agenda.
Resolving the North Korea issue is imperative to break the precedent for other rogue actors like Tehran who aspire to follow the Pyongyang model. But how far will the Obama administration go with just two years left in office packed with competing policy priorities?
As for the first step in the future of diplomacy on North Korea, Wednesday will determine whether the summit will be a hit or miss.
Chinese Déjà vu: Call for Emergency 6-Way Meeting – Seriously?
China’s proposal for “emergency consultations” among envoys to the Six-Party Talks in early December is reminiscent of an all-too familiar recent past. Beijing claims the meeting is to prevent further escalation between the two Koreas. But don’t get your hopes up just yet.
Wu Dawei, chief Chinese nuclear negotiator on CCTV:
“The Chinese side, after careful studies, proposes having emergency consultations among the nuclear envoys in early December in Beijing to exchange views on major issues of concern to the parties at present…”
Such words should be cautiously analyzed because it may be a veiled attempt to outwardly resume the Six-Party Talks but, in fact, evade any responsibility to influence North Korea regarding Pyongyang’s latest two attacks on the South. Beijing appears to be trying to elicit pre-Six Party Talks before the real thing. Click “Read More.”
Why? Look here:
Wu Dawei, chief Chinese nuclear negotiator on CCTV:
“Although the proposed consultations do not mean the resumption of the six-party talks, we hope they will create conditions for their resumption.”
As the saying goes, there’s a time and a place for things. First thing’s first, the latest North Korean attack, which killed two marines and two civilians, should be dealt with before discussions can take place on resuming nuclear talks.
After the Cheonan incident, China’s been trying to resume the Six-Party Talks in three phases: U.S.-North Korea direct talks –> unofficial, preliminary Six-Party Talks –> official Six-Party Talks. China’s latest proposal would only aggravate South Korea and perhaps even the US and Japan.
In light of North Korea’s consecutive deadly attacks on the South, the focus should be on defusing tensions and holding Pyongyang responsible for them. However, China appears to be trying to put current hostilities on the Six-Party agenda. That could, in effect, shift the focus away from the North’s attacks to the nuclear issue. Holding “emergency consultations” in early December would be the first time in two years for the six countries to meet since the Six-Party Talks broke down in December 2008.
Beijing has been under fire for mishandling the March 26 Cheonan attack, and Seoul, Washington and Tokyo have since called on Beijing to step up. South Korea, the U.S. and Japan have been reluctant to resume nuclear negotiations until North Korea first took responsibility for the Cheonan attack and showed a serious will to denuclearize. The pressure is on because North Korea has again attacked the South, this time killing and injuring civilians as well. By attempting to arrange six-way consultations again this time, Beijing may be trying to outwardly show its efforts while essentially pointing the finger toward Seoul, Washington and Tokyo if such a meeting doesn’t materialize knowing that the three countries would still want North Korea to first take responsibility for the Yeonpyeong attack.
The Six-Party Talks could be useful as a diplomatic stage for pressuring and grilling North Korea on the Yeonpyeong attack, but such objective would require very careful coordination so that the focus is not diluted at the six-way dialogue table. It’s uncertain whether this is possible.
We should keep an eye on the results of two upcoming trips between senior North Korean and Chinese officials:
- North Korea’s Choe Thae-bok, secretary of the Worker’s Party Central Committee and chairman of the regime’s parliament Supreme People’s Assembly, is expected to visit China on Tuesday at the invitation of Wu Bangguo, China’s top legislator and second-ranking official, according to China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency.
- China’s Wang Jiarui, director of the Chinese Communist Party’s International Liaison Department, is expected to visit Pyongyang soon as Chinese Premier Wen Jiaobao’s envoy.
These meetings could drastically change the current tide. If Beijing and Pyongyang miraculously strike a deal on the nuclear issue that the US or South Korea cannot ignore, then it could jumpstart nuclear negotiations but gloss over North Korea’s attacks, essentially leaving them unresolved. Pyongyang’s charm offensive to resume nuclear negotiations following its Cheonan attack was widely viewed as a way to evade taking responsibility for torpedoing the South Korean ship.
What Does North Korea Want?
No one knows for sure, but we can make some assessments based on clues from recent and past behavior. There have never been single explanations when it comes to North Korea, and most often, there are several elements in play, sometimes feeding off each other. Here are some possible scenarios surrounding the Yeonpyeong attack:
1. Kim Jong-il? If the Dear Leader is responsible for the Yeonpyeong Island attack, he may be trying to test U.S. patience, or “strategic patience” as Washington’s coined its policy. Kim ultimately wants to negotiate a peace treaty with the U.S. to replace the armistice. Why? Because a peace treaty would theoretically rid U.S. troops, by which North Korea feels threatened, from the Korean peninsula. Pyongyang may try to create a conflict zone in the West Sea by engaging in more military provocations and use them as an excuse to elicit peace treaty negotiations.
(propaganda organ) National Peace Committee of (North) Korea carried by KCNA:
“The madcap aggression war exercises launched by them in the sea and the sky near the extension of the Military Demarcation Line in the West Sea of Korea are putting the Korean Peninsula at a state of ultra-emergency… [The West Sea] is the most acute and sensitive area where military conflict might break out anytime.”
The Northern Limit Line in the West Sea (a.k.a Yellow Sea) was unilaterally drawn by the U.S.-led United Nations Command at the end of the Korean War in 1953 and denied by Pyongyang. The de facto maritime border has been the site of bloody naval skirmishes in the past.
We should be mindful that the North is preparing for a leadership succession and is working hard to meet its deadline to become a “mighty and prosperous nation by 2012.” Latest revelations of the North’s nuclear development (light water reactor construction and pilot uranium enrichment program) are also apprently part of the plan.
Another possibility is Kim Jong-il trying to further divide the progressives and conservatives in South Korea.
2. Kim Jong-un? If heir apparent Little Kim is responsible for the Yeonpyeong attack, he may be trying to show the North Korean military that he has what it takes to become the next leader despite his young age, which is believed to be 25 years old. There have been rumors that Kim Jong-un was behind the Cheonan attack and cyber-attacks on South Korean government websites.
3. North Korean military? Perhaps the Yeonpyeong attack was the doing of the North Korean military elite suggesting that it may have become much more powerful than Kim Jong-il expected or can handle. Perhaps the military wanted to exert its force after their leader elevated the authority of the Workers’ Party in September when the military had enjoyed the highest position in government for decades.
What Should the U.S. Do?
- Continue to stand with and stand by South Korea in future actions.
- Press China to take an active and responsible role as a regional superpower and “Big Brother” to rein in North Korea but focus on the immediate issue at hand, which is defusing tensions and preventing further North Korean military provocations.
- Garner international support in dealing with the Yeonpyeong attack. When the U.S. takes over the presidency of the UN Security Council on December 1st, use that position to the fullest.
- Find an opportune time in the future to resume talks with North Korea. History has shown us that North Korea at the least refrains from provocations during negotiations.
CTBT At Fourteen: Prospects For Entry Into Force
The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test- Ban Treaty (CTBT) opened for signature 14 years ago today on 24 September 1996. Signed by 185 of the UN’s 192 Member States, the Treaty is designed to constrain the research and development of nuclear weapons by banning all nuclear test explosions in all environments, indefinitely. Given the undeniable security and non-proliferation […]