Chinese envoy Wu Dawei met with his South Korean counterpart in Seoul on August 26th to discuss the resumption of the six-party nuclear talks on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament. But the meeting merely reaffirmed that the gap in their perception is still wide among the parties.
Wu reportedly proposed resuming nuclear negotiations in three phases, according to South Korean media:
1. Hold U.S.-North Korea direct talks
2.Hold unofficial, preliminary six-party talks privately behind closed doors
3. Hold official six-party talks
Wu reportedly said Beijing and Pyongyang have agreed on this method, and China is now trying to convince Seoul and later Tokyo, Washington and Russia to accept the plan. The Chinese envoy’s trip coincided with that of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s North Korea visit and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s China tour.
Reaction to the Proposal?
Seoul and Washington have maintained that Pyongyang must take responsibility over sinking the Cheonan before resuming six-way negotiations. Many observers believe that Pyongyang is trying to avoid responsibility with China’s help by dangling the possibility of resuming nuclear talks.
Beijing’s handling of the Cheonan incident has upset the other members of the six-party talks (minus Russia). So it may not be easy for China, the chair of the six-party talks, to coax Seoul, Washington and Tokyo. It remains to be seen what card Beijing plays to win the others over.
IF Pyongyang does have the will to denuclearize and proves this with concrete actions, then it will be difficult for Seoul and Washington to endlessly demand an apology before resuming the six-party talks.
The Gap: Still Wide
The problem, which has been so since the first nuclear crisis, is the wide gap in perception between the two sides. On one side, Pyongyang continues to deny its involvement in Cheonan, insist on the lifting of sanctions and insist on signing a peace treaty before denuclearization. On the other side, Washington, Seoul and Tokyo demand denuclearization steps first.
South Korea, the U.S. and Japan are unified in their policy and approach toward North Korea, which has been a rare phenomenon in the past. On the other side is China and North Korea. It is unclear what hidden cards will be played to break the current impasse.