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.