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Six-Party Talks Still Key to Korean Nuclear Issue
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By Yu Sui

The Foreign Ministry of North Korea announced on October 3 that North Korea would conduct a nuclear test "in the field of scientific research."

This drew grave concerns from the international community. On October 6, the United Nations Security Council demanded that North Korea not carry out the nuclear test and return unconditionally to the six-party negotiating table.

However, on October 9, North Korea announced that it had successfully exploded a nuclear device. This act of nuclear proliferation, which goes against the will of the vast majority of the world's countries, is bound to meet universal opposition and condemnation.

Heated discussions in the international community and the media involve the following questions that are worth our thoughts.

First, how should North Korea's nuclear test be reviewed from a broad perspective?

The test means the escalation of the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula and deals a telling blow to the Six-Party Talks, which had yielded initial success before the recess in September 2005. The nuclear test also presents a hard nut for China to crack.

North Korea authorities claimed that the country carried out the test out of self-defence considerations and that there was no leakage of radioactive materials. Pyongyang also declared that it would not use nuclear weapons first and that its pursuit of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula remained unchanged.

All this aims to do nothing but give legitimacy to its nuclear blast and, in turn, win over sympathy from the international community and divert international pressure.

In fact, North Korea's earlier missile test firing and the nuclear test now are dictated half by the dire situation in which it finds itself and half by the urge to whistle in the graveyard.

In the past, its nuclear bid was half real and half for blackmail. Now it has really done it, believing that only this could aggrandize its strength among the world countries and therefore garner the most possible benefits from negotiations.

However, it remains beyond North Korea's vista that going nuclear is not the only choice, much less the right one. The extremely expensive nuclear program will only make North Korea's social and economic development, which is already caught in dire straits, go from bad to worse, among other things.

A particularly bad scenario is a chain reaction in East Asia. Worse still, weapons of mass destruction could fall into the hands of terrorists with nuclear proliferation going unchecked.

Second, how should we evaluate the exterior factors that prompted North Korea to make up its mind to go nuclear?

After the Agreed Framework signed by the United States and North Korea in October 1994 was invalided, North Korea leadership, stung by the ugly names of "rogue state" and "axis of evil," may have ever been living in the shadow of possible pre-emptive nuclear strikes. This mentality is one of the important factors that have led North Korea authorities to slide farther and farther down the road of nuclear proliferation.

In fact, the participating countries in the Six-Party Talks, China and Russia, for example, made unremitting efforts to find a way out that both safeguards North Korea's national security and facilitates its economic development.

Moreover, the six-party negotiations could do more, assuring regional security as well as taking care of North Korea's interests.

The crux of the matter, however, is the bilateral relations between North Korea and United States. With the deepening of mistrust between the two key players, new disputes kept cropping up, which eventually stranded the negotiations on the rocks.

In spite of all this, however, North Korea's decision to go nuclear is by no means a way out, neither facilitating the resolution of the Korean Peninsula issue nor helping protect North Korea's own interests. Worse, it draws international condemnation onto North Korea itself.

Third, how should China's stance on the issue of North Korea's nuclear bid be reviewed?

China has ever taken into consideration the interests of the international community in general and North Korea in particular in handling the issue and has done a lot of intermediary work. The North Korea's nuclear test goes far beyond reason and China shows clearly where it stands - definitely opposing the test.

On October 9, the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated that the Chinese Government is resolutely opposed to the nuclear test and reiterated that China has ever been committed to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and nuclear non-proliferation. The statement demanded North Korea keep its non-nuclear commitment, stop any acts that could lead to further deterioration of the situation and return to the Six-Party Talks.

The statement also appealed for all parties involved to remain calm in dealing with the question and stick to diplomacy and peaceful means in resolving the problem.

President Hu Jintao restated China's position on the issue in his telephone conversation with US President George W. Bush on October 9.

The last thing China wants is for the North Korea nuclear issue to get out of control and tension and chaos to reign on the Korean Peninsula.

Taking into account the latest developments, the possibility of sanctions imposed on North Korea by the international community looks likely. But it should be borne in mind that the Chinese Government will act reasonably and cautiously on the issue of imposing sanctions against North Korea.

Fourth, how should future China-North Korea relations be predicted?

China shares identical positions on the North Korea's nuclear test with other countries, including the United States. Some people, therefore, said that China "sides with Washington." This statement is wrong; rather, it should be said that the members of the international community stand together against nuclear proliferation.

The United States' hostility towards the North Korea is no secret to all. China, however, has ever kept good-neighbor and mutual-benefit relations with North Korea.

While the North Korea's nuclear test unavoidably brings a negative impact to China-North Korea ties, this however does not necessarily mean that China would abandon the traditional friendship between the two nations. If China continues to provide aid to North Korea in the future, it is for the sake of North Korea's people, not a show of support for the North Korea's nuclear test.

Fifth, how should the mechanisms of the Six-Party Talks be appraised?

Some people claim that the six-party negotiations are dying. This is an overstatement. It is by no means easy to build up the platform of the Six-Party Talks. It helps North Korea safeguard its own security and economic interests as well as facilitates resolving the North Korea's nuclear bidding issue.

Currently, the Six-Party Talks have suffered setbacks, but the talks will not die. North Korea has not yet slammed the door on negotiation, and it has never stated that it would kill the Six-Party Talks once and for all.

In view of all this, China should try its best to see that the six-party negotiations be resumed and push the United States to adopt a positive attitude towards North Korea's legitimate rights and interests. The Korean Peninsula issue should be, after all, addressed in the framework of the Six-Party Talks. Resorting exclusively to pressuring will not work out.

The author is a senior research fellow with the Research Centre of the Contemporary World.

(China Daily October 12, 2006)


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