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Pragmatism the Key to Unlock Nuke Stalemate
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By Tao Wenzhao

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's 22-hour China visit over the weekend was part of intensive diplomacy in the wake of the nuclear test carried out by North Korea. The diplomatic maneuver is designed to re-start the six-party talks.

Rice had three goals in her Asia tour, which covered Japan, South Korea and China. First, to push the implementation of the United Nations Security Councils' Resolution 1718. The resolution imposes sanctions on North Korea in the fields connected to weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear bombs and missiles. Different countries, however, have different interpretations of enforcing the sanction measures.

China, for example, has time and again stated that the UN resolution should be implemented in a balanced way, meaning that the sanction measures should not be extended to cover all fields and that the purpose of the sanction is to prompt North Korea to get back to the negotiating table. South Korea on its part, adopts a policy of "forbearance" towards North Korea.

The United States harbors doubts about how forcefully China and South Korea will carry out the sanction measures. So the primary purpose of Rice's Asian tour was to urge the two countries to substantially enforce the sanctions against North Korea.

Second, Rice wanted to reassure the United States' allies, Japan in particular, of the security commitment and make sure that Japan will not over-react to North Korea's nuclear test.

Over a long period of time, Japan and South Korea have been under the protection of the US nuclear umbrella. The United States' commitment to their security constitutes a very important factor in their defence policies. At the same time, Washington is closely watching Japan, making sure it does not embark on its own nuclear weapon program.

There are voices in Japan pushing for their own nuclear weapons program. Some people in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, for example, want this "nuclear taboo" to be abolished, in the wake of the North Korea nuclear test.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso also said in the past there could be discussions on the nuclear weapon issue. All these attitudes run counter to the three "non-nuclear" principles pledged by Japan and have aroused concerns from the international community.

Rice, during her visit to Japan, said: "The United States has the will and the capability to meet the full range and I underscore the full range of its deterrent and security commitments to Japan."

With Rice at his side, Taro Aso said: "The government is absolutely not considering a need to be armed by nuclear weapons." Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated Japan's non-nuclear principles during his talks with Rice. The pace of deploying missile defence systems in Japan and South Korea is expected to quicken after the North Korea nuclear test.

Third, Rice's mission was aimed at restarting the stalled six-party talks, which are also urged by the UN Security Council's Resolution 1718.

In the wake of the North Korea nuclear test, the United States has time and again stated that the six-party negotiations are still the best way to resolve the Korean nuclear issue.
In her meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Rice made it clear that Washington was committed to resolving the Korean Peninsula nuclear question through diplomacy and does not want to see escalation of the crisis in the region.

Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons which entered into force in 1970 decrees that the nuclear countries, referring to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, have the commitment not to spread nuclear weapons to non-nuclear countries and that the non-nuclear nations have the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

In the post-Cold War era, the world's security situation improved significantly and, as a result, some countries entertaining nuclear ambitions, such as Brazil and Argentina, abandoned their nuclear-weapon programs.

Up until now, 187 countries and regions have signed the non-proliferation treaty and the signatory countries in 1995, when the United Nations re-examined the treaty, agreed that the treaty be extended sine die (without fixing a date for further action).

World peace and stability require that the non-proliferation be upheld. China, as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and as a large country responsible for the international system, has the obligations to see that non-proliferation mechanism works unhampered. This is also where the interests of China and other countries lie. China will stand firm on this stance. The North Korea nuclear test posed a serious threat to the non-proliferation mechanism. China is resolutely opposed to the nuclear test.

The North Korea nuclear test obviously puts China in an awkward position. It is widely believed by many countries that China has influence over the North Korea, which other countries have not, taking into account the special relations in history and its ongoing supply of grain and energy to North Korea.

China, therefore, is able to play a special role in the Korean nuclear issue, they believe. However, China has long made it clear that the key to defusing the Korean nuclear crisis is not in the hands of China but in the hands of the two key players - North Korea and the United States. In the past, China has done its best to deal with the Korean nuclear issue through peaceful means and make a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula an actuality. China is doing this now and will continue to do its utmost to achieve this goal.

Premier Wen Jiabao, in his meeting with Rice, said the Korean nuclear issue was at the crossroads. This author believes that there are three possible scenarios for the issue.

First, the six-party talks are re-opened as a result of the international community's painstaking efforts and the flexibility demonstrated by both North Korea and the United States. All the parties involved will come back to their pledges made in the Joint Communique issued at the end of the fourth round of the six-party talks in September 2005.
This is the best scenario and can be possibly achieved. This situation is what the whole international community wants to see. Moreover, the nuclear weapon program is heavy baggage overtaxing the strength of a small country such as North Korea, though it appears it is holding a trump card in the short run. The program is bound to deteriorate the international climate on which North Korea's own survival and development depend.

North Korea originally planned to normalize its ties with the United States and Japan and develop the domestic economy. The nuclear weapon program, however, served only to shatter the plans.

The second scenario is that the deadlock over the Korean nuclear issue continues. More than a year has passed since the Joint Communique was signed in September 19 2005 at the fourth round of the six-party talks. The fifth round of talks was also nearly a year ago. If both North Korea and the United States continue their obstinate attitudes, show no flexibility and demonstrate no pragmatism, the stalemate is likely to continue.

The third and worst scenario is that North Korea will conduct the second nuclear test, which would spur the international community to impose more severe sanctions against North Korea. The security situation in Northeast Asia, therefore, would deteriorate. In the opinion of this author, the possibility of this scenario is rather slim.

The author is a researcher from the Institute for American Studies affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

(China Daily October 23, 2006)


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