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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
The author is a researcher from the Institute for American
Studies affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Social
(China Daily October 23, 2006)