By Wang Fan
Top negotiators in the six-party talks will convene in Shenyang,
capital of Northeast China's Liaoning Province, tomorrow and Friday
to discuss steps to further the process of denuclearizing the
Their meeting, in the capacity of the Working Group for
Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, keeps the momentum of
progress, in addition to the recent announcement of the Second
Summit between the South and the North on the Korean Peninsula, and
the shutdown of the Yongbyon reactor.
North Korea has also honored its commitment to the February 13
agreement of the six-party talks and allowed two teams of
inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to
visit its Yongbyon facility. The other parties have addressed the
issue of energy, economic and humanitarian assistance to North
Korea, as more heavy fuel oil has arrived there.
All these developments are encouraging, but we should also take
note of two major points.
While the resolution of the nuclear issue on the Korean
Peninsula is important, the process is also essential. Substantial
progress has been made, but there is a long way to go before the
final resolution of the nuclear crisis.
There are some reasons why the process should also draw our
First, it must continue in the right direction; second, there
have already been too many twists and turns since the six-party
talks began, so we should value every step all parties make toward
advancing its process.
The progress made reemphasizes the importance of the six-party
talks as a multilateral institution seeking regional peace and
security in Northeast Asia.
The talks have been through six rounds: The door of conversation
opened in the first round; the dialogue furthered in the second
round; then in the third round, parties had hard nuts to crack; the
fourth round succeeded with the September 19 Joint Statement in
2005; and the February 13 agreement was reached in the fifth round
In July, the meeting of the top negotiators during the sixth
round ended with the Press Communique, which urged parties to
fulfill the commitments in the former two documents.
All these prove the six-party talks are not an unnecessary fancy
vase. They cannot and should not be substituted; instead, this
institution should be enhanced.
The six-party talks are not just bargaining on paper. They have
in fact paved a way for essential problem solving by halting the
escalation of crisis. The institution deserves more confidence
after the shutdown of the Yongbyon reactor.
Nowadays the institution has grown to be mature and flexible,
with diversified ways for problem solving. Above all, China is
indispensable for its success.
Although great progress has been made, the task ahead to settle
the problem still poses challenges. It calls for continuous and
earnest efforts from all parties, waiting in the process of
implementation down the negotiation table.
The first challenge concerns the disablement of all existing
nuclear programs. The North Korea's commitments to a complete
declaration of all nuclear programs can't diminish US suspicion of
secret uranium enrichment programs in North Korea. The divergence
on this issue carries within itself the seeds of conflict.
The cooperation between the IAEA and North Korea requires
patience and mutual understanding not only because their joint work
in the past was not that smooth but also because the IAEA plays an
ever-important role. After all, nuclear proliferation has become an
Light water reactors are the third. Under the 1994 Agreed
Framework, two light water reactors would be built with support
from the US. This agreement broke down when the US stopped
implementing the framework at the end of 2002, leaving 76 percent
of the construction work undone.
For North Korea, it is simply a problem of resuming the original
agreement, instead of new bargaining. That is, it hopes to resume
the construction of the two light water reactors in return for the
overall closure of its nuclear program. However, the US may bring
out new chips.
The fourth unpredictable factor lies in the changes in US
domestic and foreign policy. If the new obstacles appear to block
the grand Middle East anti-terrorism strategy or the process of
denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, the hawkish Americans may
Even chief US negotiator Christopher Hill admitted that the
closer they approach the destination, the more difficult it
becomes. He likened the negotiations to playing computer games,
where the level of difficulties rises with the passing of one stage
to another, even though the program setting and goals may be
Moreover, the problem of mutual trust between the two countries
The US has never made official commitment on establishing
diplomatic relations with North Korea after the country abandons
its nuclear program. The US and South Koreahave also set a specific
agenda for assistance such as the voucher for delivering heavy fuel
But an over-detailed mechanism of rewards and penalties embodies
the lack of mutual trust and readjustment as far as their bilateral
relationship is concerned.
It is more complicated if the motivation of the North Korea's
pursuit of nuclear weapons comes from outside instead of inside.
The abandonment of its nuclear program will largely depend on its
own analysis of the regional situation and US strategy.
A possible peaceful agreement between the US and North Korea
involves multiple issues, while all the parties pursue three major
First, it must be irreversible because the world can't bear the
fear of repetitive nuclear construction.
Second, the process toward denuclearization should continue
without pause and intervention.
Third, it needs to be permanent.
Only the accomplishment of the first two steps will make it
possible for building a security mechanism.
These three demands are entangled with several important issues.
North Korea looks forward to more concessions and friendly
handshaking with the US.
For instance, the US must delete North Korea from the list of
"rogue countries" and stop imposing its Trading with the Enemy Act
on it. It also hopes the US and the international community change
their attitudes so that the North Korea will be able to enjoy a
better international environment and restore its international
The resolution of the Korean nuclear issue depends on the
implementation of all the pledges in pace with each other and in a
balanced way. It will be time consuming.
Therefore, we call for more confidence, more mutual trust and
more patience. The confidence is the only way to guarantee the
feasibility and efficiency of peaceful talks and mutual trust keeps
the implementation phases in accord with each other. The confidence
in contrast promotes the maintenance of trust and patience to
The author is a researcher with the Institute of
International Relations at the China Foreign Affairs
(China Daily August 15, 2007)