Nov 24, 2017
The US needs to focus on real things
The US needs to focus on real things

North Korea’s sixth nuclear test, conductedon September 3 in defiance of the international consensus on non-proliferation,drew unanimous condemnation. Efforts to contain its nuclear ambitions have again come to no clear result. Equally frustrating, from a Chinese perspective,is that western media have pointed fingers at China.

The international community, China included,certainly has a part to play in upholding non-proliferation. But how the US responds to North Korean provocation matters more than anything else for the regime of Kim Jong Un. Yet the US shown no willingness to make serious efforts to tackle the real issue (which is to ensure de-nuclearisation by responding to North Korea’s security concerns).

Some historical context is useful here. The “agreed framework” signed by the US and North Korea in 1993 required the North Koreans to replace their graphite-moderated nuclear reactors with light water ones. However, differences between the parties on the implementation of the agreementled to North Korea announcing in 1999 that it would resume its nuclear programme.

At the end of 2002, China initiated the six-party talks with the US, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and Russia. It was no easy job for China to manoeuvre between North Korea and the US, trying to talk the former into giving up its nuclear programme and the latter into addressing North Korea’s security concerns. But so successful were these talks that that work began on closing and sealing up the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon.

Unfortunately, every time progress was madeit was promptly derailed. For example, the US decided to impose financial sanctions on North Korea for money laundering just as the six parties wereprepared to implement the joint statement agreed in September 2005. North Korea responded with its first nuclear test.

Throughout the Obama administration, the US followed a policy of “strategic patience”, which was in fact a cover forinaction. Peace talks came to a halt and sanctions became the only tool for the US, whose real aim was widely believed to be regime change in NorthKorea.

We have since seen a vicious cycle in which North Korea has conducted a further four nuclear tests and countless missiletests. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China administer edsanctions under the UN resolutions, but its calls for peace talks went unanswered. All the while, joint military exercises by South Korea and the US grew larger and more sophisticated. As a result, tension continues to rise.

The Trump administration has called on Chinato do more. China has responded by offering stronger support for tougher UN sanctions. It has banned imports of North Korean coal, iron, iron ore and seafood and suspended new joint ventures with North Korea. It has also called for a “double freeze”, in which North Korea would stop its nuclear programme in exchange for the US halting joint military exercises with South Korea.

However, the US is single-mindedly pursuingan intensification of the sanctions regime. Yet it is already clear that sanctions alone couldn’t curb North Korea’s nuclear programme.

Despite ever tougher sanctions and deepening isolation, North Korea’s gross domestic product in 2016 grew better than any time in 17years and the agricultural output was also improved. In the meantime,unconstrained by any peace talks, North Korea is moving further down thenuclear path, while its relations with China have deteriorated.

Yet the US still expects China to influence North Korean policy and behaviour, while ignoring advice and proposals tabled by China and other parties. The US has made things even more difficult for China by installing the Thaad anti-missile defence system in South Korea. This has an “x-band radar” capable of monitoring vast swathes of Chinese territory.Rather than providing protection for the South Korean people, the system threatens strategic stability in northeast Asia.

The US has so far shown no intention of changing course. Meanwhile, fears about what happens next are growing in South Korea and Japan.

In the interests of a peaceful resolution,China must try even harder to get the US and North Korea to take each other’sconcerns seriously. Yet if we are really to solve the problem, then both parties need to make concessions. If we allow things to slide, who knows what awaits us? ■

The author is chairperson of the ForeignAffairs Committee of China’s National People’s Congress

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