Fri, May 09, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Strategic stability in Northeast Asia

By Vincent Chen 陳文賢

It is widely believed that after its victorious war against Iraq, the US would not only continue to maintain its sole superpower status but would also become more influential politically and militarily. It was reasonably predictable that as soon as the war in Iraq was over, the US would shift its foreign policy focus onto the North Korean nuclear weapons program, which has posed a serious challenge to strategic stability in Northeast Asia, since US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly presented the evidence that North Korea had violated international accords last October.

It may not be totally unexpected that North Korea has no longer insisted on having bilateral nego-tiation with the US over its alleged nuclear weapons program. North Korea must have thought seriously about the implications of the US war against Iraq for its survival and for the likelihood of changing the strategic landscape in Northeast Asia.

Likewise, China also toned down its criticism of US insistence on a multilateral solution and got itself involved in North Korea's internal affairs in a very subtle way.

Many experts have speculated about why the defiant regime in Pyongyang is suddenly becoming more conciliatory on the issue of negotiation with the US. One of the most obvious reasons appears to be that the US is expected to end its successful military campaign in Iraq soon.

The administration of US President George W. Bush is determined to go after those nations that it has described as the "axis of evil." North Korea, along with Iraq and Iran, were the countries pinpointed by Bush as having weapons of mass destruction and of having clandestinely supported terrorism.

Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's insistence of having no weapons of mass destruction was no escape from his eventual toppling by the US-led allied forces. Kim Jong-iI of North Korea must have learned the Iraqi lesson and can foresee his destiny if tensions with the US continue, having risen over his regime's ambiguous admission of restarting its nuclear weapons program.

From the statements issued by the North Korean government, one can see that that nation's leaders are very concerned about the sustainability of their regime and the likelihood of their being the next target of America's preemptive strike policy.

It is not without reason that China is serving as the host of the ongoing trilateral negotiations between the US, China and North Korea in Beijing. In spite of China's opposition to the use of force to disarm Iraq, the country has taken a low-profile approach on the Iraq issue and has tried to avoid conflict with the US. China insisted that the Iraq issue should be resolved by diplomatic means under the UN framework.

Nonetheless, China could do little to prevent the US from using the forces against Iraq, especially given the fact that China gets capital, advanced technology and an export market from the US.

A nuclearized North Korea does not serve China's strategic interest. Pyongyang's alleged nuclear weapons program has generated unwanted tensions in Northeast Asia. As continuous economic development and growth is the top policy for the new Chinese leadership, diplomatic bickering or even military conflict with the US due to North Korea's nuclear ambitions must be the last thing that Beijing wants.

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