Thu, Oct 19, 2006 - Page 8 News List

N Korea's nuclear test is bad for everyone

By Bill Chang 張國城

On Oct. 9, North Korea carried out its first nuclear test. This will have a negative impact on security and stability in Northeast Asia as well as cross-strait relations.

The nuclear test once again shows that Beijing's influence over Pyongyang is very limited and that the six-party talks aimed at resolving the crisis have failed. Clearly, it is now going to be very difficult to resume these talks.

Multilateral rather than bilateral talks on the issue are in China's best interest, since if Pyongyang negotiates directly with Washington and Tokyo, Beijing won't be able to leverage the situation, nor would it be able to guarantee that Pyongyang does not reach an agreement with the US and Japan that would hurt Beijing's interests.

The failure of the six-party talks also indicates a massive failure of the first-ever attempt by countries in the Asia-Pacific region to establish a collective mechanism for safeguarding regional security, and that bilateral agreements such as the US-Japan Security Treaty are the only guarantee for regional security.

In future, the US will have a greater say in regional strategy, and Japan and South Korea will also be more willing to consolidate their alliances with the US and cooperate with US strategy.

The second negative effect on China of North Korea's test is that Japan would be more motivated to strengthen its missile defense system, something Beijing has long been against. For Japan, the elimination of a single incoming missile could mean that dozens of square kilometers of land and the lives of millions of people are spared.

Observers are now considering if North Korea's test will trigger a domino effect in the region, causing Tokyo and Seoul to develop nuclear capabilities. However, I do not think this is very likely to happen. Tokyo has repeatedly articulated its "three non-nuclear principles," which state that Japan shall not possess, manufacture or introduce nuclear weapons to third parties.

As a sign of commitment to its self-defense strategy, Japan calls its new 18,000-ton helicopter carrier an "escort vessel," and has very strict rules of engagement for its Self-Defense Forces while abroad. Tokyo did not modify its "three non-nuclear principles" even when it was faced with the threat of the Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War, and it is unlikely to do so now.

Although North Korea's test in the eyes of the US and Japan has dealt a blow to China, this cannot be translated into a gain for Taiwan, for Taipei is equally unable to influence Pyongyang's actions. At present, the US will not punish Beijing simply because it is unable to influence North Korea since that does nothing to help matters.

In the past, while North Korea had not come clean on whether it possessed nuclear weapons, the US could maintain an ambiguous stand on whether it would use a pre-emptive strike to eliminate such weapons. That also limited Beijing's importance.

Now that everything is out in the open, the world is watching to see if the US will take military action and if Beijing will stand aside or maybe even use its geographical advantage and longstanding relationship with North Korea to assist the US. This will be crucial to the success of any military action. If that happens, Taiwan's interests may once again be sacrificed.

If the US decides to go to war, that could create a situation in East Asia that would give the People's Liberation Army an opportunity to invade Taiwan. The conflict surrounding the campaign to oust President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), the lack of national unity and the government's weakness leaves little room for optimism concerning Taiwan's security.

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