Wed, May 17, 2017 - Page 8 News List

A US-China consensus on N Korean deterrance

By Joseph Tse-hei Lee 李榭熙

In the past few months, the North Korean nuclear crisis has been transformed from a remote abstraction to an immensely complex geopolitical issue.

US President Donald Trump has departed from the policies of his predecessors George W. Bush and Barack Obama in dealing with North Korea. For a long time, the US had pursued a dual strategy of denuclearization and regime change toward North Korea. Since 2005, the US has initiated numerous six-party talks, which bring the US, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan together to marginalize North Korea.

During the Bush and Obama administrations, Washington refused to recognize Pyongyang as an equal unless it suspended its nuclear facilities. When the six-party talks continued throughout the 2000s and early 2010s, the US found itself forced by China, Russia, South Korea and Japan to negotiate bilaterally with North Korea: the very scenario that the US had sought to avoid.

Trump has publicly praised North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and expressed a desire to meet him in person. His remarks were tantamount to recognizing North Korea as a legitimate state, thereby opening the door for a peace treaty to end the Korean War.

The Korean War armistice signed in 1953 provided the US with a permanent military base in South Korea and justification for launching a preemptive strike on North Korea as part of a war that, technically, has never ended.

North Korea has always insisted that it would not do away with its nuclear weapons until a peace agreement has been reached, but the US holds denuclearization as a prerequisite for diplomatic normalization.

North Korea sees its nuclear weapons program as an assurance of security, power consolidation and diplomatic recognition.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, China has tried to replace the Cold War structure with a new order at the expense of the US.

North Korea is now operating in a larger international arena and has slightly destabilized US-China relations. Its nuclearization project overtook other diplomatic, economic and environmental concerns as the sole discussion point at last month’s US-China summit.

Trump threatened to brand China a currency manipulator if it failed to discipline North Korea.

China had no choice but to entertain Trump’s request.

From this perspective, China’s latest criticism of North Korea’s adventurism was clearly an effort to reduce the damage posted by the North to its bilateral ties with the US.

Meanwhile, major changes in South Korean politics are likely to influence inter-Korean relations. On May 10, Moon Jae-in, a former human rights lawyer and a former chief of staff to late South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun, won the presidential election. The result marked a qualitative shift of power from conservative to liberal in the South Korean National Assembly.

With strong parliamentary support, Moon appears to be willing to implement a foreign policy more independent of the US, and more accommodating toward China and North Korea.

Historian Paul Kennedy said states that maintain a balance of military and economic strengths have assumed the role of leadership in global politics.

US military might is thinly spread around the globe and Trump recognizes the difficulty of tapping its resources for campaigns in the Middle East, and for disarming nuclear facilities in North Korea. By bringing China on board, the US shifts part of the responsibility of maintaining a rules-based security system to China, achieving a consensus on geopolitical matters on the Korean Peninsula.

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