Can Washington and Beijing cooperate on North Korea nuclear issue?

By Cui Zhiying Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/21 19:38:39

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with visiting US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday. The North Korean nuclear crisis was one of the top topics of Tillerson's visit.

Tillerson said that the two countries "will work together to see if we cannot bring the government in Pyongyang to a place where they want to make a different course - make a course correction and move away from their development of their nuclear weapons." His tone is widely seen as "moderate" compared with his earlier statements in South Korea and Japan. Tillerson warned while he was in Seoul that a military response would be "on the table" if the threat from North Korea's nuclear programs is elevated to a level requiring it.

Tillerson's tough stance, on the one hand, was attempting to deter Pyongyang from further nuclear and missile activities, and, on the other, was reassuring its Northeast Asian allies of security support.

He refrained from the harsh language in Beijing, the final leg of his official Asia trip. China has a forthright and unswerving stance on the "three adherences" in resolving Pyongyang's nuclear crisis - adherence to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, adherence to regional peace and stability, and adherence to resolving the issue through consultations and dialogues.

Preemptive military actions that the US suggested earlier will only draw the whole region into a vicious circle. Tillerson may be taking China's proposal of peaceful talks into consideration, and this may explain his "moderate" stance in Beijing.

Some Western countries are shifting the full responsibility for Pyongyang's nuclear crisis on China, arguing that Beijing should impose tougher sanctions on its neighbor to curb the latter's nuclear ambitions.

This is unfair. Beijing has made an important contribution of encouraging the concerned parties to resume peace talks. China has proposed and played a vital role in the Six-Party Talks, a mechanism designed to find a peaceful solution to the nuclear crisis. With six rounds of dialogues being held in Beijing, the talks would have never taken shape or occurred without China's efforts.

Given the detrimental effects Pyongyang's nuclear and missile activities have on regional security, China has decided to suspend all coal imports from North Korea, an important source of foreign revenue for the country's fragile economy, for the rest of 2017 in compliance with UN Security Council resolutions. Beijing has been urging Pyongyang to cooperate with the international community on the issue, and will try every means to persuade the country to give up its nuclear attempts.

The US, shifting all the burden of addressing Pyongyang's nuclear issue on China, has no more arrows left in its quiver. Tillerson admitted in Tokyo that 20 years of diplomacy had "failed" to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. With no new solutions, Washington passes the buck to Beijing and expects the latter to do more to pressure Pyongyang.

The nuclear crisis, in nature, is an issue between the US and North Korea. Pyongyang is developing nuclear weapons to counter Washington, rather than Beijing. Its ultimate purpose is to use its nuclear deterrence as a bargaining chip to pressure the US to improve their bilateral ties.

Therefore, the US should adjust its Pyongyang policy, and return to addressing the issue through negotiations and consultations, which China proposes. Instead of taking provocative actions to further escalate tensions in the region, the US, South Korea and the North should all make concessions.

Beijing suggested that Pyongyang suspend its nuclear and missile activities in exchange for a halt in the Washington-Seoul military drills and then, replace the armistice with a peace agreement. All parties concerned should take China's proposal seriously.

Tillerson claimed earlier that the US policy of "strategic patience" toward North Korea had ended and a military response is an option "on the table." If preemptive military actions were taken, the US would start a second Korean War, for which neither Washington nor Seoul has been prepared. Dialogue is the only way to realize denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.

The author is a director of the Korean Peninsula Research Center at Tongji University. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion


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