A slim hope emerges for NK nuclear crisis

By Wang Sheng Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/25 19:08:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

When we look back at the evolution of the North Korean nuclear issue, we will see that there were two important turning points in history.

In the early 1990s, after the first nuclear crisis broke out, the administration of then US president Bill Clinton took a moderate approach and the surgical strike "Op plan 5027" plan, which aimed at the Yongbyon nuclear facilities, was put back on the shelf. The US and North Korea then adopted the US-DPRK Agreed Framework in Geneva.

This prevented the first nuclear crisis from escalating and even offered a slim hope for the improvement of Washington-Pyongyang ties.

But after George W. Bush took office, his administration precipitated a serious strategic miscalculation regarding the situation. It believed that Pyongyang's regime would soon collapse under the tough sanctions of the international community. Therefore, it abandoned the North Korea policy adopted by the Clinton administration in its latter stage.

This made North Korea lose trust on the US and relevant countries and restart its Yongbyon nuclear facilities, which triggered the second nuclear crisis.

Then Beijing hosted the Six-Party Talks and mediated actively between stakeholders. The six parties signed the 9.19 Joint Statement, a milestone document serving as an important guideline to solve the North Korean nuclear issue. This can be seen as the second strategic opportunity to solve the nuclear conundrum.

The Barack Obama administration relentlessly pushed forward the rebalancing to Asia-Pacific strategy and adopted a policy of "strategic patience" toward Pyongyang. It used the nuclear issue as an excuse to contain China, which in turn gave room for North Korea to boost its nuclear and missile capabilities. During that period, North Korea conducted a series of missile launches and carried out nuclear tests four times.

Only after Donald Trump came into power did the US realize that the North Korean nuclear issue has come to a critical point. The meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Trump at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida can be seen as the third opportunity to solve the nuclear crisis.

China and the US have reached unprecedented consensus on cooperating to contain Pyongyang's nuclear capabilities. More importantly, the Trump government has prioritized the North Korean nuclear issue and China has said it would toughen its efforts in this regard as well. The interaction and mutual trust between the US and North Korea is key to solving the North Korean nuclear issue.

What is more important is that South Korea's liberal Democratic president Moon Jae-in advocates easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, which marks a turning point from the current deadlock on the nuclear issue.

Judging from Moon's political career and his governance ideas, the new government is likely to make normalizing North-South ties a main political goal and will adopt an appropriate North Korea policy to achieve it. The improvement of Seoul-Pyongyang ties is the most important precondition to solve the nuclear issue.

As the third opportunity is drawing near, all stakeholders are expected to engage in cooperation. North Korea should also respond in a positive manner. It is time that all sides show their sincerity and determination to eliminate the security threat in Northeast Asia.

The author is a professor of international politics at the College of Public Administration, Jilin University and a research fellow at the Co-Innovation Center for Korean Peninsula Studies. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion


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