Root causes of North Korean nuclear issue must be addressed

By Yao Yunzhu Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/4 20:58:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

When talking about nuclear dangers in the Asia-Pacific region, I have to mention that China faces a daunting nuclear environment as four out of its 14 land neighbors are nuclear armed. I also have to mention that the risks lie not only in the DPRK's nuclear program, but also in the deployment of other strategic offensive and defensive capabilities, which may damage the strategic stability between and among major nuclear weapon states.

Regarding this issue I would like to make three points:

First, nuclear dangers existed on the Peninsula well before the DPRK developed its nuclear capability. During the Cold War, nuclear umbrellas from the Soviet Union and the US covered both Koreas. Russia withdrew its umbrella from the DPRK following the end of the Cold War. The US however, chose to retain its nuclear umbrella (the extended nuclear deterrence) in the ROK, although it did withdraw all tactical nuclear weapons from the Peninsula. The change in power balance and repeated labeling of the DPRK as one of the "rogue states," "state sponsors of terrorism" and "axis of evil" has given the DPRK a deep sense of insecurity, leading to a strong belief that only nuclear weapons could ultimately guarantee its national security. The international community, including China, has made great efforts to reverse the DPRK's nuclear arming, even showing initial successes. However, all efforts have failed in the end, due to the deep-rooted hostilities between the DPRK and the US.

The US is simply unable to accept a nuclear-armed DPRK. On the other hand, the DPRK feels unable to be assured of its security and has made up its mind to fill this power gap by obtaining nuclear capabilities and establishing an asymmetric deterrence against the US. As we can see, the major opposing sides in the nuclear issue are the US and the DPRK.

My second point is that China is a major stakeholder in the security of the Korean Peninsula. Nuclear proliferation in any form is detrimental to China's national interests. The DPRK's nuclear program testing in China's vicinity poses a significant threat to China. The nuclear issue has promoted the US and its allies to adjust military deployment in Northeast Asia, expand military exercises, deploy BMD systems, and has disrupted the military balance on the Peninsula as well as strategic stability between China and the US. In addition, the DPRK's nuclear weapon program is in direct violation of several UNSC resolutions, and the international NPT mechanism. China must shoulder the responsibility to resolve this issue as a permanent member of UNSC and a strong supporter of the NPT regime.           

Thirdly, China was not, is not and never will be a bystander in the Peninsula nuclear issue. It has devoted itself to finding a solution, notably from 2003 to 2007. For five years, China pushed hard and facilitated the negotiation process, first with Three-Party Talks and then the Six-Party Talks. The latter produced the September 19 Joint Statement in 2005, which set a "roadmap" for the DPRK's comprehensive denuclearization and the peace process on the Korean Peninsula.

Recently, China has put forward a proposal of "suspension-for-suspension," which calls for the DPRK to suspend its nuclear and missile activities in return for the US and ROK to suspend their massive military exercises. This could generate a positive momentum bringing both key players (the US and the DPRK) back to the negotiating table, a first step in the "dual-track" process proposed by China earlier, which seeks parallel progress in denuclearization and the establishment of a peace mechanism on the Korean Peninsula. The "suspension for suspension" proposal serves the near term goal of reducing tensions and reversing negative developments on the Peninsula, while the "dual-track approach" would pave the road for the denuclearization and initiate the peace process on the Peninsula. Thus China has provided a framework for addressing the current issue that is open to suggestions and ideas from all sides, as long as it is conducive to restarting the negotiations, achieving the goal of denuclearization, and maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

This is an abstract of a speech by Yao Yunzhu, director emeritus of Center on China-America Defense Relations, Academy of Military Science, PLA, at the 2017 Shangri-La Dialogue. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion


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