Be wary of nuclear proliferation on Korean Peninsula

By Liu Qingcai Source:Global Times Published: 2017/10/31 19:58:39

Be wary of nuclear proliferation on peninsula

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The North Korean nuclear issue has come to a stalemate. Neither economic sanctions nor the threat of military action has deterred Pyongyang from going ahead with nuclear and ballistic missile development.

The testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles and a hydrogen bomb by North Korea this year indicates that the country has the ability to launch a nuclear attack.

The standoff led to loss of hope on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The quagmire may also lead to fresh nuclear proliferation. In recent years, right-wing conservative forces in South Korea and Japan have been simmering below the surface, with voices of having their own nuclear programs emerging - the Korean Peninsula faces the challenge of nuclear proliferation.

Denuclearization of the peninsula means both South and North Korea must be denuclearized. Neither the two nor the US is allowed to develop or deploy nuclear weapons there.

The international community will never accept North Korea as a nuclear state and that Pyongyang gives up nuclear weapons development is the ultimate goal. Developing nuclear programs for the sake of it is not what North Korea is looking at, ultimately it wants to safeguard its sovereignty and security.

Yet, nuclear projects are not the ideal way to maintain security, as this will only escalate tensions on the peninsula, bringing more pressure to bear on North Korea from the outside world. The country will also suffer from severe international isolation and harsh global economic sanctions, exposing its economy to hardships. Therefore, returning to the negotiating table so as to realize denuclearization of the peninsula is the wisest choice for Pyongyang.

The international community should create conditions to achieve the goal, establish a peace mechanism on the peninsula as well as Northeast Asia through the "dual suspension" and "dual track" approaches proposed by China, in order to fully guarantee the security of North Korea, as a condition for the country's denuclearization.

North Korea's insistence on developing nuclear power may lead to a domino effect, providing conservative forces in South Korea and Japan who have been advocating the development of nuclear weapons an opportunity to push their agenda. It was Seoul not Pyongyang that developed nuclear weapons first. When Syngman Rhee and Park Chung-hee were South Korean presidents, the country secretly begun its nuclear weapons program code-named "Project 890," which was scrapped because of fierce US opposition.

Given that Seoul is directly facing the nuclear threat from Pyongyang, forces that advocate nuclear development have once again risen from their ashes. South Korea might re-equip itself with nuclear weapons, by putting up an excuse of establishing a strategic balance.

After Pyongyang's frequent nuclear and missile tests, Seoul and Washington have already touched upon deploying tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea during bilateral talks. Both US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and leading Republican senator John McCain have publicly expressed the need for deploying tactical nuclear weapons.

The conservative Liberty Korea Party suggested that South Korea's own nuclear armaments program be added to the nation's political agenda. According to a Gallup poll which surveyed 1,004 South Korean residents nationwide from September 5 to 7, nearly 60 percent of respondents want their country to be armed with nuclear weapons, with 35 percent disagreeing and 5 percent not answering.

For the moment, the appeal of nuclearization either itself or with US help is also emerging in Japan, as a choice to cope with threats from North Korea. This will further escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, forcing the process of denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula into a dead end.

The North Korean nuclear issue and tensions on the Korean Peninsula directly threaten China's national security and development. China must hence unwaveringly push forward the denuclearization of the peninsula, and preserve nuclear nonproliferation on the peninsula and Northeast Asia. As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi noted at the general debate during the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly in September, "No matter how the situation evolves, no matter how long it takes, and no matter what difficulties lie ahead, China will remain committed to the goal of denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, stick to the direction of dialogue and negotiation and firmly uphold regional peace and stability."

The author is a professor of international politics at the College of Public Administration, Jilin University.


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