No alternatives to a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons

By Sun Xiaobo Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/2 21:13:39

Amid growing tension on the Korean Peninsula, I attended the Tumen River Forum in Yanji, Northeast China's Jilin Province, last month. The Chinese city sits at the border with North Korea and a large portion of its population are ethnic Korean.

Past forums included experts from China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and Russia who exchanged opinions on regional issues. This year the North Koreans were absent.

Issues relating to events on the peninsula certainly took center stage. I could feel that attitudes toward Pyongyang are changing, with commitment to denuclearization of the peninsula swaying.

With regard to Seoul's deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile system, a South Korean scholar - apparently a moderate - stressed that the South Korean government needs to better understand China's position. When pushed by a Chinese scholar, however, the South Korean said he believes his country should develop its own nuclear weapons. In this way, he said, South Korea will create a nuclear balance on the peninsula and detach its dependence on the US nuclear umbrella. South Korea will then be able to be more diplomatically flexible in dealing with China, he said.

Similar views have been proffered in some media reports, usually by South Korean hawks. But this time it was a moderate scholar advocating South Korea going nuclear. This is not a desirable nor tenable option.

It seems that South Koreans are feeling an enhanced sense of insecurity caused by an increasingly belligerent North Korea and an unpredictable US under Donald Trump.

Seoul was on the verge of developing nuclear weapons in the 1970s, but those plans were halted primarily due to pressure from the US. Allowing South Korea to go nuclear now is a dangerous step backward given the decades of international denuclearization efforts. 

South Korean nukes would also prompt Japan to build its own arsenal. This potential and avoidable arms race will not create a nuclear balance. It will instead turn Northeast Asia into a powder keg and the unimaginable might occur some day.

This scenario is unacceptable for China, Russia and the world. Once the two powers take countermeasures against a renewed arms race, Japan and South Korea will suffer grave consequences, and they can't truly expect the US to come to their aid. Prohibiting South Korea's nuclear development is essential for the peninsula and the world.

There is another trend taking shape. Not long ago some South Korean media suggested the world should accept that North Korea is now a nuclear power since it's unlikely to rein in Pyongyang. At the forum, a Chinese scholar put forward a similar view, emphasizing that the world should accept the ugly truth that Pyongyang already has nuclear weapons.

This almost sounds reasonable, but it must be a non-starter. No bargaining can be allowed on denuclearization. The crisis management method that the international community used to force South Africa to quit nuclear development in the 1980s can hardly work on North Korea. The highly isolated country is unlikely to take a step back due to its deep belief in nuclear deterrence and mounting sense of insecurity. Allowing North Korea into the nuclear club will be wrongly assessed by the country as a victory and give a boost to further advancing its nuclear program. All sides must be resolute on pushing Pyongyang to halt its nuclear development. There are no alternatives.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday that his country will never tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea. China and South Korea have relaxed tensions and worked to push bilateral relations back on track. Despite disturbing voices seeking concessions for Pyongyang, relaxed relations between China and South Korea bodes well for a Korean Peninsula void of nuclear weapons. 

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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