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Detachment Necessary in Treatment of Korean Issue

Gong Shaopeng, professor at China Foreign Affairs University
March 14, 2013
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In response to the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea's third nuclear test conducted on 12 February, 2013, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a new resolution on March 7 to impose additional sanctions on the country. The scope of sanction was extended to include financing, transport and certain individuals’ international travels. The resolution also called for diplomatic and political settlement of the current problems. It reaffirmed that the UN Security Council supports resuming the Six-Party talks, which involves China, the DPRK, the Republic of Korea, the United States, Russia and Japan, so as to realize verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.

The DPRK responded vehemently to the UN resolution by severing the hotline with the ROK and warned that it would “start the just great advance for national reunification” if the United States and ROK “make any slight reckless provocation against the DPRK.”

The US and the ROK also made tough responses to the DPRK’s rhetorics. Washington said it is fully capable of defending against any North Korean ballistic missile attack and exercise strong containment of the country through the “nuclear umbrella”. The ROK Defense Ministry stated that if the North launches nuclear attacks against the South, the current regime of Pyongyang “will vanish from the earth”.

Given such clamor of military threats from all sides, is it still possible for the Korean nuclear issue to be settled in a peaceful, diplomatic and political way and through the Six-Party talks? This writer would give a positive answer to the question because great changes have taken place in the international political landscape. The Korean peninsular has acquired a new position in the international political chain, or the political-economic network. The use, or threat of use, of armed forces will not change the orientation of the development of international situation.

The Korean War that broke out in the Cold War time and the later long-term military confrontation on the Korean peninsular was once a constant focus of attention of the international community. Since the two sides in the conflict then belonged to the East and West camps at the time. They thus became critical nodes in the international political chain. A move taken by any of the two sides, for example an upgrade of arms or a conflict in the Demilitarized Zone (the DMZ), would exert significant impact on other nodes in the chain. That’s why the Korean peninsular has become a hot point for world attention.

After the Cold War ended and the world has become multi-polarized and economically globalized, the international political chain has evolved into a political-economic network with more nodes, many of which are so critical that a slight move of any of them would affect the overall situation. For instance, the international terrorist activities and the problem of global financial regulation have become new focuses of attention for the international community. The Korean issue has thus become less important. This is a new development no one can change.

In this situation, some people worry that the problems they are concerned about will be “marginalized” by the international community. This is understandable. But if one wants to regain international attention, a new, rather than traditional, mindset should be adopted to adapt to the new situation.

Unfortunately, the Cold War theory still dominates the mindset of certain politicians in and outside the Korean peninsular, which is regarded as the only place on the earth where the Cold War continues. This is one of the main reasons why the Korean peninsular became a problem that is difficult to settle.

That said, the international community should approach the Korean issue with a detached attitude. First, they should believe that the Cold War mindset will not reverse the trend of political multi-polarization and economic globalization. Second, they should understand that the Six-Party talks are an effective way to regain world attention on the Korean issue and a sensible approach to realize verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner.

The statement that the international community should approach the Korean issue with an air of detachment does not mean that the nuclear issue on the peninsular can be easily settled. In this regard, this writer agrees to the viewpoint of Ambassador Li Baodong, Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations. After the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2094, Li said: “Denuclearization on the Korean peninsular is an arduous task and perhaps a journey of long course. The passing of the resolution is an important step but it’s only the first step of the long journey. More steps have to be taken and a comprehensive strategy is needed to bring the situation back on the track of negotiation and dialogue.”

With an attitude of detachment, the confronting sides on the Korean peninsular and the international community will develop wisdom to cool down the tension on the peninsular and, through the Six-Party talks, coordinate their efforts to settle disputes and ensure peace and stability in the region.

Gong Shaopeng is a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University.

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