The following article was contributed to The Korea Post by Shan Shilei, chief of the Seoul Bureau of the Legal Daily of China, for publication by The Korea Post. Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and in no way represent the views or position of The Korea Post media.?Ed.
The relatively stable situation on the Korean peninsula was broken again at the outset of the New Year on Jan. 6, 2016 when North Korea carried out its fourth nuclear test. The two Koreas are now in a keen state of military confrontation with each other and there even are worries of possible outbreak of another Korean War.
The unwelcome ripples of the latest North Korean nuclear test are reaching far and wide, and are further deteriorating the inter-Korean relations. The situation is casting a dark cloud on the prospect of possible peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula.
Moreover, the newly developing situation threatens to destroy the hitherto-maintained balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region as well as the stability on the Korean peninsula and the surrounding region. The newly developing situation could also trigger a new arms race in the region.
So what should we do about this situation?
In my personal view, we can hardly find a solution by approaching it with economic sanctions or a show of military might or exertion of military pressures. Nor will such a means bring peace or stability on the Korean peninsula. The only revenue open is to approach the problem to solve it by peaceful means such as dialogue and/or contacts through diplomatic means and channels. They are most the effective ways to defuse the tensions on the Korean peninsula.
1. The most recent situation on the Korean peninsular
a. Why did North Korea carry out its 4th nuclear test?
To every effect there is a cause. Or one might say: What goes around comes around. North Korea has carried out its fourth nuclear test. Maybe there were following reasons:
First: North Korea might have wanted to bring pressure to bear upon the United States to give up its anti-North Korean policies. As is well known, the US has been using an anti-North Korean policy for a long time. Under President Barack Obama, the US has been using a policy of ‘strategic patience,’ under which, however, the US has refused to have any dialogue or contact with North Korea regarding the NK nuclear issue. The US has made no dialogue or compromise with North Korea. On this situation, even some US experts criticized that such a policy was aimed not so much at trying to solve the problem as realizing the US strategic ambitions through the use of nuclear issue.
In 2015, North Korea has sent a message on many occasions to the US to have a dialogue, including a proposal in January to temporarily suspend its nuclear test in return for the suspension of US military exercise on the Korean peninsula.
In last October, North Korea also proposed to replace the Korean Military Armistice Agreement with a peace treaty. The US turned down both proposals of North Korea and continued to use a hostile policy toward the North.
Through the nuclear test, North Korea tried to prove that the policy of ‘Strategic Patience’ of the Obama Government will only further strengthen the nuclear capacities of North Korea. Through nuclear demonstration, North Korea also tried to cause the US to give up its anti-North Korean policy and seek to conclude a peace treaty giving up its hostile policies.
Secondly, the North Korean movements are aimed at causing the US to stop the ROK-US joint military exercise. The US, as a military ally of the ROK, provides nuclear protection to the ROK and carries out military exercises such as Key Resolve and Doksuri (Eagle) in March and April every year and then Eulji Exercise in July and August. These military exercises keep North Korea under military pressure for a long time and make her increase its military strength to maintain its sense of security. In this respect, the North Korean nuclear test may be considered to have been planned to deter the US military exercise and to give a warning.
Thirdly, North Korea has been carrying out its nuclear tests to win and maintain the world’s recognition of the existence of North Korea. Through the three nuclear tests, North Korea announced that she was a nuclear weapons-possessing country in the world. Furthermore, North Korea even inserted an expression as a ‘nuclear weapons-possessing country’ in its Constitutional Law. North Korea then demanded that the international community recognize her as a nuclear weapons-possessing country.
However, the international community has been unanimously opposed to North Korea’s testing and ignored its possessing of nuclear weapons, and has continuously maintained a position that the Korean peninsula should be free from nuclear weapons. In contrast with this situation, North Korea has been showing to the world its nuclear capability through testing, and is trying to convince the world that she is a nuclear weapons-possessing country.
Fourth, such efforts are also aimed at propagandizing the achievements of the North Korean government and thereby at solidifying the position of the regime.
The 7th plenary session of the North Korean Workers Party is scheduled for May this year for the first time in 35 years. With this important meeting not far away, President Kim Jong-Un of North Korea appears to be trying to show his image as a strong leader and thereby solidify the position of his leadership through nuclear testing and missile firing.
Fifth, North Korea has a rule of cycle of nuclear weapons testing which is once in every three or four years, and a new one is due either in 2016 or a little bit later. The latest nuclear-missile testing appears to have taken place based on this rule. The last three nuclear tests have been conducted once in 2006, 2009 and 2013.
b. Exertion of impact of the fourth nuclear test on the Korean peninsula
By carrying out the 4th nuclear testing, North Korea has not only deteriorated the South-North Korean relations but also blocked the possibility and progress of peaceful unification of the Korean peninsula. It also exerted an unfavorable influence on the stagnant economy of South Korea. Too, new changes have begun taking place in the relations among the big countries surrounding the Korean peninsula due to the North Korean nuclear issue.
To begin with, signs have begun showing heralding the possibility that the unification policy of the government of President Park Geun-hye may end up in failure. From the outset of her government, President Park has proposed a North Korea policy termed ‘Korean Peninsula Trust Process.’
It is true that even at this time, when over half of her term of office has gone, there has been no noticeable result from her North Korea policies such as national harmony or unification and has therefore been subjected to criticisms from some of the ROK experts. However, the North Korea polices of her government, compared with those of the government of her predecessor (President Lee Myung-bak), have been much more and practical and resilient.
However, following the recent nuclear weapons testing by North Korea, such efforts by the Park government have been brought to naught. And it appears that the members of the Presidential Council of Unification Policy led by President Park would be out of job for a set period of time.
Next, the recent nuclear testing by North Korea broke the strategic balance of the Korean peninsula and the Northeast Asian region. As is well known, the US is pursuing a ‘Return to Asia’ policy and has been trying to solidify its alliance with the ROK and Japan. Based on this policy, the US is trying to move the center of its military strength to Northeast Asia in order to contain the peaceful emergence of China in the region.
The recent North Korean nuclear testing gave the US a good reason for reassessing its balance of power in Asia. Through deployment of its strategic weapons to the Korean peninsula, the US is further solidifying its ROK-US alliance and the tripartite cooperation with the ROK and Japan.
The US has already secured an agreement from the ROK government to deploy its THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missiles and, by inviting and including the ROK in its missile interception system, is trying to cause estrangement in the relations among the ROK, China and Russia?with a view to securing military supremacy and leadership in the region.
China and Russia have` time and again expressed their opposition against the effort of the US to deploy THAAD missiles on the Korean peninsula. If THAAD missiles are deployed on the Korean peninsula, they will definitely cause tensions on the Korean peninsula and the Northeast Asian region and make the complicated nuclear weapons issue all the more complicated. This situation causes hindrance to the course of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Too, the Japanese government is expected to skillfully take advantage of this situation in expediting its military beefup.
On March 28, the new National Security Law of Japan officially came into effect, which brings Japan one step closer to achieving her aim to sending its troops overseas and cause a war. The next step Japan would want to take is revising the Peace Constitution of Japan, which appears to be not totally impossible.
In my view, I trust that Korea and China, who are the victim countries of World War II, will have a common stand and oppose such a development.
c. Strong international sanctions on North Korea
New international sanctions have begun. North Korea’s 4th nuclear bomb testing and the long distance missile-firing that came in its heels are grave provocative acts against the denuclearization policies of the international community on the Korean peninsula.
When North Korea carried out its nuclear testing on Jan. 6, 2016, the ROK, the US and Japan immediately expressed their strong opposition. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, too, made China’s position clear in a very stiff expression through its Spokesperson Ms. Hua Chunying who deploringly disclosed, “Concerning the recent nuclear test by North Korea, China has never received any advance notice!” The way she spoke, it was easy to notice how disappointed and angry China was over the development. At the United Nations Security Council, China made a denouncing statement and expressly stated that the North Korean nuclear test clearly violated the United Nations Resolution and that it was a grave provocation against the international nuclear non-proliferation system.
New sanctions against North Korea are a due price that North Korea has to pay for the nuclear and missile testings that the country carried out in spite of the opposition of the international community.
On March 2, all the 15 member countries of the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution against North Korea to impose a control measure on North Korea.
The ROK government, to show its resolute attitude on the situation, completely closed down the Kaesong Industrial Park on Feb. 10, 2016 and on March 8 took an additional independent control action to expand and include restriction actions to financial and maritime transportation areas.
China has been consistently adhering to the three basic principles on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula (consisting of maintenance of objectives of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, maintenance of peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and search for solution through peaceful dialogue and negotiations). This is China’s strategic Maginod line on the North Korean nuclear issue. North Korea has clearly overridden these principles China has been keeping.
In due response, China cast a yes vote on the UN Resolution No. 2270. China has also been carrying out thorough control actions on North Korea in accordance with the UN Resolutions.
Intentional sanctions are not the end.
Various countries of the world are imposing restrictive actions against North Korea. However, such actions must not derive from a lopsided view of the UN Resolution. The UN Resolution Number 2270 is clearly aimed at controlling and deterring North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles. However, the respective actions must not adversely affect the livelihood or humane requirements of the people in North Korea.
The Resolution also demands the resumption of the Six Party Talks and an effort to ease the Northeast Asian situation through political and diplomatic means.
On the sanctions against North Korea, the Chinese government has made her position clear on many different occasions. Carrying out the resolutions of the United Nations resolutions is the common responsibility of all the member countries of the international community and is never a requirement of any one country. These resolutions must be duly executed wholly and in a balanced manner.
One should not try to emphasize only that part of the resolution which emphasizes the importance of imposing restrictions on North Korea. One should never neglect to honor the provisions, “The Six-Party Talks must be resumed and no action should be taken to cause tensions.”
The ROK and the US are exerting all sorts of pressure to bear on North Korea, such as military demonstrations, including the military exercises, and economic sanctions. When they come to certain points, they could create adverse effects contrary to the desired and expected results. At this time, North Korea is not cowered by various military exercises and demonstrations conducted jointly by the ROK and the US. On the contrary, North Korea is reciprocating them with various military exercises and demonstrations, including a threat and warning of an ‘attack against Seoul and bombing of Manhattan with nuclear weapons.’
If the ROK and the US should continue to exert pressure on North Korea and drive the Kim Jong-un regime to the verge of possible collapse, North Korea will further increase its radical reactions and will even make desperate efforts at the risk of its of life.
The situation could lead to another Korean war and if this should happen the biggest victim would be the ROK and the next biggest victim would be China.
The US is situated far away from the Korean peninsula and there is no reason to believe that she will suffer any losses from this situation.
On the contrary, the US could even make a lot of ‘War Money.’
2. Solution to the tensions on the Korean peninsula
All the countries related with the Korean peninsula should try to leave no stone unturned in their search for a solution to the problem of the country. North Korea has tested its nuclear weapons and missiles on many different occasions in disregard of the opposition of the international community and caused serious tension on the Korean peninsula.
However, one should try to think twice before taking any drastic action to cause the North Korean regime to collapse for this situation. One should try to refrain from taking any rash steps.
The Chinese people have an old saying, “When you kill 1,000 enemy soldiers, you should be prepared to suffer 800 casualties on your side, too.”
I would think that any normal person would not wish to take a dangerous action but to avoid such a situation as much as possible.
The Chinese people have another proverb: “There is no problem in the world, which cannot be resolved. All depends on how you want to handle the problem.”
In my opinion, it also applies to the North Korean nuclear problem. If all the concerned parties truly wish to find a solution to the Korean peninsula situation with a sincere mind, they should be able to find a way to solve the problem by defusing the tense situation. Thus, the North Korean nuclear weapons problem, too, would be resolved.
a. Analysis of the cause of tension on the Korean peninsula
As everyone knows, the tense situation on the Korean peninsula was caused by the repeated testing of nuclear weapons and missiles by North Korea. So, the key solution to ease this tense situation would be to try to find a way to solve the North Korean nuclear weapons issue.
The North Korean nuclear issue has been existing for a long, long time. North Korea has been subjected to control because of that for some decades, but it has never given it up. Especially since the beginning of the 21st century, North Korea has been trying to secure strategic nuclear weapons (consisting of nuclear weapons and long-distance missiles). North Korea is determined not stop until and unless it has successfully secured both of them.
Why is North Korea bent on developing nuclear weapons in spite of the strong opposition of the international society?
As far as I can see, North Korea is doing it for reasons of its own security in the face of the long-term anti-North Korea policies of the US. For a long, long time, North Korea has been considering the US as a great threat to her security. It appears that North Korea has disappointment in that respect.
The US has been stationing its military forces in the ROK for a long time, strengthening its military alliance with the country, and conducting various military exercises every year adding to the worries of North Korea.
North Korea is inferior in conventional weapons buildup against this situation and therefore has been developing nuclear weapons as a means to cope with the military threats from the combined forces of the ROK and the US. Therefore if the US wants to solve the North Korean nuclear issue, the US must first change its North Korea policies. If the US does not give up its present hostile North Korea policies and if North Korea cannot secure a guarantee from the US for her own security, North Korea will not easily give up its nuclear weapons.
In fact, in solving the North Korean nuclear issue, Pyongyang has proposed conditions on many occasions in the past which may be condensed to the following two demands:
The first one was the conclusion of a peace pact between the US and North Korea.
The second one was that the ROK and the US should stop their combined military exercises. In fact, shortly before the latest nuclear weapons test, North Korea had attempted to contact the US and sought to have a dialogue for the conclusion of a peace agreement with the US. However, they were all turned down by the US.
In my personal opinion, the North Korean demand stands to reason.
North Korea should be given a guarantee of safety and the recognition of the existence of the state.
However, the US strongly demands that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons first in a situation where the US does not guarantee North Korea its security.
In this situation, the confrontation between the two sides has continued to aggravate and become serious and North Korea has gone further and further onto the road of possessing nuclear weapons.
Looking back upon the past, every time when the two Koreas improved their relations, made some progress and attained some good results in their peaceful negotiations, the US purposely created a series of incidents that adversely affected the security of North Korea brining the inter-Korean relations back to the state of confrontation.
Also, whenever the Korean peninsula was in a state of extreme tensions, the US solution was always a very strong one. What the US offered on such occasions was not so much one for finding a solution to the problem but one that was aimed at causing more and bigger problems from a small one.
In the case of the current North Korean nuclear crisis, too, the US appears to be trying to use the occasion as a good opportunity to deploy its THAAD missiles on the Korean peninsula.
In this situation, the government of President Park Geun-hye appeared to be taking a ‘loose’ position to secure a stronger US guarantee for her defense and security.
If deployment of the US THAAD in the ROK should become a reality, it would pose a threat to the security and defense potentials of China and Russia and cause aggravation in the relations between China and the US as well as between China and the ROK. In such an event, the denuclearization efforts for the Korean peninsula would have to face a serious blow. The complicated North Korean nuclear problems would be further aggravated.
Viewing the developments from this angle, it appears that the US may be viewed as the cause of the nuclear problems on the Korean peninsula and I would say that North Korea may have had no other choice than developing its own nuclear weapons. Each time North Korea conducted its nuclear and missile testing, it issued a government statement saying that it had no other choice but to do so.
It said, “The only purpose of our conducting the nuclear weapons testing is against the US nuclear threat.” The North Korean government statement says, “There would be nothing more foolish than one who lays down one’s hunting gun in the face of a hoard of vicious wolves.”
The North Korean government statement also reads, “As long as the US continues its vicious hostile policies against us, we would never give up our nuclear weapons development even if the Heaven should fall down.”
If North Korea should fail to secure a guarantee of its safety, there would be no solution to the North Korean nuclear problem. The ROK is a direct party to the Korean peninsula problem and there is no doubt that the North Korean nuclear issue at present is the most important problem.
However, it is regrettable that President Park Geun-hye, at important meetings such as her speeches on the State Policies, stated: “We should let North Korea realize that its regime would not be able to live without abandoning its nuclear weapons.” President Park has also asked the international community to impose more stringent sanctions against North Korea.
However, she has never mentioned that the US should show a right attitude or method to solve the North Korean nuclear problem
b. The ROK should play the leader’s role for her own national interests
At present, the international community is imposing new sanctions on North Korea. The ROK is a direct party to the Korean peninsula problems and should take an independent and leading role in handling the complicated problems of the Korean peninsula. Through close cooperation with her neighboring countries such as China, Russia, the US and Japan, the ROK should try to sincerely and fruitfully carry out the provisions of the United Nations Security Council Resolution Number 2270 and thereby cause North Korea to feel the economic and diplomatic burden and stop North Korea’s continued testing of nuclear weapons.
It is my fixed conviction that if, due to the effort of the ROK, North Korea experiences difficulties in its nuclear strategy, gives up its nuclear weapons and is provided with an environment to run the government in stability and safety, the Korean peninsula will recover a considerable degree of stability and this would greatly contribute to the advent of peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula.
In my personal opinion, such an independent and leading effort on the part of the ROK would be accorded a positive support from both China and Russia. China and Russia share the same position with the ROK on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The key to solving the problem is how the ROK can persuade the US to change her ‘Strategic Patience’ policy toward North Korea’ which in fact appears to be overly ‘random.’
At present, China is faithfully carrying out the UN Resolution Number 2270 in a positive manner. However, from the beginning China has been consistently maintaining the position that sanction is not the end but a means to bringing North Korea out back to the negotiation table for the realization of the objective of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
The purpose of sanctions is in stopping North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and not in overthrowing the regime of North Korea. Thus no one should try to stop the effort to give North Korean humanitarian and livelihood support and assistance. These are clearly mentioned also in the provisions of the UN Resolution Number 2270. .
If, on the contrary, one should try to solve the North Korea’s nuclear problems through one-sided sanctions and military assault, the North Korean regime, as a sovereign state, will use the opportunity in further strengthening its control of the people and offer the regime a means to further solidifying its internal political unity.
c. Dialogue is the only means to successfully solve the tensions on the Korean peninsula
If the Korean peninsula truly wants to secure peace and stability and realize the objectives of denuclearization, it needs the full implementation of the United Nations Resolution Number 2270.
In other words, sanctions and dialogue should continue hand in hand. This is also a common method used in the international community where carrots and sticks are used at the same time.
There is a saying, “One who tied the bell should be the one removing it.” The Republic of Korea, as a country directly involved in the present situation, should try to make positive efforts to recover the channel of dialogue. Efforts should also be made to rehabilitate the Six-Party Talks to recover and build up the mutual trust between North Korea and the US so that the North can discard its old worries about the safety of its regime, and give up its nuclear weapons.
The Iranian nuclear problem was successfully resolved and the cause of this was the full and faithful implementation of the UN Resolution by the international community and at the same time the efforts for dialogue were never given up.
China has been consistently seeking to resolve the Korean peninsula problem through negotiations and dialogue. To find a solution to the complicated present situation of the Korean peninsula, China has also proposed the simultaneous implementation of efforts for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and conclusion of a peace agreement on the Korean peninsula. These proposals will help remove the worries of the involved countries to induce the attaining of long-term peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.
Conclusion: In inclusion, I would like to relate my personal view that the denuclearization process of the Korean peninsula has never failed because of the 4th nuclear test by North Korea. Pessimism will not help when denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is sought.
However, if we truly want the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, the US should discard its old Cold War Era way of thinking and the strategy called “Strategic Patience” which I think is wrong.
Based on this, in my view, the international community should try to seek unity for the realization of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and to attain their goal of making the Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons.