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This year will be critical for the Korean Peninsula. All the countries engaged in the Six-Party Talks have seen leadership transitions in the past year or so and, therefore, they may change their policies on the Korean Peninsula issue in accordance with the changing international situation.
China, however, has not changed its policy after the election of Xi Jinping as the country's top political leader and head of the military at the 18th Party Congress. This means "to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, peacefully resolve the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's nuclear issue through dialogue, and maintain peace and stability on the Peninsula" will continue to be at the core of China's policy.
China and the Republic of Korea are willing to strengthen communication on the issue. On Tuesday, the ROK sent a special delegation to China in an effort to resolve the DPRK nuclear issue. Two weeks ago, ROK president-elect Park Geun-hye met with the Chinese government's special envoy and Vice-Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun, who conveyed to her the greetings from President Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping.
Park's policy is to take a hard-line stance against the DPRK's nuclear issue while promoting inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation. One of Park's election campaign pledges was to stabilize relations with Pyongyang through a "Korean Peninsula trust process", which will help create an environment for dialogue and also prompt the DPRK to make meaningful changes in its policies.
For sure, non-political exchanges and humanitarian aid can enhance "low-level" trust. Park has hinted that the ROK will implement the large-scale assistance program to build a Peninsula economic community according to the progress of the denuclearization process and restoration of inter-Korean ties. After that, Seoul will suggest holding summits, high-level talks, and political and military as well as non-political dialogue. This means the "Korean Peninsula trust process" is at the core of the Park government's DPRK policy.
Park has also reached out to China, the US and Japan, which is vital for the peaceful resolution of the Peninsula issue.
US President Barack Obama has nominated Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who has always advocated the need for dialogue with the DPRK, to succeed Hillary Clinton as the secretary of state. This raises hopes that Washington's DPRK policy will change from active intervention to positive engagement. The US has to abandon its "hostile policy" toward the DPRK and the relations among relevant countries have to improve for the Peninsula issue to be resolved peacefully.
DPRK leader Kim Jong-un has also sent out some positive signals this year. During his New Year's speech, the first in 19 years by a DPRK leader, Kim Jong-un emphasized the importance of improving the state's economy and raising people's living standards, which showed the new leadership's commitment to reform.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement, and the DPRK will seek to normalize relations with the US during Obama's second term and turn the armistice agreement into a peace agreement as soon as possible.
Perhaps former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson's and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt's visit to the DPRK prompted Pyongyang to shift its position. The DPRK government now reportedly allows foreign tourists to carry their cell phones when they enter the country and buy SIM cards for the local network.
In his New Year's address, Kim Jong-un called for better ties with the ROK, and warned that history has shown that continued confrontation would lead to "nothing but war". This sign of reconciliation by the DPRK is a welcome development.
In short, 2013 offers a historic opportunity for the Peninsula to move toward normalcy.
Some new challenges, however, have cropped up. The DPRK launched a satellite in December, violating the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, which is still discussing the issue. The US, Japan and the ROK insist on imposing tougher sanctions on the DPRK, and China has been baselessly accused of "conniving" with and "protecting" the DPRK for long. The DPRK is an independent state with independent foreign and military policies, and China has never taken sides in the Peninsula issue.
The fact, however, remains that despite having the right to decide its policies, the DPRK should refrain from taking actions that could threaten regional peace and security. And relevant countries should know that imposing too severe sanctions on the DPRK could drive it toward conducting another nuclear test.
Under Kim Jong-un, the DPRK has been changing some aspects. So instead of pushing it into a corner, the international community should give it more time and space to change its policies.
Besides, the UN Security Council's new resolution should create an opportunity for peaceful dialogue on the Korean Peninsula, rather than aggravating the issue. Reconciliation will benefit both sides on the Peninsula, while confrontation will do no country any good.
It is hoped that both Koreas and the other countries engaged in the Six-Party Talks will proceed to resolve the issue by keeping in mind the overall peace and stability in Northeast Asia and the world as a whole. It is also hoped that they will sincerely follow the consensus reached in the 9.19 Joint Statement (signed by all the countries to the Six-Party Talks in 2005), help denuclearize the Peninsula, normalize mutual relations and maintain peace and security in Northeast Asia. Only in this way can the problem be turned into an opportunity in 2013.
The author is a professor of international studies at Jilin University.
(China Daily 01/23/2013 page9)