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The Democratic People's Republic of Korea's satellite launch in December and recent announcement that it would conduct a "higher-level nuclear test", and the reaction they have evoked from some countries are increasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
On Jan 22, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2087, which demands that the DPRK fulfill its obligations under resolutions 1718 (2006) and 1874 (2009), under which the DPRK should not test-fire any more ballistic missiles, conduct further nuclear tests or take other provocative actions. Pyongyang responded to the latest UN resolution, saying that it would "take physical action to strengthen self-defense military capabilities, including nuclear deterrence" and seek an end to the denuclearization talks.
The DPRK's latest statement once again highlights its determination to develop and possess nuclear weapons at all costs. Before the UN resolution, however, the DPRK had given promising signals that it was more keen on developing its economy and improving its people's livelihood, which the international community interpreted as a sign of Pyongyang's possible shift from the "military first" policy to economic reform.
The DPRK would commit a blunder by conducting another nuclear test, because that would increase the international community's pressure on it and further escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
But the onus to defuse the tensions does not rest on the DPRK alone; the United States and the Republic of Korea, too, have to show more commitment toward reconciliation.
Although another nuclear test will help the DPRK bring about greater cohesion among its people, it will not help its goal of developing diplomatic relations with the US to end its diplomatic isolation. True, nuclear weapons will instill in Pyongyang a greater sense of security. But they will also widen its chasm with Washington.
The DPRK insists that its satellite launch in December was for peaceful purposes and it is worried about the ROK making a third attempt to propel its Naro rocket into orbit on Jan 30.
By announcing that it would conduct a "higher level nuclear test", the DPRK is trying the patience of the other five countries engaged in the Six-Party Talks. But it has also highlighted the importance and urgency of resolving the Korean Peninsula-related issues.
It's time the international community realized that the DPRK's sense of crisis has its roots in the economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation and military containment imposed on it by the US-led Western countries. Also, the DPRK is not the only country responsible for the volatile situation on the Peninsula.
The US' accelerated return to the Asia-Pacific region, the ROK's hard-line policy toward the DPRK and the Japanese government's uncompromising stance on the hostage issue have all contributed to the deteriorating situation on the Peninsula. A containment policy based on Cold War mentality and strategic considerations cannot bring about any fundamental change in the DPRK government. Instead, it could prompt it to take more unexpected, risky actions.
The situation on the Korean Peninsula requires a comprehensive regional and global response, and trying to force Pyongyang to unilaterally abandon its nuclear weapons development program is unrealistic. Countries in Northeast Asia should assess the "DPRK threat" theory objectively and try to understand that the DPRK has the right to safeguard its territory in an increasingly complicated international environment. Only in this way can they develop relations with the DPRK and help create a favorable environment for it to integrate into the international community.
Northeast Asian countries have to work for peace and stability on the Peninsula, exercise restraint, and desist from taking any action that could escalate tensions. All disputes can be resolved through dialogue and consultation, and relevant countries should address their concerns in a comprehensive and balanced way. The issues have to be handled with caution and care to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and establish long-lasting peace and stability in Asia-Pacific.
Moreover, the US, Japan and the ROK should approach the matter without bias, listen to what the DPRK has to say, and refrain from initiating provocative military moves to avoid exacerbating tensions on the Peninsula.
The author is an associate researcher at the Center for Northeast Asian Studies, a research institution in Jilin province.
(China Daily 01/30/2013 page9)