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The international community is closely watching what is going on in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, speculating whether or when it will conduct another nuclear test.
The DPRK has for long used nuclear tests (or the threat to carry out one) as a bargaining chip to draw the United States to the table and extract "concessions". The DPRK's primary diplomatic goal is to establish relations with the US to ensure its security. It wants a peace agreement to replace the current armistice agreement and the withdrawal of US forces from the Republic of Korea.
But the response from the US has been negative. US President Barack Obama does not seem keen on improving ties with the DPRK and Washington's strategic rebalancing in Asia is aimed partly at Pyongyang.
Besides, the DPRK amended its constitution in May 2012 to proclaim itself a "nuclear state", showing its determination to develop nuclear weapons to ensure its security and survival. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise if Pyongyang conducts another nuclear test in response to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2087. The resolution, approved on Jan 22 demands that Pyongyang respect UN resolution.
It is thus incumbent upon the international community to dissuade the DPRK from taking the path of nuclear tests to deal with the US, and by default the ROK (and Japan).
Though China is committed to strengthening friendship with the DPRK, it has been repeatedly asking Pyongyang to comply with Security Council resolutions, abandon the path of confrontation and agree to resume the peace process.
China did its bit to ensure that the Security Council Resolution 2087 only denounced the DPRK's satellite launch in December and warned it against launching any more ballistic missiles, or conducting another nuclear test. China's only intention for doing so was to restore peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. But if the DPRK continues to ignore China's advice or the US and the ROK persist with their hard-line measures against the DPRK, tensions on the Peninsula will escalate further.
If the DPRK conducts a third nuclear test, it is bound to come under greater pressure from the international community. And the US and the ROK could impose more sanctions, which would undermine the DPRK's plan to develop its economy and improve its people's livelihood.
The nuclear program Pyongyang has been using as a bargaining chip may deter the US and the ROK for the time being but the tactic could eventually end in disaster, because the international community cannot support the development of nuclear weapons.
ROK president-elect Park Geun-hye's suggestion to hold dialogue with the DPRK, and former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson's and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt's trip to Pyongyang have raised hopes that tensions on the Korean Peninsula could be defused.
But it is more important for the DPRK to focus on its economic development. The US and the ROK should meet the DPRK half way to ease the situation. The joint naval drill started on Monday by the United States and the ROK is inappropriate amid the intensifying tension on the Korean Peninsula, though the US has denied the drill is targeted against the DPRK. However, such drill may irritate the DPRK, which is determined to "make an important decision that would strengthen the country".
The ROK should be more prudent as it is the ROK not the US that will be the first to be affected by escalating tensions on the Peninsula.
Seoul succeeded in putting its satellite into space in its third attempt last Wednesday, which has had a negative effect on Pyongyang. The DPRK now feels more insecure. The reason is simple: the ROK, as a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, will be protected by the US while the DPRK, having opted out of the treaty, will face more sanctions for continuing with its missile technology.
Pyongyang seeks Washington's security commitment before abandoning its nuclear program, whereas the US insists that the DPRK abandon its nuclear program first to get any commitment. Hence, in more ways than one, the hostile US-DPRK relationship is the main obstacle in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
Also, the US, the ROK and Japanese right-wing forces would exploit another nuclear test by the DPRK to "tighten the screws" on Pyongyang. The US will also use it to strengthen its military alliance with the ROK and Japan, and drive a wedge between China and the ROK, which would deal a heavy blow to the China-Japan-ROK free trade area promoted by Beijing.
As the only superpower, the US should honor its international obligations in letter and spirit instead of using conflicts to fulfill its strategic interests. If the US really cares about the security of its allies, especially the ROK, it should try to continue its dialogue with the DPRK and draw it to the negotiating table.
The DPRK knows that China's efforts in the Security Council discussions eased the international pressure on it. So it's time the DPRK realized that it has everything to gain and nothing to lose by participating in the Six-Party Talks, which remains the best platform to restore permanent peace and stability on the Peninsula.
It is now up to the international community, especially the US, the ROK and Japan, to prevent a desperate DPRK from conducting another nuclear test to have its voice heard, even till the last minute.
The authors are researchers at the Border Area Research Institute, affiliated to the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences.
(China Daily 02/05/2013 page9)