The nuclear test conducted by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) a month ago in defiance of international opposition and in violation of its own commitments has drawn worldwide criticism.
Following its rocket and missile launches earlier this year, Pyongyang's latest nuclear activity has made the already-precarious security situation on the Korean Peninsula more complicated. China expressed its firm opposition and urged the DPRK to adhere to its non-nuclear commitments, stop activities likely to fuel tensions and return to the framework of the Six-Party talks.
All six parties except the DPRK - Russia, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), China and the US - agreed on sanctions to force Pyongyang to abandon nuclear activities and resume the stalled talks. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US would consider putting Pyongyang again on the list of countries sponsoring terrorism. Defense Secretary Robert Gates asserted that Washington would not sit by watching the DPRK acquire nuclear arms. But the world's sole superpower has been restrained and so far not renounced talks as a way out.
On June 12, the UN Security Council passed Resolution No. 1874, which contained a series of sanctions, including a full arms embargo, against the DPRK.
The DPRK overreacted in a tough manner, calling it an act of war and vowing reprisal. Pyongyang reiterated that it would never renounce nuclear weapons but will accelerate the making of new ones.
It seems that the Pyongyang regime has paid and will pay a heavy price for its nuclear defiance. It is not known whether a nuclear-armed DPRK can improve its security landscape. In fact, reactivated nuclear moves have plunged Pyongyang into a state of unprecedented international isolation and blocked much-needed aid.
After the nuclear test, Japan announced an all-round trade embargo and Russia adopted a tougher approach in promoting UN sanctions. The ROK declared its entry into the US-led Proliferation Security Initiatives (PSI) on May 26, although the North dubbed it as a declaration of war. At a meeting between ROK President Lee Myung-bak and President Obama on June 18, the US said - for the first time in a written statement - that it would offer a nuclear umbrella to the ROK. Seoul has even proposed Five-Party talks by excluding the DPRK.
As a traditional ally of the DPRK and the initiator of the Six-Party talks, China's response and attitudes have captured worldwide attention. In China, more and more scholars view the Six-Party talks as a failure. It seems that the Six-Party talks, even if resumed, are unlikely to return to the old track of the last six years.
Compared with this sense of failure, many Chinese experts and advisors are more concerned with the threat Pyongyang's nuclear weapons poses to China's security. After adoption of Resolution 1874, the DPRK responded with a big rally in its capital. Its leaders announced that the country would stick to its own path, regardless of whether friendly countries sided with it and the effect on international aid. Such an attitude on the part of Pyongyang is a warning that China should reconsider its national interests.
Pyongyang's nuclear tests, which took place only tens of kilometers from the Chinese border, might cause an environmental catastrophe in a densely populated area, not to speak of the threat it is to peace and stability in East Asia and the world as a whole. Any deadly accident following Pyongyang's nuclear tests would not only inflict enormous losses on the Korean people but also seriously damage the environment in Northeast China and the surrounding region.
The 1950s Korean War should serve to make China reflect on what should be done in the present situation. In that war, in which China sent a voluntary army to fight hand in hand with DPRK troops, hundreds of thousands of lives were sacrificed. The war safeguarded China's security and people's livelihoods in the northeastern region. But, the country also lost a chance to unify with Taiwan in the 1950s, given that the US took advantage of the outbreak of the war to send its Seventh Fleet to the Taiwan Straits.
"The ROK, China and Russia, for maintaining 'traditional friendship' with the DPRK or for other reasons, have tolerated the DPRK's nuclear activities", Chu Shulong, a professor at Tsinghua University, told China Daily. Only if these countries and the entire international community adopt appropriate policies and methods for dealing with the DPRK, can further deterioration of the situation on the Korean Peninsula be halted. The DPRK's neighbors and the international community need to be well prepared for the worst, according to him.
Zhang Tuosheng, a researcher at the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies, told China Daily that the US is still hoping to resolve the Korean nuclear issue through sanctions and dialogue. If Pyongyang continues its reckless actions and goes further astray, the hawkish voices in the US might surge. Any use of force by Washington, even a surgical strike, would pose a severe challenge to China's national security and its relations with the countries involved. Either - a nuclear-equipped DPRK or a collapsed DPRK - would cause disastrous interruption of the process of China's peaceful development.
(China Daily 06/25/2009 page8)