Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Time for due consideration

By Shen Dingli (China Daily) Updated: 2011-12-22 08:40

West should take the opportunity of leadership transition in DPRK to build mutual trust and security cooperation

Kim Jong-il, top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), died on the morning of Dec 17 at the age of 69, leaving his country a heritage that has profound strategic implications.

After reportedly suffering a stroke in 2008, Kim stepped up the grooming of his third son, Kim Jong-un, as his designated successor, appointing him to high-ranking positions. However, the unexpected death of his father has left Kim little time to complete his preparations for his planned role as the paramount leader of the DPRK.

Following the death of Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un will continue ascending the ladder of the ruling party and it is expected that high-level party leaders will install Kim Jong-un as the highest leader of the DPRK.

Indeed the DPRK has already called on all party members, service personnel and the people to faithfully follow the leadership of comrade Kim Jong-un. Although he may choose to follow the example of his father and administrate the state in the three-year mourning period while keeping a low profile.

Given the DPRK's traditional filial piety and political authoritarianism the leadership transition should be stable and orderly. Besides, those who are able to influence the political situation are all beneficiaries of the existing system. Therefore, there is little likelihood of any unexpected political initiatives or activities that might jeopardize Kim Jong-un taking hold of the reins of power.

However, how to balance and take care of the interests of all parties, while organizing the next generation of leadership will be a test of Kim Jong-un's political talent. It is believed that he will pass this test, as he is well versed in his father and grandfather's statecraft.

In fact it is the potential military moves of the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Untied States that could prove the most contentious issue on the Korean Peninsula. Traditionally, the DPRK and the US-ROK alliance have long been engaged in the same game of deterrence, showing force and the willingness to use it, and Pyongyang has been adept at walking a tightrope between confrontation and compromise.

But at this time, both sides should refrain from playing this game. They should bear in mind the overall interests of the region and show due respect to the deceased in accordance with traditional culture in East Asia.

If the US and ROK can show due etiquette over Kim's death, it will help shape an atmosphere of mutual respect with Pyongyang's new leadership, thus laying a favorable foundation for conducting meaningful dialogue with the Kim Jong-un government.

While the DPRK is mourning its paramount leader, China will carry forward the friendship that has been forged with the DPRK over the years, a friendship that is a positive strategic asset for both countries.

In these changing times, China and the DPRK agree on some issues and disagree on others. However, being neighbors determines that when the two countries unite, it is easier for them to promote their common interests and enhance stability on the peninsula and in Northeast Asia. This will not change with the death of Kim Jong-il.

Actively promoting the DPRK's development and cooperation will undoubtedly help stabilize the regional situation. The most pressing and arduous task facing the new leadership is balancing security and development.

With the new leadership, Pyongyang should be given more opportunities for cooperation. It needs more rational treatment and progressive security cooperation from outside world, rather than continued sanctions.

As for the issue of nuclear disarmament, the West should be aware that it is unrealistic for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions, before it has received genuine and convincing security guarantees.

So as to enable Pyongyang to engage with the international community in a comprehensive way, the international community should seek to cooperate with the DPRK, so that the mutual trust can be established that will encourage it to freeze and restrict its existing nuclear programs.

The author is a professor and director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.

(China Daily 12/22/2011 page8)

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