Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

DPRK requires security guarantees

By Liu Xuelian (China Daily) Updated: 2012-02-23 08:07

After a series of crises on the Korean Peninsula in 2010, both the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the United States have shown a positive attitude to ease tensions by holding two rounds of high-level dialogue meetings respectively in New York in July and in Geneva in October.

Even though the third high-level dialogue scheduled in December was postponed due to the unexpected death of Kim Jong-il, bilateral contacts have not been terminated. Representatives of the US and the DPRK will hold the third high-level dialogue in Beijing on Thursday.

It will be the first contact between the US and the DPRK since Kim Jong-il's death. It will sustain a mechanism to resolve the nuclear issue, which is critical to the stability and peace on the peninsula. However, the live-fire military drills by the Republic of Korea (ROK) near a disputed sea boundary with the DRPK despite the latter's threat to respond with a "merciless attack" will cast a shadow over talks.

The military drills remind people of the tensions that were caused by the sinking of the Cheonan warship of the ROK, and the Yeonpyeong Island shelling incident in 2010. It seems the year 2012 may face uncertainties after 2011 witnessed a steady situation in Northeast Asia, especially during the leadership transition period for the DPRK.

Hence, talks will be crucial for related authorities to decrease uncertainties in the rest of year.

The complicated geopolitical landscape in Northeast Asia determined that the DPRK nuclear issue is in essence a regional issue beyond any bilateral relations. But without a thawing of US-DPRK relations, multilateral talks to realize de-nuclearization are liable to become just formalistic.

The US-DPRK dialogue may lay a foundation for the resumption of the Six-Party Talks.

From the perspective of Pyongyang, restarting high-level dialogue with the US can create a benign international environment for the new government under the leadership of Kim Jong-un and help improve the state's reputation and influence in the international community.

Since the end of the Cold War, the DPRK's national security has been exposed to structural contractions among major powers in Northeast Asia. A long-term hostility and sanctions imposed on the DPRK by the US-led alliance make Pyongyang feel security threats all the time. The US-DPRK high-level dialogue is conducive to helping Pyongyang break through the security dilemma and gain a stable external environment.

To make dialogue on an equal footing with the US is one of Pyongyang's diplomatic goals. If it goes ahead smoothly, the DPRK could obtain assistance from the US to mitigate domestic pressures for development and further consolidate the new government.

The US hopes, through dialogue, to learn about the new government's stance on the nuclear issue, and achieve breakthroughs in halting Pyongyang's nuclear program. The US can set a good image that promotes peace in Northeast Asia and enhances its influence over regional hot issues. The US is also eager to learn more about the new leadership so that it can make a better judgment on the situation in Northeast Asia and adjust its East Asian policy accordingly.

However, from another perspective, the rapid resumption of US-DPRK high-level dialogue reflected their willingness to resolve disputes. But it is difficult to achieve groundbreaking progress.

The DPRK nuclear issue is a key issue for regional security, and is of great concern to the major powers. After the Cold War, the security structure of Northeast Asia became discomposed.

The main threats facing the DPRK come from the US-led alliance.

To survive from outside security threats, the new DPRK leadership will not change its "military first" strategy.

To change Pyongyang's security perceptions, the US' commitment and actions in the security field are critical. The DPRK wants its security to be ensured by the US rather than constrained by the Six-Party Talks. The DPRK's target to establish normal relations with the US and sign a peace agreement to replace the truce agreement signed during the Cold War era cannot be achieved overnight.

Presently, the US' main objective is to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. If Pyongyang does not abandon its nuclear program, it will not obtain assistance from the US. However, as it still gives primary importance to its security issues, the DPRK has difficulty in abandoning its nuclear program but still wants to get US aid. The key is to make Pyongyang feel safe.

Regional security issues should be resolved through consultations among countries rather than forming regional alliances. The existence of alliances can only strengthen regional confrontation and discreteness, while multilateral forms such as the Six-Party Talks are more conducive to regional security.

To promote Northeast Asian economic cooperation and integrate the DPRK into the international community should be a common goal for Northeast Asian countries.

Whether the Korean Peninsula can realize denuclearization does not depend on the DPRK alone but rests with the establishment of regional security mechanisms and the progress of economic integration. The nuclear issue cannot be solved through just a few high-level dialogues between the US and the DPRK.

A war on the Korean Peninsula is bound to draw major powers into it. While in the modern era, big powers will not easily go to war against each other. The US can start a war in the Middle East but it cannot afford to fight in Northeast Asia. The US-DPRK dialogue and resumption of the Six-Party Talks would be the best choice for the countries concerned in the region.

The author is a professor and director of Institute of Northeast Geopolitical Economics, Jilin University.

(China Daily 02/23/2012 page9)

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