Seoul Should Be Open to the Resumption of 6-Party Talks

      August 30, 2010 13:10

      Chinese President Hu Jintao went all the way to Changchun in China's northeastern province of Jilin on Friday to meet with visiting North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. The fact that the Chinese leader traveled 970 km from Beijing to a remote provincial town for the summit appears to demonstrate the Chinese government's will to boost the North Korean leader's prestige. And North Korea and China appear to share a common political objective judging by the fact that Kim snubbed Jimmy Carter on the day the former U.S. president set foot on Pyongyang at North Korea's behest and went to China instead.

      With South Korea and the U.S. strengthening their alliance since the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan, North Korea has been trying to escape the blame by drawing closer to China, while Beijing has been boosting its role as the North's guardian to maintain the status quo on the Korean Peninsula. Even if the U.S. announces tighter financial sanctions against North Korea this week, Kim will probably not bat an eyelid after the red-carpet treatment he received in China.

      But another development is taking place amid heightened tensions on the peninsula. Under the leadership of China, the six-party nuclear talks appear to be regaining momentum. Wu Dawei, China's chief nuclear negotiator, visited North Korea earlier this month and is meeting with officials in South Korea, Japan, the U.S. and Russia to pitch a three-stage plan to resume the nuclear dialogue, which would see bilateral talks between the North and the U.S., followed by closed-door preliminary discussions and formal open talks among all parties.

      China's red-carpet treatment for Kim could be part of its plans to bring the reclusive country back to the dialogue table. Since the sinking of the Cheonan, China conducted live-fire exercises in response to a joint naval drill held by the U.S. and South Korea, while issuing strongly-worded criticism of the drill. But China knows that worsening ties with the U.S. do not serve its national interest. By reactivating the six-party talks, China may be seeking to resolve or at least alleviate U.S. concerns about North Korea's nuclear program.

      In the same context, the South Korean government recently shifted its stance on the six-party talks saying that it will not insist that the North apologize for the sinking of the Cheonan for the talks to resume, while U.S. State Department officials have begun weighing a fresh effort at engagement with North Korea, according to the New York Times.

      The government must re-examine its policy toward the six-party talks, while monitoring China-North Korea relations and paying attention to the shift in the tone of U.S.-China ties. Seoul must also take an objective look at China's diplomatic strategy on the Korean Peninsula as demonstrated by Kim's latest visit and ensure that it can overcome North Korea's sly tactics and derive the best results for peace and stability.

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