End region's Cold War structure

Updated: 2012-05-15 08:01

By Wang Junsheng (China Daily)

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The nuclear program of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has had a negative effect on Northeast Asia security.

In order to improve its external environment, the DPRK is endeavoring to develop nuclear weapons. But this has only further isolated it from the international community and increased its feeling of insecurity. Its relations with the United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea have deteriorated and its friendly relations with China are being tested. And in the face of its increasing isolation, the DPRK has adopted an even harder line.

As a result, Japan and the ROK have felt increasingly insecure and taken their own hard lines and strengthened the trilateral security mechanism with the US, which has further entrenched the regional Cold War structure.

This in turn has enhanced China and Russia's strategic distrust of the US, ensuring the Cold War structure is maintained in Northeast Asia.

The mechanism for multilaterally managing the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue is the Six-Party Talks. However, although the Six-Party Talks have been in progress for nine years they have still not achieved their main aims of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsular and ensuring regional stability.

This is because the primary goal of the DPRK is to normalize its diplomatic relations with the US, and it is willing to deteriorate the regional situation in order to achieve this; and because the ROK, the country most directly concerned, always seems to lose the opportunity to solve the problem because of diplomatic mistakes. China, Russia and the US, meanwhile, are competing for the leading role in Northeast Asia. While for Japan, the tensions are an excellent excuse for it to achieve its dream of political and military power.

There is also a serious trust deficit among the six countries, as there are territorial and historical issues between China and Japan, China and the ROK, Japan and the ROK, and suspicion exists between the US and China.

Therefore, it is not because the DPRK leadership has diplomatic capability that the talks cannot achieve their aim, but because the other five countries lack mutual trust and have differing policy priorities, which means they do not take a common strategy toward the DPRK.

To move forward and defuse tensions the countries involved need to take a number of steps:

First, each country has to honestly review their previous policy toward the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue. They should find their common interests and focus on those. From this perspective, persuading the DPRK to halt further development of its nuclear program is in line with the interests of all the other countries.

Second, there needs to be greater strategic mutual trust, between China and the US in particular. China doesn't have the intention to challenge US interests in Northeast Asia and both countries will be the losers if the DPRK successfully conducts a third nuclear test. They need to try and work together. China has publicly stated that it welcomes the US making positive efforts to promote peace, stability and prosperity in the region. The US should be very cautious about imposing sanctions against the DPRK and staging joint military exercises with the ROK and Japan.

Third, Japan and the ROK should pay more attention to the necessity for practical coordination with China. Although the US has taken a leading role in their trilateral efforts, denuclearization of the peninsular will only be achieved with the help of China. Trilateral coordination between China, Japan, and the ROK, would also be conducive to weakening the region's Cold War structure.

When the time is ripe the six countries can build up the Northeast Asia Security Forum by gradually raising the level to foreign ministry forum, defense secretary forum, or even a top leaders' summit .

The author is a research scholar at the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.