E. Asia Needs Co-ordination on Nuclear Issue

The nuclear crisis concerning the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the United States has gradually deteriorated into the most precarious factor affecting stability and prosperity in East Asia.

For related countries in the region - China, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in particular - it is necessary to come up with a practically feasible solution to this thorny issue if regional interests are to be maintained.

To avert direct bilateral talks with DPRK, the United States has repeatedly stressed that DPRK's neighbours must be actively involved in breaking the deadlock with Pyongyang on the issue.

US State Secretary Colin Powell, in his recent visit to Japan, China and the ROK, called on the three countries to play a larger part in the US-DPRK crisis.

However, an effective solution put forward by East Asian countries to the issue should by no means be the same as the one in which the United States requires Pyongyang's neighbours to actively participate.

The US-DPRK relationship, occasionally saturated with troubles and crises, exerts a significant influence on East Asian regional integration in that the issue can directly decide regional stability.

The deterioration of US-DPRK relations or Japan-DPRK relations could have a catastrophic effect on the region. On the contrary, an improvement of their ties can greatly contribute to the stability and development of the East Asian region.

Relations between the DPRK and ROK will influence the process of the East Asian integration in the future.

ROK President Roh Moo-hyun has decided to continue the "Sunshine Policy" adopted by his predecessor Kim Dae-jung. He has also laid down a new economic policy of "peace and prosperity" towards DPRK, deciding to provide economic assistance in DPRK's development and aid its reform and opening-up programme.

Given that economic ties between DPRK and ROK can only be carried out within the framework of Northeast Asia, the new ROK Government's DPRK policies are obviously spurred by notions of East Asian regional co-operation.

ROK is well aware that, without other countries, it would be difficult for it to advance a programme for economic integration on the Korean Peninsula.

In addition, how the nuclear crisis develops will also decide the future of international relations in East Asia.

The issue may develop in several directions, such as the DPRK's advancement into a nuclear country or Japan's nuclear armament. These will possibly scuttle the initial process of East Asian regional integration, and plunge the region into extreme turbulence.

From a long-term perspective, DPRK-ROK reunification, within the framework of East Asian regional integration, will not have severe repercussions on international relations in the region.

On the contrary, the reunification of the Korean Peninsula in the absence of such a regional framework will have a severe impact on the East Asian region.

And it is easy for the United States to use the nuclear crisis to set the integration process in East Asia back several years.

The nuclear crisis on the Peninsula has already cast a heavy shadow on regional co-operation in East Asia, which began following 1998 Asian financial crisis.

Given the unpredictable effects that the issue may bring to East Asia, it appears more necessary for the region to prescribe an effective formula to the ticklish issue while taking the maintenance of regional interests as the priority.

Past summit meetings held by ASEAN and China, Japan and the ROK since the the financial crisis began in 1998 demonstrate that East Asian co-operation not only includes economic co-operation, but also stresses political and security concerns.

Given that a turbulent East Asia does not benefit economic co-operation, regional political and security co-operation and co-ordination act as prerequisites for economic co-operation.

Specifically, it is entirely possible that East Asian countries can achieve a breakthrough on the nuclear issue by means of co-operation.

In 2001, a group studying East Asian prospects made up of prestigious scholars in this region, submitted a report to leaders of the regional countries on the establishment of the "East Asian Community," calling on East Asian countries to strengthen co-operation in political, security, social, and cultural fields.

During a trip to China, Japan and the ROK in February, Powell discussed with the three countries, which are closely related to the issue of the DPRK, about a formula.

Powell repeatedly stressed the US position that the issue of the DPRK was the one tied to the whole East Asian region. He insisted all relevant regional countries should work together to solve the issue.

It is thought-provoking that the United States rejects bilateral and direct talks with the DPRK about their dispute yet strongly insists other relevant East Asian countries should participate to find a solution.

Certainly, a formula for the issue of the DPRK provided by East Asian countries within the framework of the regional co-operation would basically differ from the one prescribed by the United States.

Upon this solution, related East Asian countries should co-ordinate their positions on the issue and play a leading role instead of acting as a supporting player of the United States.

East Asian countries should also make clear their stance that regional issues should be solved by the region itself, and require the United States to fully listen to their viewpoints on the issue of the DPRK.

With their joint efforts, there is a significant possibility that East Asian countries can provide such a formula.

First, China and Russia back direct talks between the United States and the DRPK.

Second, the ROK and Japan - two US key allies - have different interests and concerns from the United States on the issue.

The ROK has made its opposition to seeking a solution by force both clear and firm. And Japan, since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's ice-breaking trip to the DPRK in September, has been expected to take its own action on the DPRK issue.

Third, some Southeast Asian countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, also hope to play a positive part on the issue although they cannot exert an essential influence on it.

However, East Asian countries have not yet shaped a uniform stance on the issue. They remain divided on the issue with the ROK and Japan as the first party, China and Russia as the second party, and Southeast Asian countries as the third party.

How these parties unite and put forward a feasible proposal bears much influence on whether a successful solution can be provided to the issue by East Asian countries within the framework of regional co-operation.

Importantly, support from the ROK and Japan serves as a key to the success of such a programme.

The author is an associate research fellow with the Institute of International Studies under the Tsinghua University. (China Daily News)

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