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New thinking needed for Korean crisis

By Chen Ping (Global Times)

08:17, July 24, 2013

Six decades after the Korean War (1950-53) was ended by the signing of an armistice agreement, the two Koreas are still technically at war. The fragile truce, signed on July 27, 1953, has contributed to the volatility and hostility seen on the Korean Peninsula today.

The belligerency that North Korea has demonstrated toward the international community since the inauguration of its young leader Kim Jong-un, including long-range missile launches and nuclear tests, has proved nothing but a strong sense of insecurity. The world merely focuses on making efforts to end North Korea's nuclear program, but pays too little attention to the country's security needs.

During the last couple of years, almost every means, including UN embargoes and sanctions, has been deployed to force the North to discard its nuclear ambition, but all in vain. Pyongyang just forges ahead with its own plan, and shows no sign or willingness to return to the stalled Six-Party Talks, where the two Koreas, China, US, Russia and Japan had met to talk Pyongyang out of developing its own nuclear weapons.

To be honest, the indispensable role that China has played in the Six-Party Talks should be fairly appreciated, but the multilateral diplomatic endeavor, in its current formation and operational mechanism, will in no way realize its goal of ensuring a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

The reason? Well, too many cooks have spoiled the soup. Forget about the Six-Party Talks, at least for the time being, and let's think of other alternatives.

If we seek a long-lasting solution to the Korea issue, three fundamental steps have to be taken, either one after another or roughly simultaneously.

First and foremost, replace the current armistice with a peace accord. This move involves only North Korea, China and the US, as all three were signatories of the 60-year-old truce agreement, which South Korea refused to sign under a bellicose then-president Syngman Rhee.

Diplomats from Pyongyang, Beijing and Washington could just sit down in either Panmunjom (where the original truce was signed) or Beijing (who will be more than happy to offer its help, as it did for the Six-Party Talks) to discuss details of permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.

During this negotiation process, both North Korea and the US will have to deal each other face to face. As South Korea was directly involved in the Korean War, a "three plus one" formula could be adopted to include Seoul in the peace talks as an observer.

Actually, the ball is in Washington's court now as Pyongyang has already called for such a peace treaty. In July 2012, Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's state newspaper, said in a commentary that "replacing the armistice agreement with peace accord is an important duty of the US in preventing war and ensuring peace on the Korean Peninsula."

"The US rulers stated several times that it would not militarily threaten or invade the DPRK, so, there is no reason for it to hesitate concluding the peace treaty," the article noted.

The Obama administration should rise to the challenge in a convincing way.

Second, complete the "cross-recognition" process. The concept of cross-recognition, first put forward by Henry Kissinger in 1975, refers to a situation where China and the Soviet Union diplomatically recognized South Korea while the US and Japan gave diplomatic recognition to North Korea. In the early 1990s, both the Soviet Union and China established diplomatic relations with South Korea, but up to date, the cross-recognition is just half finished.

Completing the other half of the cross-recognition, especially establishing Washington-Pyongyang ties, will gives North Korea a sense of security the isolated nation needs badly. The establishment of diplomatic relations between North Korea and the US or Japan will be conducive to the opening of Pyongyang to the international community and to making it a responsible member of that community, and will help settle the Korean Peninsula issues.

In the meanwhile, bilateral discussions between North Korea and Japan would be the right occasion for Tokyo to bring up its so-called abduction issue, which should not have been talked about at the Six-Party Talks.

Third, set up a regional security mechanism. In the global setting, the Korean Peninsula represents an instance where any regional, durable and stabilizing security institution or effective mechanism for dialogue is absent. A security mechanism in Northeast Asia is urgently needed.

Given what happened to Iraq and Libya, given the fact that "becoming a nuclear power" had been enshrined in the constitutions of North Korea and its ruling party, the odds are slim that Pyongyang would agree to discard its nuclear program.

The Six-Party Talks, even if resumed at the mercy of North Korea, is highly unlikely to produce the desired results of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. The international community should face the music to accept a nuclear North Korea, no matter how primitive its nuke weapon may turn out to be.

But the Six-Party Talks could be turned into a regional security regime, preferably co-chaired by China and the US. It should be institutionalized as a platform where powers with a stake in Northeast Asia could meet on a regular basis to exchange views on their basic stances and where everything related to the peace and security in the region could be discussed in either bilateral negotiations or multilateral consultations.

The author is deputy managing editor of the Global Times. [email protected]

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