x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

US unveils 'road map' for North Korea

Two-track strategy combines disarmament incentives with UN-mandated sanctions to punish Pyongyang for nuclear and missile tests.

Kurt Campbell, the US assistant Secretary of State, left, talks to Yu Myung-hwan, South Korea's foreign minister, at a meeting in Seoul to discuss Washington's strategy for dealing with North Korea.
Kurt Campbell, the US assistant Secretary of State, left, talks to Yu Myung-hwan, South Korea's foreign minister, at a meeting in Seoul to discuss Washington's strategy for dealing with North Korea.

BEIJING // The Obama administration's assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, Kurt Campbell, unveiled the new US "road map" for dealing with North Korea during the Seoul leg of his first Asian tour since assuming the post. "What we are trying to do is follow a two-track strategy," Mr Campbell told reporters last weekend. His new strategy states that the United States is ready to hold talks with North Korea while pressing ahead with UN-mandated sanctions to punish Pyongyang for its nuclear and missile tests. "We believe there have to be consequences," Mr Campbell said, citing US efforts to implement the UN resolution. On the other hand, he said, the new incentives, if North Korea returns to the talks and takes irreversible steps to disarm, would be "attractive" to North Korea. Mr Campbell refused to elaborate on what the incentives in the new "comprehensive package" might be, stating that the plan was in its formative stages. What role China will play in the new strategy, and even if Beijing has real influence on the North are the central questions being asked by regional analysts. "He needs to discuss it with China," said Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korea expert at Korea University in Seoul. "The details will come out after the US talks with China." Baek Seung-joo, an analyst at the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses in Seoul, described the role of China in any new US strategy towards North Korea this way: "The US has a very high expectation on China when it comes to North Korea. The North Korean issue, after all, rests with earning the Chinese co-operation." The degree of China's influence over North Korea has been the central question in the debate on how to engage North Korea. The dominant view has been that China is the "lifeline" to poverty-stricken North Korea and only China has the capacity to coax Pyongyang to open up to the outside world, begin reforms and give up its nuclear programme. Furthermore, China's reluctance to force the North to enact these changes, it is generally believed, is for fear of the collapse of its neighbour, which would destabilise China's north-eastern region by flooding it with refugees. But some Chinese analysts say that this understanding of China's influence in Pyongyang is overstated. For Cho Ho-gil, a political scientist at the Community Party's elite Central Party School in Beijing, the idea that China wields great, if not deciding, influence on North Korea, is flawed. "Chairman Kim [Jong Il] pursued a wrong policy towards China starting from the early 1990s. He decided not to rely on China," he said. When the Soviet Union collapsed, China changed its socialist ideological course and chose to pursue an independent development policy, expressed in the so-called "socialism with Chinese characteristics". Little noticed by the outside world was that North Korea began to distance itself from China. "There were a series of events that pushed apart the two countries' relationship," Mr Cho said. The first and most significant was China's decision to establish diplomatic relationship with the North's nemesis, South Korea, in 1992. China did so even after Pyongyang's warning that it would establish diplomatic relations with China's rival, Taiwan, in case China proceeded with the plan. The term commonly used by analysts to describe the feelings the North Korean leadership experienced at that time was "betrayal". "That was when the China-North Korea relationship began to crack seriously," Mr Cho said. Feeling China's betrayal, compounded by the aftershock of the collapse of the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe, Mr Cho said, North Korea decided to become a more resolutely self-reliant country. The China-North Korea relationship further staggered in 1999 when the North Korean Workers' Party secretary, Hwang Jang Yup, fled to China and sought asylum, wishing to go to South Korea. Both North and South Korea lobbied China to keep Mr Hwang in custody. "North Korea firmly believed that China would repatriate Hwang back to North Korea," Mr Cho said. Shockingly, China sided with South Korea and allowed Mr Hwang to go to Seoul. The North was enraged and in retaliation campaigned to oppose China's first bid for the Olympic Games in 2000, according to Mr Cho. Rather than China, "the key to the North Korean problem lies in the hands of the US", Mr Cho said. What North Korea wants is to strike a deal directly with the United States, Mr Cho said. "If that succeeds, North Korea believes its thorny relationship with Japan gets automatically resolved as well because Japan is a US security protégé and would listen to the US. And if that happens, then North Korea's relationship with Europe will improve as well, lifting trade sanctions. "In that end, North Korea thinks it can bypass China if it can negotiate directly with the US," Mr Cho said. slee@thenational.ae