Fresh US ap­proach to DPRK urged, eschew­ing stereo­types

China Daily (USA) - - LI’S VISIT - By CHEN WEI­HUA in Wash­ing­ton chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

If this re­gion desta­bi­lizes, our economies go bad, very, very quickly.” Mike Mullen, for­mer chair­man, Joint Chiefs of Staff

The mis­per­cep­tion and failed US pol­icy re­gard­ing the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea (DPRK) has sparked fresh de­bate in re­cent days about a new and more re­al­is­tic ap­proach.

On Mon­day, The As­so­ci­ated Press pub­lished a story by its Py­ongyang Bureau Chief Eric Tal­madge ques­tion­ing all the pre­vail­ing stereo­types about the DPRK among Amer­i­cans and prob­a­bly much of the Western world.

Tal­madge, who has been re­garded as the only Western jour­nal­ist work­ing reg­u­larly in the DPRK, ar­gued against the con­ven­tional US think­ing that the coun­try is an eco­nomic bas­ket case that in­com­pre­hen­sively pours re­sources into nu­clear weapons and cares only about en­rich­ing a tiny cir­cle of elites when it can’t even feed its own peo­ple.

“It’s an ‘im­pos­si­ble state’, as one for­mer US diplo­mat put it, bound to col­lapse un­der the weight of its own failed poli­cies, if just given a push,” he wrote in sum­ma­riz­ing the wide­spread mis­con­cep­tion in the US.

Tal­madge said that there is lit­tle ev­i­dence that DPRK leader Kim Jong-un is “crazy, er­rac­tic, in­com­pe­tent” as many Amer­i­cans have thought, not­ing that Kim was able to be solidly in power even in his late 20s.

He also ar­gued that Kim’s pol­icy has been con­sis­tent – to de­velop the coun­try’s nu­clear weapons arse­nal while im­prov­ing its stan­dard of liv­ing.

While many ar­gue that the DPRK’s go­ing nu­clear is ir­ra­tional, Tal­madge said that while the DPRK’s pur­suit of a vi­able nu­clear arse­nal is a costly en­deavor, the mil­i­tary cal­cu­lus is dif­fer­ent as a vi­able nu­clear de­ter­rent at the bar­gain­ing ta­ble with the United States.

He be­lieved that while sanc­tions have hurt the DPRK, they have not been crip­pling, adding that there is no ev­i­dence that the DPRK govern­ment can­not sur­vive, as many Amer­i­cans be­lieve.

Tal­madge’s ar­ti­cle mir­rors one in Jan­uary this year by Fan Jieshe, se­nior fel­low of the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can Stud­ies at the Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences and also deputy di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Arms Con­trol and Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies.

In the ar­ti­cle, pub­lished shortly af­ter the DPRK con­ducted its fourth nu­clear test, Fan crit­i­cized US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s pol­icy on the coun­try — “strate­gic pa­tience” — as based on a wide range of mis­con­cep­tion, much like the list in Tal­madge’s story.

Fan also crit­i­cized the US think­ing that the Six-Party Talks can­not work and that the DPRK’s nu­clear is­sue is China’s prob­lem and China’s fault, as re­flected in the rhetoric by US De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter re­cently af­ter the DPRK con­ducted its fifth nu­clear test.

Four of the tests were con­ducted un­der the two terms of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“Con­sid­er­ing he is ap­proach­ing the end of his sec­ond term, it might be a bit late for Pres­i­dent Obama to change Amer­i­can pol­icy in sub­stan­tial terms. But bet­ter late than never — it is crit­i­cally im­por­tant to learn from past fail­ures,” Fan wrote.

On Sept 16, the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions pub­lished its task­force re­port ti­tled A Sharper Choice on North Korea: En­gag­ing China for a Sta­ble North­east Asia.

Chaired by Mike Mullen, for­mer chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Sam Nunn, for­mer US se­na­tor, the re­port finds that the US pol­icy of “strate­gic pa­tience” with DPRK will nei­ther halt that coun­try’s re­cur­ring and dan­ger­ous cy­cle of provo­ca­tion nor en­sure the sta­bil­ity of north­east Asia in the fu­ture.

To the con­trary, the re­port warns, “If al­lowed to con­tinue, cur­rent trends will pre­dictably, pro­gres­sively and gravely threaten US na­tional se­cu­rity in­ter­ests and those of its al­lies.”

De­scrib­ing the US-China re­la­tion­ship as the most im­por­tant in the 21st cen­tury, Mullen said on Sept 16 that the two largest economies have to work to­gether.

“If this re­gion desta­bi­lizes, our economies go bad, very, very quickly. It’s got four of the five largest economies in the world in this re­gion. That’s com­pelling mo­ti­va­tion to try to get this right,” he said.

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