En­cour­ag­ing signs fol­low­ing Trump’s visit to Seoul

Now it’s time for China and Rus­sia to drag North Korea to the ta­ble

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Joseph R. DeTrani

Iwas part of a small fact-find­ing del­e­ga­tion to South Korea im­me­di­ately af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump’s Nov. 7-8 visit. The mes­sage we re­ceived in Seoul was uni­ver­sal: Pres­i­dent Trump’s visit was a suc­cess; his pre­sen­ta­tion at the Na­tional Assem­bly was well-re­ceived. To a per­son, all were ap­pre­cia­tive of the pres­i­dent’s com­ments, jux­ta­pos­ing a vi­brant lib­eral democ­racy in the South and an au­thor­i­tar­ian and capri­cious regime in the North.

For some­one who has been in­volved with de­vel­op­ments with North Korea for over a decade, this was a wel­come mes­sage from our South Korean al­lies. Prior to the pres­i­dent’s visit, there was con­cern that the U.S. would not closely col­lab­o­rate with South Korea on pol­icy ap­proaches for deal­ing with a bel­liger­ent North Korea. This has been an un­der­stand­able con­cern of South Korea, dat­ing back to the crisis in 1993 when North Korea threat­ened to quit the nu­clear Non-Proliferat­ion Treaty (NPT) and make Seoul a “sea of ashes.” For­tu­nately, the 1994 Agreed Frame­work de­fused that tense sit­u­a­tion.

Since that time, a num­ber of South Korean pres­i­dents, def­i­nitely in­clud­ing Kim Dae­jung, who won the No­bel Peace prize for his ef­forts to nor­mal­ize re­la­tions with North Korea, have in­vested con­sid­er­able re­sources and cred­i­bil­ity in ef­forts to im­prove re­la­tions with North Korea. Sadly, none had suc­ceeded. What has been con­stant, how­ever, dur­ing this 25-year pe­riod, was the U.S. com­mit­ment to the de­fense of South Korea. This U.S.-South Korea part­ner­ship has proved in­vi­o­lable since the Korean War and the sign­ing of the Mu­tual De­fense Treaty on Oct. 1, 1953.

Some of our dis­cus­sions in Seoul in­volved China, and the sense that Bei­jing could and should do even more to get North Korea to halt mis­sile launches and nu­clear tests, and re­turn to ne­go­ti­a­tions. We were told that South Korea wel­comed China’s de­ci­sion to lift sanc­tions im­posed on the South for its de­ci­sion to de­ploy the Ter­mi­nal High Alti­tude Area De­fense (THAAD) sys­tem. Thus af­ter 16 months of im­posed sanc­tions, Chi­nese tourism would re­sume and Hyundai’s and Lotte’s busi­ness pur­suits in China would re­sume. In­deed, this is a pos­i­tive devel­op­ment for South Korea.

The only con­cern we had was the re­ported “Three Nos” that South Korea agreed to: no ad­di­tional THAAD de­ploy­ments in South Korea; no par­tic­i­pa­tion in a re­gion-wide U.S. mis­sile de­fense sys­tem; and no es­tab­lish­ment of a tri­lat­eral mil­i­tary al­liance with the U.S. and Ja­pan. Hope­fully, this will be a sub­ject of fur­ther dis­cus­sion with the U.S., given the nu­clear threat from North Korea and South Korea’s sov­er­eign right to de­fend it­self from an ag­gres­sive North.

The visit of China’s In­ter­na­tional Li­ai­son De­part­ment Di­rec­tor Song Tao to North Korea and meet­ings with North Korea’s se­nior diplo­mat, Ri Su-yong, and Choe Ry­ong-hae, re­port­edly the sec­ond-most-pow­er­ful leader in North Korea, was sig­nif­i­cant. It shows that China, in ad­di­tion to im­ple­ment­ing U.N.-im­posed sanc­tions on North Korea, is try­ing to use its unique lever­age with the North to im­prove bi­lat­eral re­la­tions and, hope­fully, get Kim Jong-un to stop es­ca­lat­ing ten­sion and pro­vok­ing a U.S. re­sponse. No doubt, this re­cent ini­tia­tive was in re­sponse to Pres­i­dent Trump’s re­quest to Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping to do more to get North Korea to halt its es­ca­lat­ing and provoca­tive be­hav­ior, and re­turn to ne­go­ti­a­tions.

The Global Times, a daily Chi­nese news­pa­per that fo­cuses on in­ter­na­tional is­sues, down­played Song Tao’s visit to North Korea, not­ing that he isn’t a ma­gi­cian, and any change in the dy­nam­ics of the Korean Penin­sula im­passe must come from the U.S. side, which holds the most im­por­tant card: Pro­vid­ing North Korea with the se­cu­rity it cov­ets. In­deed, the U.S. of­fered these se­cu­rity as­sur­ances to North Korea in 1994, with the Agreed Frame­work, and in 2005 with the joint state­ment from the Six-Party talks, hosted by China. In both in­stances, North Korea de­cided that the pur­suit of nu­clear weapons was more im­por­tant than se­cu­rity as­sur­ances and a more nor­mal re­la­tion­ship with the U.S. And cur­rently, it’s the North Kore­ans who are un­will­ing to en­ter into talks with the U.S., while they race to build even more nu­clear weapons and mis­sile de­liv­ery sys­tems of greater range.

A few days ago, China’s For­eign Min­istry spokesman, Geng Shuang, said that only through talks that ad­dressed all sides’ le­git­i­mate se­cu­rity con­cerns could there be a peace­ful res­o­lu­tion. He went on to say that the “dual sus­pen­sion” (pro­posed by China and Rus­sia) is the most fea­si­ble and sen­si­ble plan in the present sit­u­a­tion. The U.S. had made it clear, as had South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in, that this so-called “freeze for freeze” was not ac­cept­able.

In­deed, ask­ing South Korea and the U.S. to halt joint de­fen­sive mil­i­tary ex­er­cises that have been on­go­ing for decades, since the tragic Korean War and the nu­mer­ous at­tacks from the North that fol­lowed —like the 2010 sink­ing of the Cheo­nan and the death of 46 sea­men — is un­ac­cept­able. To equate these le­git­i­mate de­fen­sive mil­i­tary ex­er­cises be­tween two al­lies and North Korea’s il­le­git­i­mate nu­clear tests and mis­sile launches, all in vi­o­la­tion of United Na­tions res­o­lu­tions is ask­ing too much. What China and Rus­sia should be propos­ing is that North Korea re­turn to un­con­di­tional talks with the U.S. This shouldn’t be too hard.

A num­ber of South Korean pres­i­dents have in­vested con­sid­er­able re­sources and cred­i­bil­ity in ef­forts to im­prove re­la­tions with North Korea. Sadly, none had suc­ceeded.

Joseph R. DeTrani is the for­mer spe­cial en­voy for ne­go­ti­a­tions with North Korea. The views are the author’s and not those of any gov­ern­ment agency or de­part­ment.


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