2003 April 16 Wednesday
China, North Korea, United States To Meet In Beijing

Three way talks between China, North Korea, and the United States will take place in Beijing.

WASHINGTON, April 15 — President Bush has approved a plan for the United States to begin negotiations with North Korea in Beijing next week, the first talks between the countries since the government of Kim Jong Il threw out international inspectors and restarted its main nuclear weapons plant, United States and Asian officials said today.

China has accepted the need to play a direct negotiating role.

"What's new here is that there is an active, bold participatory role for the Chinese," the official was quoted as saying. That echoed the North's condition for accepting such talks -- that Washington make a "bold switchover" in its policy.

The Mainichi Daily News says it is still possible that Japan might be involved in the talks.

Japan might participate in discussions by top U.S., North Korean and Chinese officials of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons development issue in Beijing next week, government officials said Wednesday.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda says Japan favors the multinational forum format.

“We have made it clear that we think that the best way to deal with their proliferation is through a multinational forum. It looks like that might be coming to fruition, that’s very good news,” he said.

China, afraid that the United States will strike militarily against North Korea, is moving to use its own influence over the North Korean regime.

According to Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at People's University in Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry is for the first time considering economic sanctions against North Korea.

Another motive for China to reign in North Korea is that doing so protects China's economy. If the United States pulls its forces in South Korea away from the DMZ and then launches a preemptive strike against North Korean nuclear facilities any counter strike by North Korea at Seoul South Korea will deal a big blow to China's economy due to the amount of South Korean trade and investment in China.

South Korean investment is particularly critical in China’s rust bucket northeast, where few others care to invest. That means any North Korean attack on Seoul with all the resulting economic consequences would also have a severe impact on the economy of China, a quasi-ally that is currently still resisting American pressure to get tough on North Korea.

China's leaders have to increasingly be asking themselves how they can get more control over North Korea. Sure, they want it as a buffer. Sure, they do not want a popular overthrow of the North Korean regime or a US military strike to bring down the regime. But they also have strong motive to prevent North Korea from continuing to be a source of trouble for them. China needs a more permanent solution to the problem posed by North Korea. Could China sponsor its own coup? Would China make Kim Jong-il an offer with lots of teeth where he can give up power and move to China to live in a plush retirement? Even if China did that they'd need a way to put in a figurehead that the military and other parts of the North Korean elite would accept.

The problem is that any step short of regime change is not going to provide a permanent reliable solution to the North Korean regime's nuclear ambitions. It is not possible to verify an arms control agreement in a totalitarian country.

Verification that the country is not developing nuclear weapons is crucial to any resolution.

But analysts believe that will be difficult to prove as long as North Korea remains a secretive, totalitarian state.

This viewpoint may be about to get a big boost as a result of searches currently underway in Iraq to find weapons development labs and hidden weapons. If, as I expect, previously hidden labs, equipment and partially or fully developed weapons of mass destruction are discovered then this will demonstrate that verification can be done only by complete capture of a country's territory, scientists, and officals. However, even this effort may turn out to very difficult if, in its dying days, the Iraqi regime managed to transfer many of its scientists, enriched nuclear material, and equipment to other countries.

Update: The United States made a number of key concessions to cause this meeting to happen.

Washington has dropped its original demand that North Korea promise to dismantle its nuclear materials programs before any talks begin. The United States also has willingly shunted aside two allies in the region who had expected to be part of the talks.

It seems unlikely that this meeting will accomplish anything. The only way to prevent North Korea from continuing to develop nuclear weapons is to cause a regime change. The question becomes who will cause the regime change and how? The United States needs to convince China that the United States absolutely will act if China fails to do so.

At this point the United States ought to start working to ugrade air bases in Japan and on Guam to support a larger contingent of bombers. It is time to start building up JDAMs, fuel, and other supplies need to operate a large air war against North Korea. Doing this will sending a continuingly increasing signal to China that China has to act or the United States will.

Update II: The Bush Administration has promised Japan and South Korea that they will not be kept out of the negotiations if the negotiations proceed for any length of time.

"Washington has pledged not to proceed with the three-way dialogue if we are not allowed to take part in substantial discussions," Yonhap quoted an unnamed official as saying.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 April 16 09:14 AM  Politics Grand Strategy

AMac said at April 17, 2003 7:23 AM:

Always-unbiased NPR had a report on the talks this (Thurs 4/17) morning. The reporter said that South Korean President Roh was "trying to put a brave face on" the exclusion of the Republic of Korea (SK) from the new round of talks.

As if that fickle and always-wrong United States had successfully schemed to lock them out.

A longstanding and key Kim Family Regime's priority has been to marginalize and de-legitimize the government of SK. Setting up "multilateral" talks without SK is therefore a major KFR victory.

Till now, the US has repeatedly said that SK and Japan must be included in talks. Surely SK insistence on this point would have carried the day with the US?

The US is playing a dangerous game by yielding to the KFR. What, if anything, have we gotten in return? Given the KFR's goals (ie overthrow of the ROK) and history (ie incessant lying and deal-breaking), what can the KFR offer that's worth anything?

The Roh government is being both naive and reckless in acceding to this development, "brave face" notwithstanding. After all, it's their country that the KFR seeks to destroy, and their bodies that the KFR hopes to pump full of firing-squad lead.

Randall Parker said at April 17, 2003 9:14 AM:

Some reports on this meeting claim that Japan and South Korea will join in if there is any sign that the meeting will yield progress. So its possible that the initial meeting will be 3 way but later meetings will involve more participants.

I think it is important that China is there because realistically there are only 2 countries that could change the regime in Pyongyang, the United States and China. Whether the US was wise to meet NK under these conditions remains to be seen.

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