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Rice Wraps Up Visit to Korea, China, and Japan

Posted March. 21, 2005 22:39,   


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returned to the United States on March 21, completing her tour to South Korea, China and Japan. Secretary Rice focused on coordinating with the three countries on ways to coax North Korea to come back to the six-party talks for resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue. Now, the only thing remaining is the North’s decision. Some say that the three countries seem to have different things on mind after Secretary Rice left.

The Message from Rice-

Secretary Rice seemed to make a considerable effort to coax the North back to the six-way talks. She made it clear that “North Korea is a sovereign state,” stressing that “the U.S. has no intention of invading the North.”

The U.S., Japan and South Korea agreed that it is possible to have bilateral talks between Washington and Pyongyang within the framework of the six-way talks, and to discuss Pyongyang’s concerns, including a multilateral security guarantee and energy assistance, once it comes back to the negotiation table, urging China to take a proactive role in dealing with the issue.

Rice was reported to have explained to China, the last destination on her tour, about the results of coordination with Japan and South Korea, countries that she visited in turn, strongly requesting China’s help to persuade and influence on the North.

However, others say that Rice’s conciliatory gestures were a means of justifying a hard-line policy if the North fails to participate in the six-party talks. The argument is based on her remark: “We are considering other countermeasures… if the North fails to return to the talks.” She also said, “The North doesn’t have enough time,” to Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing on March 21, suggesting the U.S. was willing to take a hard-line approach, like referring the matter to the U.N. Security Council, if Pyongyang does not budge.

Response from Pyongyang-

The recognition of the North as a “sovereign state” is the greatest possible present from Washington. In this regard, many are paying attention to how Pyongyang interprets the U.S. remark after demanding the withdrawal of the “outpost of tyranny” remark.

Pyongyang and Beijing are expected to focus on a consultation on the six-party talks in the visit of North Korean Prime Minister Park Bong Ju to China, scheduled for March 22, and expected subsequent visits by Chinese high-ranking officials to the North. The South Korean government predicts that the upcoming couple of weeks will be crucial.

A former high-ranking diplomat who has in-depth knowledge of the North Korean nuclear issue forecast on March 21 that “the North has held out until the end. There are good chances that it intends to attend the six-way talks at the time when it could gain as much as possible, if China actively persuades it,” adding, “Pyongyang could make a decision before the NPT review meeting scheduled for May, as the U.K, Germany and France will also take a tough stance against it if it fails to change its attitude.”

Gains and Losses for Korea, China, and Japan-

All agree that Japan has most to gain from this issue. The country earned Rice’s official endorsement of its bid to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, which Japan has long yearned for.

On the other had, Rice did not pay even a lip service to President Roh Moo-hyun’s “lecture” on Dokdo. A Foreign Ministry official said, “It is understandable that the U.S. would not place much importance on Korea, given her visit is not only to Korea, but also China and Japan,” suggesting that Korea is in an awkward situation.

China failed to bridge the gap between the U.S. surrounding the anti-secession law, as Rice emphasized a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue. She reportedly pointed out China’s human rights issues as well.

Jong-Koo Yoon jkmas@donga.com