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What Does NK Really Seek From Improved Inter-Korean Ties?

What Does NK Really Seek From Improved Inter-Korean Ties?

Posted October. 12, 2009 07:58,   


In the trilateral summit among South Korea, China, and Japan Saturday in Beijing, attention focused on what message Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who held talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il last week, would deliver to the leaders of South Korea and Japan.

This is because Kim’s true intent for hinting at a return to the six-party nuclear talks will determine the course of North Korea’s denuclearization process.

Many experts say, however, that Pyongyang has made no substantial change in its attitude.

○ Separate talks with Washington, Seoul and Tokyo

Wen said Pyongyang wants to resolve the nuclear issue through bilateral and multilateral talks but under certain conditions. This indicates that the communist country still links its return to dialogue to the U.S. withdrawal of its hostile policy toward North Korea.

Wen said the way to resolve the nuclear issue should be paved through a change in attitude toward North Korea. On the resumption of the six-party talks, he said, “If a window of opportunity is opened, we must seize it before the window is shut,” adding, “When we seize and use this opportunity, we can make progress.”

The Chinese premier thus implied that Beijing cannot turn ignore Pyongyang when it needs Chinese help, according to experts.

Wen also said, “North Korea expressed its willingness to improve ties not only with the United States but also with South Korea and Japan.”

He effectively urged Seoul and Tokyo to begin contact with Pyongyang to shift the atmosphere to one of dialogue since Beijing has already held talks with Pyongyang and a bilateral meeting between Washington and Pyongyang is expected soon, experts said.

Kim’s expression of willingness to improve inter-Korean relations and ties with the U.S. is believed to imply that bilateral contact with Washington will come first, followed by inter-Korean dialogue, bilateral talks with Tokyo, and the six-party talks.

Chances are, however, that North Korea wants to engage in denuclearization talks only with the U.S. and seek economic assistance from South Korea and Japan through separate dialogue. Therefore, Seoul is expected to cautiously respond to the situation as Pyongyang unfolds.

○ Action to abandon nuclear weapons

Another theory is that North Korea’s bid to improve relations with South Korea and Japan ahead of its bilateral contact with the U.S. is an attempt to facilitate bilateral talks with the U.S. and to get international sanctions against North Korea eased.

Seoul, however, has made it clear that inter-Korean dialogue will not degenerate into a means for providing economic assistance to Pyongyang. President Lee’s comment that he wants to explain his “grand bargain” deal to North Korea was a reaffirmation of his commitment to tie North Korea’s denuclearization to inter-Korean dialogue, experts say.

North Korea also used China to create a reconciliatory atmosphere without giving up its nuclear weapons while avoiding international sanctions. If Pyongyang gets its way and inter-Korean dialogue is resumed, no breakthrough will be made in denuclearizing Pyongyang.

So Seoul will continue its two-track approach of imposing sanctions on Pyongyang and seeking dialogue at the same time. Inter-Korean relations could improve, however, should North Korea take genuine action to abandon its nuclear ambition.

spear@donga.com koh@donga.com