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How to Separate North Korea from China
A Reagan-esque policy is needed
Lee Byung-chol (merrycow)     Print Article 
Published 2009-09-22 11:40 (KST)   
As might be expected, the Obama administration has run into criticism from the right-wing establishment at home, which contends that the United Nations-based sanctions against North Korea be continually placed at the center of the administration셲 North Korea policy.

Others, abroad, have echoed this view, particularly during the debate on the timing and speed of the decision to hold the face-to-face talks with the communist regime, even though the administration underscores that the bilateral negotiations are to be in the context of the six-party talks. There has been a parallel debate in South Korea, too, despite the fact that it has scarcely found any opposing echoes in the liberal factions that are in favor of the U.S. engagement with North Korea.

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While believing that North Korea has already demonstrated that it has the capability to develop nuclear weapons, the conservative pundits here in Seoul point out that Washington셲 decision must therefore be a step backward instead of a step forward. That said, the focus on the resumption of the long-stalled talks which have failed to deter Pyongyang셲 never-ending nuclear ambitions might be seen as an ineffective detour toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula rather than a significant advance in the global non-proliferation measures.

We have little time left to expend on North Korea셲 shrewd tactics of dragging out the talks while its centrifuges continue to spin.

However, President Obama was right, as there is a famous saying that 쐇f a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. North Korea is undeniably one of the window-breakers in terms of nuclear non-proliferation principles.

쏹ntended behavior, albeit small or trifle in the beginning, ultimately leads to the breakdown of community controls, because the unchecked panhandler is, in general terms, the first broken window. North Korea셲 seriously bad behavior of obtaining nuclear weapons will inevitably flourish over time, just as weeds grow in a garden.

However, the problem facing the Obama administration is how to keep North Korea from developing nuclear weapons in a so-called CVID -- complete, verifiable, and irrevocable disarmament -- manner. To this end, we need to return to our long-abandoned goal of the Reagan administration in Cuba. There, the U.S. aimed to seperate Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader, from Moscow, not to overthrow Castro himself. Thus, the Reagan administration was reluctant to directly confront Fidel Castro.

The essence of the U.S. role regarding the North Korean nuclear issues should be the same. It should focus on how to separate Pyongyang from Beijing. China remains the North Korea셲 쐀lood-bonded guardian state since the two countries signed a mutual defense pact in 1961.

A South Korean source, in the meantime, reveals that in 2002 alone, 40 % of Chinese exports to and 11 % of its imports from North Korea passed through the port of Dandong on the Yalu River dividing the two countries.

On top of this, a Chinese report shows that after the signing of a new trade agreement between the two governments in 1992 to lift the open account trade between them, the value of trade between them increased at once to US$ 899 million in 1993, recording a new record high. And along with the gradual recovery of the DPRK's economy around the early 2000s, trade between Beijing and Pyongyang picked up rapidly by recording new highs in 2003.

In terms of trade volume, according to a Chinese report, the two countries imported and exported as much as US$1.58 Billion in 2005, up 27.4% in the period of six years.

In 2006, the import-export volume from January-October was US$1.38 billion, an increase of 3.8% compared to the same period of the previous year, in which, Chinese export to North Korea amounted to US$ 1.01 billion and Chinese imports from the North were approximately US$370 million, growing by 11.1% and dropping by 11.8%, respectively, compared with the same period of the year before.

Chinese "purposeful" investment in North Korea has also increased markedly. From January to October 2006, the Chinese side endorsed 19 new investments in the North, with negotiated investment of US$66.67 million. Until October 2006, the Chinese side approved a total of 49 investments in North Korea with negotiated investment of US$ 135 million. The projects of the investment covered such fields as food products, medicine, light industry, electronics, chemical industry and minerals.

It is safer to say that for North Korea, trade with China seems to be considered as being 쐍ot contaminated relative to those from South Korea upon which North Korea is relying too much.

Yet South Koreans are much worried about whether North Korea would fall into the Chinese orbit to become a satellite state in terms of political and economic influence.

On cue, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has reportedly told the Chinese envoy Dai Bingguo on September 18 that 쏯orth Korea would like to solve relevant issues through bilateral and multilateral talks." Obviously, it is significant to show that China played an 쁦nfluential role in getting its brotherhood country back to the disarmament negotiating table very soon. The last talks were held in December last year.

All in all, the Obama administration셲 timely decision to play as 쏿 police officer on foot through direct contacts, instead of becoming a motorized-patrol officer of rolling down the window and staring at passers-by, was the right strategy, given that the officer in a car cannot effectively approach the potential criminals.

And President Obama셲 decision to scrap plans to deploy the much-debated anti-ballistic missile shield in Eastern Europe was also another good choice in engaging with Russia, an old arch-rival, and reawakening China, a new one, to the amicable Washington-Moscow relationship.

Washington셲 proactive policy of engagement with Pyongyang will likely lead to the latter셲 separation from Beijing, unless North Korea셲 dependency on China continues to deepen. The U.S. efforts to separate North Korea from China, of course, would take time and need to be made in consideration of its future strategic goals in Northeast Asia, including the possible scenarios of Kim Jong-il셲 death, its subsequent contingencies in the North and over the long run, and the possibility of Korean unification.

It셲 time that all the negotiators in the region should brace themselves again, not to lose the nuclear end-game.
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