For peace on the Peninsula


BEIJING, Dec. 25 (Xinhuanet) — This year has a special meaning for people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Republic of Korea (ROK). With exchanges of fire and the harsh reactions of the two sides, the Korean Peninsula witnessed the deepest crisis this year since guns fell silent 57 years ago.

In a sense, this is a side effect of the policy adopted by ROK President Lee Myung-bak who, after taking office in 2008, assumed that the DPRK would never give up its nuclear program. So his administration began taking measures to worsen the DPRK economy.

The absence of DPRK leader Kim Jong-il from the country’s 60th anniversary celebrations created speculation among many ROK media outlets, which began floating the idea of a “DPRK collapse”. There were even discussions in the media about how to “take over the DPRK” after the “collapse”.

Several international experts say the “DPRK collapse” theory betrays the Sept 19 Joint Statement (of the Six-Party Talks in 2005). In a way, it denies that the Korean Peninsula issue, including denuclearization, can be resolved through cooperation and coordination. That has had an extremely negative effect on efforts to change the situation on the Peninsula, especially on the Six-Party Talks. Some ROK officials even said the term “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” was meaningless when the DPRK was on the brink of a “collapse”.

Even the United States gave the Sept 19 Joint Statement a silent burial, waiting instead for the DPRK to “collapse”. For a long time, there was no communication between the DPRK and the US. The US didn’t realize its mistake until the DPRK conducted a nuclear test in May 2009. Only after that (in February 2010), did the US send its coordinator to Pyongyang.

But the Cheonan incident put an end to the efforts of resuming dialogues. Because there has been no interaction between the US and the ROK, and the DPRK, it is difficult to say which of three created the misunderstanding.

Honestly speaking, there is no solid evidence to prove that the selection of the next DPRK leader led to the exchange of fire near the western maritime border of the Korean Peninsula on Nov 23. Contrary to what the ROK, the US and their allies believe, many Chinese experts say the DPRK did not hope to gain military points from the exchange of fire, because its most pressing concern now is economic development and improvement of its people’s living standards.

Facts show that neither US-ROK military drills nor economic sanctions have helped ease tensions on the Peninsula. Only dialogues, based on equality, between the opposing sides can do that and help resolve the Korean issue.

Without doubt, direct talks between the DPRK and the ROK would be the most effective way of resolving the issue. But that’s not possible today, because the ROK has chosen to exchange opinions with the US and Japan first, while the DPRK is reluctant to hold one-on-one talks with any of the three. So the best choice now is to hold “free talks” among the six sides (which also include China, the US, Japan and Russia) and take measures to resume the Six-Party Talks as soon as possible. And since the ROK has ignored China’s suggestion of holding a “free dialogue”, it could consider holding “a vice-ministerial level emergency conference” instead.

But no matter what the DPRK and the ROK do, they should exercise utmost self-restraint. Given that there is no interaction between the DPRK and the ROK now, provocative words or actions will create further misunderstandings and deteriorate the situation. That’s why it is necessary for the two sides to resume military interaction and exchange key information.

Having lived in military tension for more than half a century, people on the Korean Peninsula need peace and prosperity, which they can be assured of only if the Six-Party Talks are revived soon.

The ROK has to stop believing in the “DPRK collapse” theory. No responsible government can turn a blind eye to the importance of a stable and developing DPRK. It has to give up its imaginary policy of “annexing DPRK”, too, and return to the talks for equal dialogue and cooperation.

The DPRK, on its part, should take more active part in the economic activities of East Asia, cooperate more closely with its neighbors and take steps to improve the living standards of its people. It should invite the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify that its nuclear program is peaceful, too, to win the overall trust of the international community.

The US, as a major player, should realize the impracticality of the “DPRK collapse” theory, return to the Sept 19 Joint Statement and make joint efforts with the other sides to resolve the Korean Peninsula issue. Even US experts who visited the DPRK nuclear plants have said that pressure and sanctions cannot force Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program, and only equal dialogue and coordination can help resolve the issue.

Though Russia and Japan are not directly part of the Korean Peninsula issue, their roles in building a better and fairer international environment should not be ignored. Russia could promote more strategic interaction among the different sides by urging them to take friendly action. And Japan should make more contributions to maintain peace and stability by coordinating with China and Russia.

The Korean Peninsula and the fate of the people living there have for long been a concern of the international community, especially China. Let’s hope peace is restored on this land through the joint efforts of all.

The author is director of the Center of Korean Peninsula Studies, affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

(Source: China Daily)

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