The foreign ministers of South Korea and China have issued a public statement that nuclear tests by North Korea threaten peace and stability in the region. Recent activities at a nuclear test site indicate the North Koreans may be preparing for a nuclear test.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has held talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se in Seoul. In a joint statement, the two foreign ministers agreed to continue their cooperation. Both will maintain a united stance concerning North Korea’s nuclear testing. Recent activities by the government of Kim Jon-un pose a threat to not only the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula, but the entire region.
In the past, the Chinese maintained a guarded position in matters concerning North Korea’s nuclear program. They have also expressed a desire for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. Foreign Minister Wang said it was important for the six regional partners to resume talks about ending the North Korean nuclear program.
Such testing infringes on UN sanctions imposed on North Korea and a 2005 agreement that was part of the Six Party Talks held with the North Koreans. Member nations of the group include North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and the U.S.
For 20 years, regional powers have attempted to stop the North Korean atomic program through diplomatic means. Previous agreements involved members of the six parties delivering food supplies to North Korea as a show of good faith. When the North Korean government reneged on its part of the agreement, the food shipments stopped.
North Korean diplomats have also insisted on direct talks with U.S. officials. Previous administrations have refused. Doing so would be a propaganda coup for the government of Kim Jon-un. The U.S. does not want the North Koreans standing on an equal footing with them. Allies such as Japan and South Korea must be part of the discussions.
There is now mounting concern that North Korean scientists have advanced their technology in two areas. First, it is believed they are close to building a long-range missile. Second, North Korean scientists could have the skills to miniaturize a nuclear warhead capable of being mounted on an improved missile.
Joel Wit, a former official of the U.S. State Department, said he has recently met in the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator with military leader, Ri Yong-ho. Ri is the North Korean chief delegate for the Six Party Talks. The goal was to find a means of resuming dialog with North Korea. Wit declined to discuss the details of the meeting.
A spokesperson from the State Department said the meeting between Wit and Ri was known and not officially sanctioned by the Obama Administration. Wit acted in a private capacity. Should any former U.S. government officials meet with North Koreans, such people have done so on their own volition.
The official U.S. position concerning the nuclear talks with North Korea remains unchanged. The Obama Administration is committed to the 2005 agreement. North Korea must first stop its nuclear program before receiving any assistance. The government of Kim Jon-un must denuclearize his country and refrain from further provocations.
Private discussions between Wit and Ri in Ulan Bator have the potential of creating an avenue for dialog with the Obama Administration. The South Korean and Chinese declaration concerning North Korean nuclear activities is further evidence that the government of Kim Jon-un does pose a threat to the region.
By Brian T. Yates