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Progress in Pyongyangand tensions in Taiwan?

Updated On: Jun 26, 2007

There are two major developments in Northeast Asiain Taiwanand North Korea.

For the Korean Peninsula, the surprise of the day was Christopher Hill's visit to North Koreafor talks which resulted in Hill's public announcement that the Stalinist state has agreed to close down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor within three weeks after North Koreareached an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), on monitoring the operation.

"We should be able to start a long and complex process for working out with the DPRK (North Korea) the modalities of shutting down the installation at Yongbyon," Mohamed El Baradei, head of the UN watchdog. "I believe the process goes in the right direction." The Yongbyon reactor generates raw material necessary for bomb-making plutonium in North Korea

"I think we are going to be okay in getting this thing shut down," Hill told reporters. "I know some people think we are in a hurry. Americans are always in a hurry. We always want to get through things and get moving," he said. "Unfortunately we lost time, we really think that it's time to pick up that pace," he said. And to make sure time is not lost, the deputy head of the IAEA Olli Heinonen travels to North Korea today (26 June) to assess the country's readiness to close Yongbyon down.

Some analyst attributed the success of North Korean nuclear issue to the USbeing under some kind of internal pressure to search for a diplomatic success in its troubled foreign relations with Iranand the military chaos in IraqNorth Koreaon its part also noted that the talks with Mr Hill had been "comprehensive and productive".

Nevertheless, some complications remain. Some noted Japan's unease with Pyongyang-US rapprochement without resolving Japan's kidnapping issues with North Korean officials. But, Hill refused to express any opinion on this issue. On Japan's apparent unease to his trip to Pyongyang, Hill said: "I'm not worried about it leading to any reduction of our relationship."

Further south, pro-independence Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian is plotting further moves to “taunt” the Chinese. Chen informed a visiting US delegation that he planned a referendum next year on the issue of Taiwan's UN bid alongside the March 2008 presidential election. This drew a warning from Washingto nnot to do so. US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Tuesday that "while such a referendum would have no practical impact on Taiwan's UN status, it would increase tensions in the Taiwan Strait."

But Taiwan's government of the day disagreed. "Joining the UN in the name of Taiwan is a national consensus," foreign ministry spokesman David Wang told AFP. "As Taiwan is a democratic country, we have to respect the democratic process." Cabinet spokesman Shieh Jhy-wei said Taipei "cannot possibly give up the plan," which he termed as the "last defense line of Taiwan's democracy." "President Chen has repeatedly said the planned referendum would not unilaterally change the status quo between Taiwanand China," he said.

Chen's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had initiated a campaign to gather at least 800,000 signatures, the minimum which was needed to put the issue to a vote. At the same time, DPP has also retaliated against US's warnings on the reference. "The United States is in no position to oppose the referendum as it is one way of demonstrating the spirit of democracy," said DPP lawmaker Wang Tuoh. "Besides, the United Stateshas done little when it comes to the issue of Beijing targeting Taiwan with around 1,000 missiles and creating tensions in the Strait."

Other than the warning from WashingtonSingapore was one of the earlier critics of Taiwan's plan to go ahead with a referendum on entering the United Nations under its own name as "provocative and irresponsible". In a statement from the foreign ministry, it reiterated Singapore's opposition to any unilateral move to alter the status of Taiwan., and see the proposal “to put Taiwan's UN membership bid under the title 'Taiwan' to a referendum” as “provocative and irresponsible”.

"It can only give false hope to the Taiwanese people, raise cross-straits tensions and reduce Taiwan's international space," the statement said. "There is no realistic prospect of Taiwan joining the UN. The vast majority of UN members adhere to a 'One China' policy and will not support Taiwan's membership of the UN under any appellation." (25 June 2007)

Sources:

North Koreahails US visit as inspectors due back (Channelnewsasia, 23 June 2007)

N Koreareactor 'shut in weeks' (BBC News, 23 June 2007)

Singaporesays Taiwan's UN referendum plan 'provocative' (AFP, 22 June 2007)

USenvoy expects reactor shutdown in three weeks (Channelnewsasia, 22 June 2007)

N. Koreaputs nuclear monitors' return on hold (Straits Times, 21 June 2007)

U.S.nuclear envoy on surprise trip to North Korea(The Star, 21 June 2007)

U.S.to Hold Direct Talks in North Koreaon Arms (NY Times, 21 June 2007)

Taiwanto push UN referendum despite UScaution (Yahoo News 20 June 2007)

N. Korean boat people may swamp Japan(Japan Times, 17 June 2007)