Security hotspots in Northeast Asia

Updated On: Feb 13, 2007

North Korea and the Taiwan Strait remain the focus of attention when it comes to security in Northeast Asia.

The six-party talks on North Korean nuclear crisis started off with hyped-up optimism as the international media revealed that a deal was in the making with a Chinese proposal and North Korean willingness to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for aid and energy. The previous obstacles of North Korean frozen assets in Macau were no longer a hindrance. Japanese media reports claimed that the US told North Korea last month it is prepared to proclaim that $11 million in assets held by Pyongyang at the bank was legit.

But the high notes ended a little flat due to disagreements on the amount of energy aid that Pyongyang could receive for disarming. "We're not interested in an energy deal. We're interested in a de-nuclearization deal," Hill said Sunday, adding that he had a "lengthy and very frank" discussion with the North Koreans on the issue.

"It is up to the North Koreans," Hill said. "We have offered a way forward on a number of issues. They just need to make a decision." Japanese envoy Kenichiro Sasae of similar views said an agreement "hangs greatly on the response, or final answer, that North Korea brings today."

Speculations are rife on the amount demanded by the North Koreans anywhere from 2 million kilowatts of electricity (equal to all of North Korea's current generating capacity) to 2 million tons of heavy fuel oil. Japanese media had another numerical figure - 1 million tons of oil shipped annually to Pyongyang before dismantling its nuclear facilities and 2 million tons annually thereafter.

While the region hangs in balance over whether Pyongyang will finally bite the deal, embattled President Chen Shui-bian has pushed for Taiwan’s decision to drop the word "China" from the names of state enterprises in favor of "Taiwan" despite criticism from the United StatesTaiwan is also changing the name of its state-run postal, petroleum and shipping companies. The changes, says Taiwan's premier Su Tseng-chang, are necessary to keep Taiwan's state-run companies from being confused with those from China.

Spooked by such bold moves, the US State Department voiced its opposition to the changes. It also reiterated its stance that it does not favor steps by Taiwan that appears to change its status unilaterally or any moves toward independence. The US cannot afford a conflict in the Taiwan Strait. It is already stretched to the limit with its troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, a US carrier group is in place in the seas off Iran, raising fears of an escalation of conflict in the Middle East to include Iran which has recently tested a cruise missile as a warning to America not to attack Iranian interests. Fears of an accidental war between the US and Iran have escalated.  Neither is the war going well in Afghanistan where the Taliban has regrouped and stronger than before, primed for a spring offensive against US and NATO forces.

A Taiwan Straits conflict now would be disastrous for the US. A nuclear North Korea willing to share nuclear technology with Iran is even more worrying.  (13 February 2007)


Marathan bid to break N.Korea impasse (Straits Times, 13 February 2007)

US prods N. Korea to stop haggling on nuke deal (Straits Times, 12 February 2007)

Taiwan is a democratic, independent nation now (Taiwan Times, 12 February 2007)

Taiwan Vows to Uphold Name Change of State-Run Companies (Chosun Ilbo, 12 February 2007)

No deal yet in 'tough' North Korea nuclear talks (Bernama, 10 February 2007)

No deal reached in N.Korea nuke talks (AP, 10 February 2007)

Deal to Shut Major North Korean Nuclear Facilities Appears Closer (NY Time, 9 February 2007)

China hands out accord at nuclear talks (AP, 9 February 2007)

[EDITORIAL]Talks for action (AP, 9 February 2007)