The international community welcomed the slap on the wrist for Pyongyang. But how will it impact the immediate East Asian region?
The most important element in the regional response to North Korea is the need to keep up a united posture in efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. This aspect seems to soak up most of the diplomatic efforts in the region as China, South Korea and Japan attempt to maintain a unified stance vis-à-vis its rogue neighbour.
The first sign that this was not going to be easy was the emerging differences in interpretation of the nuclear test by North Korea. China and South Korea were angered by the nuclear test but wanted any punitive measures to edge North Korea back to the six-party talks. Both have their vested interests, including China’s fear of a refugee exodus at Yanbian and other border cities with North Korea as well as South Korean fears of nuclear warfare on the Peninsula.
Japan, on the other hand, took an immediate hardline stance and was keen to punish North Korea severely, stopping all shipping links with the Stalinist state. Japanhas also intensely restricted movements of diplomats between the two states. The new conservative Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has even proposed Japanese participation in naval inspections of ships traversing to and from North Korea, something that raised Chinese concerns.
Nevertheless, unity was sustained with Washington making concessions, especially in the area of resorting to armed measures to stop the North Korean nuke tests or to intercept all ships heading towards with naval escorts. Despite the compromise made by Washington to get Russian and Chinese support for the vote on economic sanctions for North Korea, implementation of economic sanctions remains difficult.
Even some in America, including its media, raised doubts about the impermeability of economic sanctions, comparing it unfavourably with US sanctions on Cuba after the Cuban missile crisis. There are just too many loopholes, they say, especially if China does not cooperate in this. There are currently no indications that China will seal its borders with North Korea, leading to US ambassador to the UN’s John Bolton saying that he cannot foresee China not complying with UN sanctions as a subtle reminder and pressure on the PRC to respect the unanimous vote.
Meanwhile, China is already preparing its border cities with North Korea for an exodus of refugees, given the implementation of the UN sanction and the instabilities that it is likely to cause. China’s meeting with the South Korean President in Beijing agreed on a common platform to manage North Korea with the ultimate aim of persuading North Korea to return to the six-party talks instead of declaring the UN vote as hooliganism or a declaration of war from the US. It will be an uphill task.
U.S. Hits Obstacle in Getting a Vote on North Korea (People’s Daily, 14 October 2006)
China, ROK pledge to work more closely on Korean Peninsular nuclear issue (People’s Daily, 14 October 2006)
U.S. Softens North Korea Sanctions Proposal After Objections From China and Russia (People’s Daily, 13 October 2006)
Chinese, ROK presidents reach consensus on Korean Peninsula nuclear issue (People’s Daily, 13 October 2006)
US President Bush meets Hu Jintao's special envoy (People’s Daily 13 October 2006)
Russia, China oppose N. Korea sanctions (AP, 13 October 2006)
Rice, China in agreement on North Korea (AP, 13 October 2006)
Chinese, South Korean presidents to weigh moves to punish North Korea (Channelnewsasia, 12 October 2006)
China reluctant to back Korea sanctions (AP, 12 October 2006)
For Bush, Many Questions on Iraq and North Korea (NY Times, 12 October 2006)
North Korea Warns of More Nuclear Tests (NY Times, 12 October 2006)
Bush holds press conference, warns DPRK over nuclear test (People’s Daily, 12 October 2006)
China says it opposes military acts against DPRK (People’s Daily, 12 October 2006)
N.Korea threatens Japan over sanctions (Yahoo News, 13 October 2006)
Bush rejects idea of talks with N. Korea (AP, 12 October 2006)
Solving the Korean Stalemate, One Step at a Time (NY Times, 11 October 2006)
Word of Test Confirms Stances in 2 Nations (NY Times, 11 October 2006)
Rice Asserts U.S. Plans No Attack on North Korea (People’s Daily, 11 October 2006)
U.S. says can't confirm 2nd nuclear test by DPRK (People’s Daily, 11 October 2006)