The situation on the Korean Peninsula is crucial to maintaining peace in Northeast Asia. It plays an important role in the security and economic development of the Asia-Pacific region, and has a great impact on overall global stability. Hence, the peninsula has a special place in Sino-U.S. ties.
Though the Cold War ended two decades ago, people on the Korean Peninsula are still living in its shadow. The influence of the Cold War mentality extends to other countries, too, because of the peninsula’s strategic position. And since four big powers, the United States, Russia, Japan and China, are involved in the peninsula issue, it is the responsibility of the international community to restore lating peace there.
The international community has focused on the nuclear program of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and it has become a core security issue in East Asia after Pyongyang conducted two nuclear tests.
China and the U.S. agree on a nuclear-free peninsula, because they know it is important for maintaining peace in the region. They disagree only on the approach to achieving that goal.
China has been saying that the DPRK and the U.S. should make security pledges to each other, but Washington insists that Pyongyang should give up its nuclear program before relations between them can be normalized.
Despite their difference in approach, China and the U.S. have made great efforts to restore peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
Tensions on the Peninsula intensified after the Cheonan incident in March 26 last year. The exchange of fire between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea on Nov. 23 escalated tensions further. The subsequent joint military drills conducted by the U.S. and the ROK and the strengthening of military alliance among the U.S., the ROK and Japan pushed the peninsula to the brink of war.
But tensions defused when the DPRK said the ROK’s military drills were “not worth responding to,” and Washington welcomed Pyongyang’s softened stance and Seoul announced that “the path to peace is open.”
The peninsula crisis, however, cast a shadow over Sino-U.S. ties. If a war had broken out between the DPRK and the ROK, China and the U.S., even Russia and Japan, may have been dragged into it despite not being willing to confront each other.
To prevent such incidents and restore lasting peace on the peninsula, the international community has to intensify its efforts to bring all the parties to the negotiation table. That is the shared goal of China and the U.S., too.
Objectively speaking, China and the U.S. both have made great efforts to ease the tensions on the peninsula. Soon after the exchange of fire, China appealed to all the countries involved in the six-party talks to hold urgent dialogue. During his visit to Pyongyang, China’s State Councilor Dai Bingguo urged the DPRK to restrain itself, and urged the U.S. to cooperate on the issue. These efforts show China’s determination and willingness to maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula.
The U.S., too, has made efforts to restore peace on the peninsula. Bill Richardson, governor of the U.S. state of New Mexico, gave the DPRK a precious opportunity to let the rest of the world know its thirst for peace by visiting Pyongyang at the critical time. Stephen Bosworth, U.S. envoy for DPRK affairs, promoted security talks among China, Japan and the ROK through his shuttle diplomacy. And U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ visit to China, Japan and the ROK brought Sino-U.S. military ties back on track, and created a good environment for restoring peace on the peninsula. These efforts echo China’s moves to restore peace and stability on the Peninsula.
Though the situation on the peninsula is returning to normal, the danger of military confrontation has not been eliminated completely. Some vested interests are still trying to provoke a conflict between the DPRK and the ROK, and drive a wedge between China and the U.S. Their aim is to benefit from the chaos in the region. The international community, especially the responsible powers, should be aware of such conspiracies and prevent the brains behind them from succeeding.
As the two powers most responsible for maintaining peace in the Asia-Pacific region, China and the U.S. should take joint steps to prevent a military confrontation and restore lasting peace on the peninsula.
The urgent task for China and the U.S. today is to persuade the DPRK and the ROK to hold direct talks. To help the peninsula emerge out of the crisis, it is important to resume the six-party talks soon and carry out the joint statement of Sept. 19, 2005, on the denuclearization of the peninsula.
Since China and the U.S. have more common interests than differences on the Korean Peninsula issue, we hope the two countries would cooperate sincerely to restore peace and stability in the region.
By Su Hao
Su Hao is a professor and director of the Center for Strategic and Conflict Management at the China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing. ― Ed.