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[Editorial] Test or no test, let’s be proactive on solving N. Korea nuclear issue

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등록 2014-04-23 11:34

On Apr. 22, the South Korean government announced signs that North Korea is preparing for another nuclear test at its test site in Punggye Village, North Hamgyong Province. More specifically, there could be a provocation of some kind around April 25. That’s the day President Park Geun-hye meets with US President Barack Obama for a summit in Seoul, and it’s also the anniversary of the establishment of the Korean People’s Army and the last day of the Max Thunder joint aerial training exercise between the US and South Korea.

North Korea should not conduct another nuclear test. Hard-liners in Pyongyang may think that advancing their nuclear technology through tests puts them at a more advantageous position in their foreign relations. If so, they are gravely mistaken. Another nuclear test would lead to sanctions from the international community, which would be qualitatively different from the sanctions seen to date. China, which has so far been a channel connecting North Korea with that community, will have no choice but to join in the powerful pressure. Pyongyang is likely to find itself further isolated, and lose any opportunity for a dialogue-based solution to issues that involve it. North Korea’s people and administration stand to suffer more than anyone when tensions rise on the peninsula.

The North could launch a long-range rocket - that is, a missile. This too would be taken by the international community as a grave provocation and grounds for more sanctions. Not only would the act itself violate existing United Nations Security Council resolutions, but we’ve also seen over the years that North Korea tends to launch long-range rockets first, and then respond to international criticisms by carrying out a nuclear test. We’re at a moment now when the two-month schedule of joint Key Solve/Foal Eagle military exercises by South Korea and the US is coming to an end, and countries are looking for ways of resuming the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear issue. Pyongyang needs to not do anything foolish that would send things on the peninsula spiraling in the wrong direction.

At moments like this, the attitudes of leaders in Seoul and Washington become all the more critical. Both countries need to send Pyongyang the clear message that they are looking for dialogue, not more antagonism. China’s cooperation will also be essential. In particular, the upcoming summit should be an occasion to discuss more forward-thinking plans for resuming the six-party talks. It’s disappointing that the US government has reaffirmed its insistence on “sincere steps toward denuclearization” from North Korea as a condition for dialogue. The past few years have shown that the strategy of “wait-and-see,” while avoiding all contact with North Korea, is no solution at all to the nuclear issue. Seoul needs to work to persuade Washington to talk to Pyongyang, a situation that could also be a breakthrough in its own relationship with North Korea.

The summit is a good opportunity to shape a new turning point in the denuclearization effort, rather than simply coordinating on pressure tactics against the North. Even if North Korea doesn’t launch any long-range rockets or carry out any nuclear tests for now, there were will be no progress on the nuclear issue unless South Korea and the US become more proactive about solving it.

 

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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