The DPRK-ROK Relationship and the Six-Party Talks

Peace and Development No.4, August 2014 | 作者: Shi Yongming | 时间: 2014-10-09 | 责编: Li Xiaoyu
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By Shi Yongming

Currently, high intensity confrontation has put the situation of the Korean Peninsula in an irresolvable deadlock. For the US, the only way to break the deadlock is to force the DPRK to change fundamentally and give up the policy of developing nuclear capability. The policy paradox of the US lies in the fact that antagonism will only further justify the DPRKs policy of developing nuclear weapons. From its essence, the US is engaged in a historical gambling, as it expects that long-term political and military pressure as well as economic sanctions would halt the DPRKs nuclear development strategy and there would be internal changes within the DPRK because of the economic difficulties.

It is difficult for the Six-party Talks to restart. Reconciliation between the DPRK and the ROK has become more important for resolving the Korean Peninsula issue. Nonetheless, the steps suggested by the ROK in the Korean Peninsula confidence-building processhave fallen short of the DPRKs expectations. Since the beginning of the year when the two countries talked about reconciliation , the talks have come to a standstill as the two sides can hardly find a common ground . Such a deadlock has put the two countries in an enduring security impasse. No matter how much deterrence the ROK has put on the DPRK, it has to face a DPRK with growing nuclear capability.

While on the other hand , although the DPRK is trying hard to develop its economy and improve the livelihood of its citizens, it can hardly get out of the economic difficulties the international sanctions have brought about. As a result, it is in the interests of both countries to seek for a final solution of the Korean Peninsula issue which includes the nuclear issue through reconciliation. The way to reconciliation should not be a fresh start all over again, but a return to the Six-party Talks and the bilateral agreements already signed.

I. Reconciliation between the DPRK and the ROK Has Run into an Impasse

The high intensity confrontation in 2013 has made both the DPRK and the ROK aware that antagonism cannot resolve the issue, but only increases the security risks. As a result, in the beginning of 2014,

the tense relationship between the two countries showed some signs of easing. But such a good sign did not last long, as the two countries have once again fallen into antagonism, which has resulted from the fact that the two countries fail to find a common ground for mutual understanding, confidence-building measures and the way to reconciliation.

A. The DPRK and the ROK failed to find a common ground for confidence-building process

Since the end of the Cold War, the relationship between the DPRK and the ROK has long been in the form of military confrontation,  So, for the two sides, one of the necessary measures for the building of mutual trust is to reduce military antagonism. Nevertheless, presently some changes seem to have occurred in regard to their former approach . From the side of the DPRK, the goals of reconciliation it suggested at the beginning of 2014 are still directly concerned with the practical security issue. On January 16 this year, in the Major Proposalsthe DPRK National Defense Commission made to the ROK regime, it is suggested that from January 30 onward taking the opportunity of the Spring Festival, the two sides take practical measures to stop all kinds of provocations and slanders, stop military operations against one another and the ROK should stop the ROK-US joint military drills ofKey ResolveandFoal Eagleto be held at the end of February, both sides take practical measures to avoid nuclear catastrophe on this piece of land , and that the ROK refrain from introducing the US nuclear strike means into ROK and the adjacent region . The DPRK believed that if these major security measures are put in place, all the issues, in the bilateral relations will be resolved .

But the ROK, believing that the suggestions made by the DPRK are hypocritical peace offensivein reality, turned them down. ROKs policy toward the DPRK is first of all based on assurance of strong deterrenceon the DPRK, which naturally brings about the zero-sum effect in security matters. The growth of deterrence of the ROK on the DPRK will be seen by the DPRK as threats to its security, while the DPRKs demand that the ROK stop joint military exercises with the US will be seen by the ROK as weakening such deterrence. The mentality of the ROKs new government is, on the premise of having its own security assured , to gradually accumulate mutual trust through such practical actions as assuring the meeting of separated families. President Park Geun-hye has gone as far as suggesting that a World Peace Park be build at the DMZ as the starting point of the confidence-building process.

Obviously, the DPRK and the ROK differed a great deal on how to build trust. The DPRK wants to build trust through reducing military antagonism, especially reducing the ROK-US joint military drills, while the ROK hopes to accumulate trust gradually through actual exchanges. Their differences on how to build trust have made it more difficult for the confidence-building process, but they do not pose absolute obstacles for the two sides to improve relations. The true reason that reconciliation between the DPRK and the ROK remained at a standstill is that they have different understanding as to the ultimate goal of reconciliation .

B. Different understanding on the issue of the Peninsula reunification

For many years, the only and never changed consensus in the DPRK and the ROK relationship has been that the final way out for the Peninsula lies in reunification . As the issue of reunification is the core issue in the DPRK and the ROK relationship , and related to the basic position and direction of development of the bilateral relations, how to deal with the issue will fundamentally affect the development of the bilateral relations. During the national resistance against the Japanese occupation , there were two major forces in the Korean Peninsula. As a result, which of the two was the true national representative and had the legitimacy to run the country during the post-war nation building became the inherent cause of national disintegration . Although the Korean Peninsula was divided because of external factors, the two sides refused to recognize each other and tried to reunify the Peninsula in spite of the other, which was the cause of the outbreak of the Korean War. Even today, with the two sides agreeing on peaceful reunification , the issue can both be a force to boost reconciliation of the two and a factor to bring about antagonism against one another. As a result, every round of reconciliation between the DPRK and the ROK would first of all touch the issue of reunification .

The ROK new government has from the very beginning linked this round of reconciliation with the issue of reunification. On March 28, Park Geun-hye, made three suggestions to the DPRK, namely resolving first of all the humanitarian issue of the Korean nationals of both countries, constructing civil infrastructure for the common prosperity of the two countries and restoring the common identity of the citizens of both countries. But, Park Geun-hyes intention to resolve the issue of the Peninsula reunification after the German model showed in her speech has produced negative effects on the bilateral relations of the two countries. In her speech, she not only dwelt on the German reunification process, but also spoke ill of East Germany.

Later on, the DPRK Committee of Peaceful Reunification of Korea published an open query on April 23 to Park Geun-hye, questioning her how she will reunify the Korean Peninsula and pointing out that the system antagonismof one side annexing the other side with the help of outside forces means war. This time, the DPRK using means of query rather than direct criticism is because it did not get Park Geun-hyes real idea about reunification and wanted to leave some room for discussing the issue of reunification with the ROK. For the DPRK, Park Geun-hye is different from Lee Myung-bak after all.

Nevertheless, the DPRK had to make a query about the difference between her North Korean policy and Lee Myung-baks. While on the other hand , the ROK, whether intentionally or unintentionally, remains vague on many key points in regard to the issue of reunification . This reflects that the ROK has different cognition , and that it is faced with a dilemma in policy choices.

C.The DPRKs clear nuclear strategy has made it more difficult for the two countries to reconcile

The most difficult issue to resolve between the DPRK and the ROK is the nuclear issue, which had long been the issue between the US and the DPRK. After Lee Myung-bak came to office, it also became the major issue between the DPRK and the ROK, as Lee Myung-bak took it as a precondition for the North and South reconciliation , which made the DPRK believe that Lee Myung-bak was hostile to it.

Currently, Park Geun-hyes government is faced with more serious challenges than previous governments on the nuclear issue. Just before Park Geun-hye came to office, the DPRK not only made it clear to establish ownership of nuclear weapons as a national strategy, but also conducted its third nuclear test. As the relations between the US and the DPRK have come to a deadlock, the resolution of the nuclear issue is far beyond the sight. The antagonism between the US and the DPRK has made the ROK more worried about the DPRKs further nuclear tests.

As a matter of fact, the biggest problem the nuclear stalemate between the US and the DPRK has brought to Park Geun-hyes government is that its policy towards the DPRK was put into a dilemma. The dilemma of the ROKs policy choice lies in the fact that whether it would resolve the nuclear issue through reconciliation , or reconcile with the DPRK before the nuclear issue is resolved .

Under the US policy of pressing the DPRK for changes, the ROK, as an American ally, is expected to put sanctions on the DPRK to ensure the success of US policy towards the DPRK, which means that the ROK should take harsh stance on the DPRK. This of course would impede the reconciliation and confidence-building process between the DPRK and the ROK. If the ROK pursues a reconciliation policy towards the DPRK, it would help the DPRK economically. This would weaken the effects of the US sanctions on the DPRK and be opposed by the US.

Park Geun-hyes policy towards the DPRK is just in between of the one pursued by Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun , which sought the resolution of the nuclear issue through reconciliation and the one pursued by Lee Myung-bak, which sought the resolution through coercion . The one pursued by Park Geun-hye is a very difficult one. Up until now, what we can see is that the ROK pins much hope of

the resolution on the changes of the DPRK. But, such hope itself may

result in long-term confrontation between the DPRK and the ROK.

II. The Reconstruction of the Bilateral Relations between the DPRK and the ROK Needs to Return to the Accords Sgned in the Past

For ROK, if it wants to avoid the situation in which the DPRK and the ROK are locked in a long-term and dangerous confrontation , and seeks to get rid of the constraint that the confrontation has exerted on its pursuit of becoming a middle power as soon as possible, the ROK should have a clearer understanding of the situation it is in and the ways as well as the goals of the resolution . The best way to resolve the issue between the DPRK and the ROK is not to start all over again , but review what has been learned and return to the accords signed in the past.

A.The ROK should get rid of the constraint of the structural contradictions

Since the founding of the ROK, the country has been divided by two camps, one radical and one conservative. In 1988, the ROK put forward its policy towards the DPRK, against the historical backdrop of the democratization movement within the country and the international situation in the Cold War undergoing drastic changes.

The impact of Nixon Doctrine forced the ROK to rely on itself for security. The US-Soviet detente and the internal changes in the socialist countries provided the opportunity for the ROK to promote reconciliation with the North and reunification of the Peninsula through developing relations with China and the Soviet Union . It was under such internal and external circumstances that historical breakthroughs were achieved in the relationship between the DPRK and the ROK in 1990s.

One of the major changes brought about by democratization in the ROK was that the left wing became the chief force to promote reconciliation between the DPRK and the ROK. However, the success of democratization did not change the dual structure within the ROK society. In late 1990s, Kim Dae-jung, the leader of the democratization movement, became the president, who began to adopt the sunshine policytoward the DPRK. His successor Roh Moo-hyun followed the suite and pursued the policy of peace and prosperitytoward the DPRK. But, when Lee Myung-bak, the representative of the conservatives, came to power, he completely denied the policies pursued by Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun towards the DPRK.

Such denial was based on factional interest within the ROK rather than the fact that the DPRK was developing nuclear capability. Unfortunately, on the Korean Peninsula issue, we saw the Bush administration annul the Nuclear Framework Agreement signed by the Clinton administration with the DPRK first, and Lee Myung-bak abandon the Declarations signed by Kim and Roh with the DPRK leadership later. From this, we can see that the dual structure within the ROK has made it impossible for it to pursue a consistent and stable reconciliation policy towards the DPRK.

In fact, Lee Myung-baks government criticized that the reconciliation policies of Kim Dae-jong and Roh Moo-hyun failed to stop the DPRK from developing nuclear capability and believed that their policies failed in the end . This has not only neglected the fact that the Six-party Talks have produced the 9.19 Joint Statement, but also failed to understand the trilateral structure of the US, the DPRK and the ROK in the Korean Peninsula and the ROKs position in such a structure. In the post-Cold War era, the only pretext that the US may use to interfere into the Korean Peninsula affairs is the nuclear issue. As a result, the only party the DPRK would negotiate with on the nuclear issue is the US rather than the ROK, as the DPRK and the ROK already signed the Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in early 1990s. Nevertheless, the US wanted to interfere into and dominate the trend of the situation in the Korean Peninsula on the pretext of the nuclear issue and engaged itself in several rounds of bilateral talks with the DPRK. After the US annulled the Nuclear Framework Agreement signed in 1994, the nuclear issue was discussed in the Six-party Talks, as the bilateral talks on the nuclear issue between the US and the DPRK lacked reliability. Though the issue is addressed multilaterally, the major parties are the US and the DPRK, with other parties helping promote mutual trust between the two. Soon after the Sept.19 Joint Statement was signed in the Six-party Talks, the DPRK conducted its first nuclear test, and the direct reason of it was the US put financial sanctions on the DPRK in violation of the reconciliation spirit of the statement. In this case, it is wrong to say that the DPRKs first nuclear test was the result of Roh Moo-hyuns policy failure.

It is worth noting that the US, the DPRK and the ROK are in a structure of contradiction intensification circle on the nuclear issue. The ROK relies heavily on military cooperation with the US for security, but the DPRK saw direct threats in the US, while the countermeasures the DPRK took against the US may be seen by the ROK as threats. The ROK may cooperate with the US to take tough stance on security issues, but if the ROK took positive policies to apply pressure on the DPRK in regard to the nuclear issue or its domestic affairs, they would not produce positive results but intensify the contradictions. The ROK usually follows two policy choice logics in dealing with the triangle relationship , one of which believes that the DPRK has its own security considerations in seeking nuclear capability, so the goal of reconciliation can be reached through building mutual trust and resolving the issue of security, while the other of which gives a definition to the DPRK first and then puts all the blames on it, so as to apply pressure on it to force it to give up nuclear capability and undergo regime change. In reality, on the Korean nuclear issue, the first logic would make headways, while the second one would lead to stalemate. As a matter of fact, it would have been very difficult for the Six-party Talks to produce the Sept.19 Joint Statement without the reconciliation policies pursued by Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun towards the DPRK. When the Six-party Talks came to a halt, although the unbridged difference between the

US and the DPRK on the issue of nuclear inspection is the direct cause, what is more important and behind the scene is the fact that the worsening relationship between the North and the South made the DPRK lose hope in building up mutual trust with the US and the ROK on security matters. As a result, under the circumstance that the US dominates the nuclear issue and the DPRK takes a key position , the ROK does not have an advantageous position in the triangle structure of the US, the DPRK and the ROK. If the ROK wants to play the role it should play and achieve good results, it should conduct rational thinking and work out an independent and stable policy, in which wisdom rather than force should be used .

B.Returning to the accords signed in the past can help accumulating trust

The biggest challenge the ROKs Korean Peninsula confidence-building process is faced with is how to deal with the relationship between the bilateral treaties already signed and the future accumulation of trust. As Lee Myung-bak had already set aside the declarations signed by Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun with the DPRK, and the DPRK announced the abolition of all the bilateral treaties, the two countries are in a state without any effective bilateral treaties between them. Park Geun-hye governments policy towards the DPRK does not involve any previous bilateral treaties. If the accumulation of trustprocess starts without any bases, it would be very difficult.

If the ROK wanted to overcome its disadvantageous position in the triangle structure, it should reach consensus domestically on basic issues concerning the two countries and ensure that its policies on these issues remain consistent when dealing with the bilateral relations with the DPRK. By doing so, it could be possible for the two countries to accumulate trust. To reach such a goal, the two sides should appreciate the bilateral treaties signed in the past. Most importantly, the past treaties have almost included all the basic structural issues in their bilateral relations, which reflect the historical process of their mutual understanding. Only through review of these treaties, by inheriting and developing them in particular, could the two countries find ways out for reconciliation in the future.

In retrospect of the reconciliation process between the DPRK and the ROK, there are two basic issues that cannot be neglected : the reunification issue and the West Sea (Yellow Sea) issue.

On the reunification issue, the DPRK and the ROK reached agreement on Three Principles of Unityin 1972, of which the principles of independentlyand peacefullyare indisputable.

But the two sides have great contradictions over how to incarnate the principle of transcending the differences in ideology, beliefs and systems, which is similar to the principle ofone country and two systems. The current reunification policy of the ROK government has given the DPRK the impression that it would follow the German model of unity by absorption. In fact, the difference between Germany and the ROK lies in the fact that since Brandt put forward the Ostpolitikin 1969, West Germany had consistently pursued the reconciliation policy towards East Germany and insisted on the idea that compatriotism should overtop systemsand ideology.

So, the new government of the ROK should inherit the past consensus reached on the reunification issue and pursue a consistent reunification policy. Only by doing so will there emerge a situation in which the two countries would feel close to each otherandaccumulate trust.

Since the end of the war, the issue of the West Sea is where the two countries collide most, as the armistice agreement did not include the issue. Since the armistice agreement did not make a demarcation for the two countries at the West Sea, General Clark, the Commander-in-Chief of the UN Command then , drew a warning line on the West Sea in August 1953, which was later called the Northern Limit Line. But since 1973, the DPRK has repeatedly stated that it does not recognize the line. In 1976, the DPRK drew a line on the West Sea extending from the border line between the Hwanghae-Do and the Gyeonggi-Do, which was called the Southern Warning Line, and claimed jurisdiction of territorial water 12 nautical miles into the West Sea from the shores, which has caused quarrels between the two countries. As a result, the West Sea issue has been a basic issue in the reconciliation process of the two countries, which has often been discussed since the two countries began to seek reconciliation . In 1999, the DPRK unilaterally proposed a line, demanding to incorporate into its jurisdiction the five islands and the adjacent waters that the ROK had occupied since the truce, which caused military conflicts between the two countries around Yeonpyengdo in 1999 and 2002. As we can see, the issue of West Sea is a serious impediment to the reconciliation between the two countries. If the ROK refrains from resolving the issue through dialog, it certainly is not conducive to the confidence-building process of the Korean

Peninsula, and will further weaken its position and role in the triangle relationship . To change this situation , the most effective and direct way is to return to the spirit of reconciliation expressed in the Oct.4 Joint Statement, and include the West Sea issue into the track of resolution through dialogue.

C.A return to the Six-party Talks will ensure lasting peace

Another relational difference between South-North Korea and East-West Germany is that the bilateral relationship between the South and North is subject to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The issue of denuclearization is an international issue, and not an issue within the bilateral relations of the two countries. But, the nuclear issue is closely related to the reconciliation issue, as they both can promote each other and block each other. As reconciliation can help resolve the nuclear issue, the deterioration of bilateral relations would make the resolution of the issue more difficult. The same is true the other way around . In early 1990s, reconciliation occurred between the two countries, which obviously had positive effect on the resolution of the nuclear issue. On January 7 1992, the ROK announced the cancellation of joint military drills with the US that year, on January 20, the DPRK and the ROK signed the Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Peninsula, and on January 30, the DPRK signed the Safeguards Agreement with IAEA, which indicated that it would be easy to resolve the nuclear issue from the perspective of common security and the joint efforts made by the DPRK and the ROK could provide the necessary condition for the resolution of the nuclear issue. These two judgments have proved to be in ups and downs in the later rounds of the Six-party Talks.

As a matter of fact, in view of the parallel development of reconciliation between the DPRK and the ROK and the denuclearization process of the Peninsula started from the end of 1980s, we found out that the development of bilateral relations between the DPRK and the ROK has been constrained by outside factors brought about by the nuclear issue. The ROK has tried to break away from such constraint, as Roh Moo-hyun once proposed that the ROK play the role as a balancer in Northeast Asia, and President Park Geun-hye put forward the Concept of Peaceful Cooperation in Northeast Asia(known as the Seoul Process). These are expressions of such an aspiration . Roh Moo-hyun boldly put forward thepeace and prosperitypolicy for his proposition , while Park Geun-hye seemed constrained by various factors. One of the chief reasons is that the two countries cannot resolve the issue of common security through reconciliation , as the issue of Peninsula security is closely related to outside factors. History has determined that if the DPRK and the ROK wanted to resolve the issue of common security, they should resolve the nuclear issue and the issue of regional security framework at the same time. The Six-party Talks just provides such a platform for the DPRK and the ROK to get to this goal.

Roh Moo-hyun hoped to put up a show with the two Koreas acting as the main performers on such a platform. In 2007, he signed the Oct.4 Joint Statement with Kim Jong-il, which not only elaborated how to develop the bilateral relations between the two countries, but also proposed a mechanism of lasting peacebe built through the Four-party talks, and tried hard to promote the Six-party Talks and implement the Sept.19 Joint statement and the Feb.13 Joint Document to resolve the issue of peace of the Peninsula.

In fact, when the Six-party Talks entered its later phase, it has become a common consensus thatthe resolution of the nuclear issue needs to build a peninsula peace mechanism. But, to get to such a goal calls for reconciliation and cooperation between the DPRK and the ROK as the foundation , which is both a challenge and an opportunity for the two countries. The two countries cannot build lasting peace in the Peninsula without the platform of the Six-party Talks. If Park Geun-hyes Korean Peninsula confidence-building process fails to restart the Six-party Talks through reconciliation of the two countries, it will be a luxury for them to reach the goal of peaceful reunification . For the ROK, it should build its security system from the macro perspective, rather than leave its countrys destiny to the alliance with certain superpower. An arrangement which can put ROK itself at the center of regional affairs can make the Peninsula in a lasting peace and greatly raise its international influence.

(The Author is Associate Research Fellow from China Institutes of International Studies. The article was finished on June 26, 2014).

Source: Peace and Development No.4, August 2014