The Sino-US Tug of War over North Korea's Nuclear Weapons
Bahng, Tae-Seop, SERI Quarterly
Nuclear weapons, strategic patience, Six-party Talks, uranium enrichment, plutonium production
Recent developments have illuminated the intentions of the US and China on the North Korean nuclear issue. In the US, the Obama administration remains committed to a two-track approach of dialogue and pressure under its doctrine of "strategic patience."1 The US also supports China's proposed three-step process to restart the moribund Six-party Talks,2 a stance reconfirmed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her brief stopover in Seoul on April 17.
Pyongyang's revelation of a clandestine uranium enrichment program, however, has heightened US skepticism about the North's commitment to abandoning its nuclear weapons, and further pushed Washington toward the "pressure" side of its two track policy. The annual report by the UN North Korea Sanctions Committee Panel of Experts, for example, which states that North Korea's uranium enrichment program is for military purposes and constitutes a serious violation of UN sanctions, was largely spearheaded by the US. The panel report, however, was not adopted by the UN Security Council due to objections from the other major player in the North Korean nuclear issue, China. Through a foreign ministry statement, Beijing played down the report by referring to it as an "internal UN document" that represents neither the Security Council nor the position of the North Korea Sanctions Committee.3 China's objection, though anticipated, reflects its steadfast posture that the North Korean nuclear issue be settled through dialogue, rather than direct countermeasures such as pressure and sanctions. The differing responses to the disclosure of the uranium enrichment program highlighted the gulf between the US and China on North Korea.
The Obama administration has less than a year left to deal with North Korea's nuclear provocations. As Obama's re-election campaign will be fully mobilized from June 2012, it is unlikely that Obama will push for a new policy on the longstanding problem. China will also start a leadership transition next year, making any breakthroughs on the nuclear impasse unlikely on the part of either Washington or Beijing. Instead, both sides will likely continue in a tug of war to gain the upper hand regarding North Korea.
Under these circumstances, the Six-party Talks, even if resumed, may produce little in the way of progress on the uranium enrichment issue, and Pyongyang, which has claimed its uranium enrichment is for "peaceful generation of electricity," is quite unlikely to agree to include the program in multilateral talks of its own accord. Accordingly, the US and Chinese stances on uranium enrichment will be of critical importance as the issue continues to unfold.
URANIUM ENRICHMENT: A NEW STUMBLING BLOCK
Awareness of North Korea's uranium enrichment program dates to October 2002 when the second nuclear crisis occurred. The issue was first raised after James Kelly, Assistant Secretary of State for Asian and Pacific Affairs, visited Pyongyang. The North strongly denied Kelly's assertion, attributing it to a "misunderstanding" on Kelly's part. Uranium enrichment was thereafter excluded from the talking points of the Six-party Talks, which focused on the elimination of the North's plutonium production capacities.
In November 2010, the uranium issue took a new turn when Pyongyang voluntarily revealed a previously secret facility at Yongbyon that maintains 2,000 gas centrifuges for enrichment of uranium. This disclosure signals that North Korea's nuclear threat is now no longer limited to plutonium production, and includes potential uranium weapons production as well. North Korea, of course, has since claimed that the centrifuges are operating to produce low enriched uranium for a future light water reactor. Nevertheless, apprehension is high that the North could upgrade its production at any time to …
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Publication information: Article title: The Sino-US Tug of War over North Korea's Nuclear Weapons. Contributors: Bahng, Tae-Seop - Author. Magazine title: SERI Quarterly. Volume: 4. Issue: 3 Publication date: July 2011. Page number: 121+. © Not available. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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