Last week, I reviewed the story broken by the Wall Street Journal that the United States might have entertained the possibility of negotiations combining denuclearization with a peace regime to end the armistice. In the 2005 Joint Statement, such negotiations were to be undertaken in a separate venue, growing out of—not supplanting—the Six Party Talks on denuclearization. The North Koreans have increasingly settled on a non-starter proposal for bilateral negotiations with the US on the issue; a version of the proposal from last October can be found in a letter circulated by the North Koreans at the Security Council (S/2015/799).
During a joint press conference with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, however, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi pounced on a question to outline once again the emphasis that Beijing places on restarting multilateral talks (the full text of the relevant portion of the news conference is reproduced in full below (from the Australian transcript). But of what sort? The important nuance is the weight that the Foreign Minister places not only the Six Party Talks but on “peace talks” (mentioned twice) and a “peace mechanism,” going back to the 2007 “roadmap” agreements. China does not buy into the North Korean proposal of a peace regime first, but the operative line suggests that they might proceed in parallel (“And this is why China has proposed this negotiation approach of advancing demilitarisation [presumably the Six Party Talks] and replacing the armistice mechanism with a peace mechanism in parallel.”)
When the UN Security Council Resolution is released in final form, we will offer a full analysis. But it is not hard to see the overall bargain being struck here: that China agreed to actually do something, but not “sanctions for the sake of sanctions.” The diplomacy over coming weeks will also be about the terms on which the Six Party Talks and/or peace regime negotiations might be launched. Assuming, that is, that North Korea has any interest. From their response to the US counteroffer reported in the Wall Street Journal story, the answer to that question is pretty clear: “no thanks.” But these are only the first moves in the game; the combination of Kaesong closure, Japanese and US sanctions, and the new UNSC resolution could have North Korea reconsidering its position—while also escalating—sooner than we think. Chinese and American officials are converging on Seoul; Hankyoreh has good coverage of the diplomatic calendar.
From the Joint Media Conference with Foreign Ministers Julie Bishop and Wang Yi, Beijing, February 17
JOURNALIST. Well, Foreign Minister Wang, the international community is currently following very closely developments on the Korean peninsula and we know that consultation is going on at the UN Security Council regarding the adoption of a new draft resolution of sanctions against the DPRK. So how can actions be taken to resolve this difficult situation at the moment and can you further share with us China’s position on this issue?
FOREIGN MINISTER WANG YI
I think the question you raised about the situation on the Korean peninsula is a very good one because indeed, facing the tensions mounting on the Korean peninsula we do need to think seriously about what should be done about the situation and the nuclear issue on the peninsula. This is a question that should have some serious thinking for all countries.
In this day and age, no hot-spot issues can be fundamentally resolved through sanctions or pressure alone and the use of force is a still less desirable option because it can only bring about more serious consequences than the issue itself. This is why the Chinese government has always been committed to resolving hot-spot issues through political means and I believe that such efforts are also consistent with the provisions in the UN Charter about peaceful settlement of disputes. It also serves the interests of all parties concerned and the rest of the international community.
Recently we’ve been hearing comments drawing analogies between the Iranian nuclear issue and the Korean nuclear issue. But I would say that the reason why we have been able to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue is exactly because we have had a decade-long process of dialogue and negotiation while those Security Council resolutions were being implemented, which eventually led to the conclusion of the JCPOA. However, the current situation on the peninsula exists because the six-party talks have been broken down for eight years. This is what has caused the current situation, which nobody would like to see. So this is why I believe that as we discuss the new draft resolution at the Security Council it is also important to include discussions on the resumption of talks.
The DPRK’s nuclear test and satellite launch constitute a series of moves against Security Council resolutions so the DPRK needs to pay the necessary price. The purpose of the ongoing discussions at the Security Council of adopting a new resolution is to stop the DPRK from going any further down the path of developing nuclear weapons. At the same time, however, it is important to make sure that no party will give up the efforts of resuming peace talks or drop their responsibility for maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula.
Of course, China does not bear the cross of the issue on the Korean peninsula. However, as the host of the six party talks, China has always upheld a fair and just position in seeking all kinds of possibilities with other parties how we can try to reactivate the peace talks. And this is why China has proposed this negotiation approach of advancing demilitarisation and replacing the armistice mechanism with a peace mechanism in parallel. And the aim is really to address all parties’ concerns in a balanced way, to identify the objectives of the negotiation and to discover as quickly as possible breakthroughs that could be made to get the talks restarted. I believe this is the only reasonable thing to do. And this will help bring about a fundamental solution to the nuclear issue on the peninsula.
And China stands ready to have detailed and more in depth discussions with all other parties in due course.