US and China must play equal roles in removing nuclear weapons from Korean peninsula, ex-Chinese diplomat Yang Xiyu says

11-Oct-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

The US and China must play equal roles in bringing about the removal of nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula and bringing peace to the region, a former top Chinese diplomat said on Wednesday.

Yang Xiyu, a former inaugural director in the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Office for Korean Peninsula Issues, also suggested Beijing would continue to cooperate with Washington on the North Korean nuclear issue despite rising US-China tensions, because it benefited the Chinese government to do so.

“China insists on four-party talks [on the Korean peninsula nuclear issue],” Yang said during a Korea Society event in New York, referring to negotiations that would include the US, China and the two Koreas. “This is the most realistic and reliable format for a sustainable permanent peace regime,” he said.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last year agreed at Panmunjom a village in the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas to stop all “hostile acts”, and work together to officially end the Korean war with a permanent peace agreement.

Yang Xiyu (left) during an interview with Stephen E Noerper, a senior director of the Korea Society, in New York on Wednesday. (South China Morning Post)

Yang Xiyu (left) during an interview with Stephen E Noerper, a senior director of the Korea Society, in New York on Wednesday. (South China Morning Post)

The pact would be reached through trilateral talks between the two Koreas and the US, or four-party talks including China, according to the Panmunjom agreement.

“Historically, [the two Koreas] were the triggers of that war and they are the main responsibility takers for their own peace,” said Yang, who is now a senior analyst at China’s Institute of International Studies.

“China and the US currently are major outside powers [wielding] strong influences on the peninsula, and they were also the major war parties of the Korean war,” Yang said.

The 1953 armistice signed by the United States, China and North Korea ended hostilities on the Korean peninsula, but no formal peace agreement was ever reached.

Making the case for four-way talks involving the US, China and the two Koreas, Yang said that “based on both history and the current reality [of international politics], the two major parties of the Korean peninsula and the two major outside parties should compose the permanent peace regime for sustainable prosperity on the Korean peninsula”.

China has faced a dilemma regarding North Korea’s nuclear ambitions since the Hanoi Trump-Kim summit collapsed in February. On the one hand, Beijing needs relations between the two Koreas to stay unchanged to preserve China’s regional power; on the other, it is wary of the security risks created by the return of tensions between Pyongyang and Washington.

Despite rising US-China tensions, Beijing will cooperate with Washington to bring about the removal of nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula, because it benefits the Chinese government to do so, Yang said.

“Denuclearisation is [in] China’s strategic interest. We will not throw away this interest only because bilateral relations with the US are deteriorating… [China's strategic interest] would keep China on the cooperation track.”

The former diplomat’s comments come on the eve of talks between the US and China aimed at ending their 15-month-old trade war.

But expectations of a breakthrough in the tariff battle have been lowered by the decision by Beijing’s negotiators to shorten their stay in Washington, where the talks will be held starting on Thursday, sources have told the South China Morning Post.

Despite minor strains on its relations with Pyongyang, China has not changed its policy on the Korean peninsula and remains supportive of the Kim regime.

It needs to maintain its decades-long alliance with Pyongyang to secure the stability of its border and of its underdeveloped northeast region. At the same time, it wants good relations with both Koreas to keep the US off-balance on the Korean peninsula.

“The Korean peninsula is very important to China’s national security,” Yang said, noting that the two countries have cooperated on the North Korean denuclearisation issue for more than two decades.

“China, since the 1990s, has always made every effort to separate the denuclearisation issue from its disputes [with the US]. No matter how bilateral relations go up and down, China-US coordination on the nuclear issue has remained stable,” he said. “Even now… we share more common words than differences.”

The failure of the recent working-level denuclearisation talks between the US and North Korean officials has been widely characterised as a “collapse” something that Yang dismissed.

The talks concluded “with many difficult challenges to both capitals” to be worked out, he acknowledged. But “the dialogue would certainly be held again”, he said, and through talking, “the sides could narrow the gap” in their views.

North Korea nuclear envoy Kim Myong Gil had warned that a “terrible incident” could take place unless Washington came up with an acceptable deal after the Stockholm talks broke off last week. The word Kim used for “incident” could also mean a “war” in Korean.

On October 2, a day after Washington and Pyongyang announced they would resume stalled nuclear talks, North Korea test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

It was the longest-range weapon tested by Pyongyang since November 2017, and South Korea’s military estimated the missile travelled 450km (280 miles) in an easterly direction, reaching a maximum altitude of 910km (570 miles) before plunging into the sea.

The unexpected launch brought condemnation from the five European members of the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday, who urged North Korea “to take concrete steps” towards denuclearisation.

Yang said Beijing “sincerely” wanted the two Koreas to be reunited, but with conditions.

“China would oppose if one Korea attempts to conquer the other,” he said. “China only supports peaceful unification. and the unification must be done in a true independent [manner], without external intervention. If there is an external intervention, China would oppose [the unification].”



Category: Korea

Print This Post