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China, U.S. Seen at Odds on Merits of Restarting North Korea Nuclear Talks

By Rachel Oswald

Global Security Newswire

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (left) sits with Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao during a July parade in Pyongyang. China's zeal for quickly resuming frozen nuclear negotiations with the North is not shared by the United States and other participating countries, some analysts say (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images). North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (left) sits with Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao during a July parade in Pyongyang. China's zeal for quickly resuming frozen nuclear negotiations with the North is not shared by the United States and other participating countries, some analysts say (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images).

WASHINGTON -- Multi-nation nuclear negotiations with North Korea may not start any time soon, as the United States and other participating countries do not appear to share China's zeal for starting talks without any denuclearization commitment from Pyongyang, some analysts say.

In a bid to reinvigorate the nuclear talks process, senior Chinese negotiator Wu Dawei met last week in Washington with U.S. special envoy for North Korea Glyn Davies. Wu then told reporters he was "confident" participants in the six-party talks would figure out a way to resume the negotiations before traveling to North Korea.

Some analysts, though, believe Beijing is still not on the same page as Washington and Seoul on the terms of the talks' resumption.

"Beijing seems to define 'success' as merely jump-starting six-way talks while Washington and Seoul define it as a 'credible, authentic' process that leads to North Korea’s denuclearization," Duyeon Kim, a senior fellow focusing on East Asia at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, told Global Security Newswire.

Kim said she does not see the same urgency coming from South Korea and the United States for resuming the nuclear talks. Seoul and Washington as well as Tokyo have repeatedly said they will not return to the aid-for-denuclearization negotiations until Pyongyang offers credible proof it is ready to irreversibly give up its nuclear program.

Meanwhile, the United States this week also hosted three-way talks with South Korea and Japan that were expected to focus on coordinating their positions on whether and under what conditions to return to the nuclear talks. No announcements were made available as of press time on the results of the meeting between Davies and nuclear representatives Cho Tae-yong from South Korea and Junichi Ihara from Japan.

China appears to want to resume the negotiations in order to deter Pyongyang from carrying out further provocations, of which there have been many in the last year: the December 2012 launch of a long-range rocket, the February 2013 detonation of another underground nuclear device and this past spring's saber rattling and threats of imminent nuclear attacks on South Korea and the United States.

Another provocation by the North would "put China in a very difficult position," according to ASAN Institute for Policy Studies Vice President Choi Kang.

"To prevent that, I think China wants to resume [negotiations] even if it's just for the sake of it being held with no progress made," Choi told Central News Asia.

In semiformal talks earlier this fall, North Korea offered to halt its testing of long-range ballistic missiles and atomic devices if the nuclear negotiations are resumed, according to former U.S. officials who participated in the Track 1.5 dialogue.

However, because a nuclear moratorium always could be reversed by Pyongyang, the Obama administration is understood by ex-U.S. officials to view the offer as not going far enough, particularly as North Korea was so quick to violate a 2012 pledge it made to freeze its nuclear-weapons work in return for U.S. food assistance.

Still, even a one-to-two-year halt of North Korea's march toward acquiring a credible nuclear weapons capability is important, said Sung-yoon Lee, an assistant professor of Korean Studies at Tufts University.

President Obama is understandably skeptical of returning to talks with North Korea, but "the option of ignoring North Korea isn't really a good option," Lee told GSN.

"The longer we wait … the greater impact to come" when the North carries out its next nuclear test, he said.

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