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North Korea nuclear crisis

Try carrot and stick with North Korea, official urges US and China

Former US deputy assistant secretary of state says the severest sanctions should be coupled with an offer of sincere negotiations in one last effort to persuade the hermit state to drop its nuclear ambitions

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 May, 2017, 4:56pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 May, 2017, 11:26pm

China and the US should adopt a two-pronged approach to curbing North Korea’s nuclear expansion plans, imposing the severest economic sanctions while offering sincere negotiations, a former senior US official in charge of Asian affairs has proposed.

“For China’s own national security interests, it’s time to act,” Susan Shirk, former US deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of East Asia, said in a talk at Peking University on Tuesday, the same day China announced that a North Korean delegation had been invited to attend an upcoming summit on China’s belt and road global trade initiative.

The US and China should treat the Korean peninsula crisis as a focal point for cooperation, Shirk said, with tougher economic pressure as a top priority due to a lack of good military options against North Korea.

“We really have to give economic pressure a chance,” said Shirk, head of the 21st Century China Centre at the University of California, San Diego. “We have never tested all-out sanctions, economic sanctions on North Korea ... We are not sure if it would work, but we need to give it one last test.”

That is necessary “because China’s own security interests are at stake, not just to keep America happy”, she said.

But on the other hand, Shirk said there also needs to be negotiations to convince North Korea to denuclearise the peninsula. Talks could explore such options as a peace treaty as a substitute for the armistice in force since the Korean war in the 1950s, as well as an offer of diplomatic relations with the US or security guarantees from China and Russia.

She also said she would continue promoting non-governmental and unofficial contacts with North Korea – or “track II diplomacy” – through the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue.

Such contacts could help lay the groundwork for officials from the countries involved to start negotiating on thorny issues.

Tensions over North Korea have risen recently, with mixed messages from US President Donald Trump.

Ahead of celebrations in North Korea last month for the anniversary of the birth of its founder, at which it had been expected that the country would conduct another nuclear test, Trump sent what he called an armada of navy ships to waters near the Korean peninsula.

But with no test forthcoming, Trump softened his hostility, even saying last week that he would be “honoured” to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “under the right circumstances”, raising eyebrows among foreign policy observers.

While Shirk said such a meeting could happen, she said it should come as a result of negotiations and agreement between the two countries, as was the case with former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright’s visit to Pyongyang in 2000.