North Korea

Without China and Russia, there can be no solution to Korean crisis

The meeting of foreign ministers from 20 countries in Vancouver last week to discuss the issue was pointless, as representatives from Beijing and Moscow were excluded

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 January, 2018, 2:43am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 January, 2018, 2:43am

Korean peace requires involvement of all stakeholders, resolve to end tension and deft diplomacy. None of those essential elements were on show when the foreign ministers of 20 nations led by the United States and Canada met in Vancouver for talks last week.

Their stated aim was “strengthening diplomatic efforts towards denuclearising the Korean peninsula”. But the intentional exclusion of China and Russia, sensitivity of the timing, composition of the grouping and a final statement focused on tougher sanctions against North Korea only sowed confusion.

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China, as North Korea’s neighbour, closest ally and biggest trading partner, has every reason to be involved, as does Russia for similar reasons. Yet, neither was invited, instead being told they would be informed of the outcome.

Beijing’s dismissal of the talks as “illegitimate” was understandable and Chinese and Russians have every right to be suspicious; both countries have been accused by the United States of not doing enough to stop the North’s proliferation of nuclear weapons.

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The participating countries were allies in the Korean war six decades ago, their troops having been pitted against North Korea and its backers, China and the Soviet Union, the predecessor of Russia. Only three of the 20, the US, South Korea and Japan, are directly threatened by the North’s missiles.

The talks also could not have been more ill-timed; they coincided with North and South Korea ironing out details of Pyongyang’s participation in next month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, a breakthrough in ties frozen for two years.

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The outcome, including the sides’ teams marching together under a single flag of unification, could lead to wider discussion including a resumption of economic cooperation and family reunions and perhaps eventually, the nuclear issue.

The Vancouver meeting was counterproductive. Pyongyang’s record of ignoring agreements means its negotiations should not be viewed over-optimistically. Some suspect its latest détente is aimed at driving a wedge between the US and South Korea. But scepticism is no way to deal with the nuclear crisis; the focus should be on nurturing the talks between the Koreas and widening them.