(Yonhap Interview) U.S. should no longer rely on China, 6-party talks to resolve N.K. nuclear issue: scholar
By Chang Jae-soon
WASHINGTON, July 13 (Yonhap) -- The United States should no longer rely on China or the long-dormant six-party talks for resolving the standoff over North Korea's nuclear program, and instead try direct talks and other forms of dialogue with Pyongyang, a senior scholar in Washington said.
Katharine Moon, chair of Korean studies at the leading U.S. think tank Brookings Institution, also said that the U.S. and its partners in the six-party talks should honestly admit that the multilateral negotiations are nothing but "a cover for many disagreements."
"We have already in some ways exhausted the energy and creativity of the so-called six-parties, or five parties plus North Korea," Moon said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency. "Many people think the six-party talks are dead or that they should be dead and buried and that we should try to come up with some new way of dealing with North Korea."
Moon stressed that the U.S. has no other choice but to take more steps toward "low-key, behind-the-scenes bilateral" dialogue with Pyongyang if it wants progress. Should it keep leaning on the six-party talks, it would mean, "We're going to stagnate," she said.
The Chinese-hosted six-party talks, which also involve the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and the United States, were launched in 2003 to convince Pyongyang to give up its nuclear programs in exchange for concessions. The negotiating process produced some agreements, but all of them later fell apart as the North backtracked on its promises.
The talks were last held in late 2008. In recent years, North Korea has called for the unconditional resumption of negotiations, but Seoul and Washington have demanded that Pyongyang first demonstrate its denuclearization commitment before reopening the talks.
Moon also said that the U.S. should end its reliance on China for resolving the problem.
"The Chinese cannot force North Korea to denuclearize. It is not possible ... There's a limit to what the Chinese can do both in terms of their national interest in the region and also in terms of actual power," Moon said.
"They cannot bring their military into North Korea and put a gun to Kim Jong-un's head and say 'get rid of your nuclear program,'" she said. Moon also said Beijing won't shut off the economic lifeline to North Korea because it will have to bear the responsibility for the economic and political chaos from the North.
Moon said the U.S. needs to try bilateral, trilateral and other forms of dialogue to resolve the issue.
"If you rely on one car, the tendency is that the car may break down and I think that is the six-party talks," she said. "We relied on six-party talks for a long time. It didn't get us very far. We relied on China as the main driver or at least if not the navigator, the driver. That has not gotten us what we wanted."
Moon, a full professor of political science at Wellesley College, took office as Korea chair at the Brookings Institution last month. She is the second Korean studies chair at a major think tank in Washington after Victor Cha of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
She said the summit early this month between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping was "very good," adding that the meeting publicly demonstrated the friendship between the two leaders "in a really wonderful way."
The meeting also sent an unmistakable message to Pyongyang that China has "options," she said.
"China has more to gain from South Korea than it does from North Korea. North Korea is a liability economically, politically, and in terms of security, military terms for China. It is a net liability whereas South Korea is a net asset, a net gain potentially," Moon said.
Xi's trip to Seoul marked the first time that China's new president has visited the South ahead of the North. Moon said the unprecedented move was a "diplomatic blow" to the North. The North must have also lost "face" when they saw Xi and Park "smiling and having a wonderful time," she said.
Moon said that the Korea-U.S. relationship should be the foundation for Seoul's improved relations with China. In that sense, she praised Park for doing "good diplomacy" and "smart foreign policy," saying that Seoul has been strengthening relations with China based on the robust alliance with the U.S.
Speaking about frayed relations between Seoul and Tokyo, Moon said Japan should first try to deal with its wartime past and make its neighbors friends, not enemies. Improved relations with South Korea would also be in Japan's national interests, she said.
Moon said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his supporters have taken hard-line policies on history issues and a nationalistic agenda against the will of the public in an apparent attempt to deflect attention from the nuclear accident in Fukushima, the collapsing pension system and economic problems.
The U.S. should push Seoul and Tokyo harder to work together, she said.
Moon said her decision to assume the job at the Brookings Institution was a "big life change," though she believes she was raised from a child to play the role of a bridge between South Korea and the U.S. and try to make sense or better sense of U.S.-Korea ties.
She said she tries to take a more diverse approach to Korean issues.
"I like to hear opinions and gather sources from a variety of people, places, perspectives so that I can get as large a view as possible and then decide how to assess for myself what my own opinions are," Moon said.
Moon said South Korea can expand its voices in Washington when more people talk about Korea.
"There is power in numbers. The more people we have talking about Korea, thinking about Korea and also knowing a lot about Korea, not just a little but a lot I think will be useful and will definitely add to a larger collective voice regarding interest in Korea," she said.