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Through Chinese eyes: Zhu Feng (part 2)

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COMMENTS

27 October 2011 09:10

Part 2 of an interview with Zhu Feng, an internationally renowned expert on North Korea and nuclear disarmament, byPeter Martin and David Cohen, using reader-submitted questions. Part I can be found here. (NB: An earlier post incorrectly implied that there would be no part 2; apologies for the error.)

Brett: Will the Kim family dynasty do what it wants with or without China?

I think first of all that North Korea's domestic situation is getting worse. Without external engagement there is little hope that their moribund economy will revive on its own, particularly after nearly two years of international indignation, most of which was caused by their own provocations. I don't think China will decisively affect the situation in North Korea.

They (North Korea) don't want to balance their economy. We have no intention of getting involved greatly without any decisive reform and opening on Pyongyang's side. Yes, China still aids North Korea with food, daily necessities, and fuel, but China's aid serves as a breathing tube. Unless North Korea changes course and gives signals of seriousness in abandoning nuclear weapons, China alone will not change the course of North Korea.

Anna: Do you think soft diplomacy initiatives can play a significant role in fostering more cooperative relations between North Korea and the outside world?

I don't think soft diplomacy could work so well. For the past two decades, the international community tried a variety of strategies: engagement, sanctions, neglecting, intimidating. But I don't think such a strategy so far has succeeded. If a package of alternatives will not succeed then we also have to turn to to some sort of new thinking. Such new thinking is that we should use gains and losses for North Korea. If they can show their interest in cooperation, then they will be encouraged; if not, they will be neglected.

So soft diplomacy is a way we can go if they can show their interest in cooperation and that they are getting serious about abandoning their nuclear weapons; if not, they will be neglected.The dilemma is that without soft diplomacy, the humanitarian dilemma in North Korea will get worse. This will also upset the international community. So how do we strike a balance between soft diplomacy and playing hardball? That's the challenge for the international community.

Ryan: Recently South Korean public opinion of China has deteriorated due in large part to China's response to the Cheon'an and Yeonpyeong incidents. This is a big turnaround from earlier last decade when tensions with the North were low, public support for the ROK-American alliance was faltering (especially among the young), and public attitudes towards China were generally positive. How concerned is China with its image in South Korea?

First of all, I feel sorry for the changed mood in South Korea towards China. Of course it's due to Beijing's indecision to openly criticise North Korea or condemn North Korea for torpedoing the Cheon'an and shelling Yeonpyeong. I don't think China's indecision turned out to be very credible or justified, but the problem is that the Chinese Government is very concerned that Beijing's favour towards South Korea might trigger an automatic military retaliation from the South against North Korea and this this clash might lead to a nuclear meltdown. That's exactly what Beijing doesn't want.

Andrew: What do you think of North Korea's relationship with Burma, which is purported to include the transfer of nuclear weapons technology and ballistic missile sales?

I think Burma used to be a very important weapon for North Korea. I think things have changed recently. The Burmese Government don't want to discredit themselves any longer; also, it seems that tightened international inspections of North Korean vessels which are suspected of carrying weapons have also tightened up so that's another reason why I think their relationship is not as strong as it used to be.

International inspections of North Korean vessels are also a very important way to cut of a cash channel for North Korea and prevent North Korea from using a lot of money or such cash in the innovation of WMD. It's very important. As long as the international isolation of North Korea continues, they will ultimately recognise the space for them to manoeuvre is shrinking very significantly. Personally, I really hope such hardball policies could bring about a political push for a North Korean rethinking of its nuclear strategy.

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