Home GRASP GRASP/Korea Revisiting China’s Proposal For Parallel Talks With North Korea

Revisiting China’s Proposal For Parallel Talks With North Korea


Exhausting diplomatic options provides greater leverage and legitimacy to take tougher measures in the future.
When President Donald Trump hosts Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago estate on April 6-7, he will have the opportunity to set the direction and tenor of not only the bilateral relationship but also the Asia-Pacific region for the next several years. Among the tough security and economic issues on the agenda, the one that may require the most immediate “meeting of the minds” is North Korea, which former President Barack Obama warned would be the “ most urgent problem ” that Trump would face.
Divergent regional views on North Korea policy portend a turbulent scenario in the months ahead. Recent reports indicate that the Trump administration will likely rely on the previous administration’s policy of isolating and pressuring North Korea and pressing China to do more to curb the regime’s behavior. This path will likely conflict – if polling stays consistent – with a new South Korean president who wants to pursue greater engagement with Pyongyang and defuse tensions with China, particularly with regard to the scheduled deployment of a U. S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in Seongju. For its part, Beijing has repeatedly implored Washington to talk to Pyongyang, casting itself as a signalman focused on preventing a head-on collision between two “accelerating trains” – but has also taken retaliatory actions against Seoul due to THAAD and only half-hearted measures to undermine North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
To avoid the impending calamity, the Trump administration should consider endorsing an idea that Beijing has offered in the past and that new leadership in Seoul can get behind: a parallel track dialogue on denuclearization and a peace treaty to replace the Armistice Agreement. This move could potentially kill multiple birds with one stone.
First, it unequivocally reaffirms the longstanding U. S. commitment to the goal of North Korean denuclearization as well as the goal of a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, as intended under Article IV of the Armistice Agreement. In addition, by putting the peace treaty on a parallel track with denuclearization instead of deferring it to the tail end of negotiations, which was the case during the Six Party Talks , the United States would be offering what North Korea purportedly wants most – and quicker and more tangibly than we ever have in the past.
Another benefit of going on the record in support of parallel talks would be to avert the consistent — but inaccurate, as some have noted — criticism that plagued the previous administration about Washington being a negligent or persnickety interlocutor. Trump would likely garner some blowback from the Republican and hardline side, but no one in recent years is better positioned to succeed in the peninsular version of “Nixon goes to China.” The public signal could even come in the form of a tweet (“Willing to talk denuclearization and peace treaty at the same time with North Korea. Not a bad deal! #artofthedeal”).
Endorsing parallel talks also doesn’t require the international community to provide any immediate, large-scale relief of sanctions on North Korea.

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