Hope rises for outbreak of peace on Korean Peninsula
This year will be critical for the Korean Peninsula. All countries engaged in the Six-Party Talks have seen leadership transitions in the last year or so, and therefore they may change their policies on the Korean issue in accordance with the changing international situation.
China, however, has not changed its policy after the election of Xi Jinping as the country's top political leader and head of the military at the 18th Party Congress last year. This means "to achieve the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, peacefully resolve North Korea's nuclear issue through dialogue, and maintain peace and stability on the Peninsula" will continue to be at the core of China's policy.
China and South Korea are willing to strengthen communication on the issue. This week, South Korea sent a special delegation to China in an effort to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. Two weeks ago, South Korean president-elect Park Geun-hye met with the Chinese government's special envoy and Vice-Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun, who conveyed to her greetings from President Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping.
Park's policy is to take a hardline stance against North Korea's nuclear issue while promoting inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation. One of Park's election campaign pledges was to stabilise relations with Pyongyang through a "Korean Peninsula trust process", which will help create an environment for dialogue and also prompt North Korea to make meaningful changes in its policies.
For sure, non-political exchanges and humanitarian aid can enhance "low-level" trust. Park has hinted that South Korea will implement a large-scale assistance programme to build a Peninsula economic community according to the progress of the denuclearisation process and restoration of inter-Korean ties. After that, Seoul will suggest holding summits, high-level talks and political and military as well as non-political dialogue. This means the Korean Peninsula trust process is at the core of the Park government's North Korea policy.
Park has also reached out to China, the US and Japan, which is vital for the peaceful resolution of the Peninsula issue.
US President Barack Obama has nominated Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who has always advocated the need for dialogue with North Korea, to succeed Hillary Clinton as the secretary of state. This raises hope that Washington's North Korea policy will change from active intervention to positive engagement. The US has to abandon its "hostile policy" toward North Korea, and relations among relevant countries have to improve for the Peninsula issue to be resolved peacefully.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has also sent out some positive signals this year. During his New Year's speech, the first in 19 years by a North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un emphasised the importance of improving the state's economy and raising people's living standards, which showed the new leadership's commitment to reform.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement, and North Korea will seek to normalise relations with the US during Obama's second term and turn the armistice agreement into a peace agreement as soon as possible.
Perhaps former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson's and Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt's visit to North Korea prompted Pyongyang to shift its position. The North Korean government now reportedly allows foreign tourists to carry their cell phones when they enter the country, and buy SIM cards for the local network.
In his New Year's address, Kim Jong-un called for better ties with South Korea, and warned that history has shown that continued confrontation would lead to "nothing but war". This sign of reconcilliation by the North is a welcome development. In short, 2013 offers a historic opportunity for the Peninsula to move toward normalcy.
Some new challenges, however, have cropped up. North Korea launched a satellite in December, violating the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, which is still discussing the issue. The US, Japan and South Korea insist on imposing tougher sanctions on the North, and China has been baselessly accused of "conniving" with and "protecting" North Korea. North Korea is an independent state with independent foreign and military policies, and China has never taken sides in the Peninsula issue.
The fact, however, remains that despite having the right to decide its policies, North Korea should refrain from taking actions that could threaten regional peace and security. And relevant countries should know that imposing too severe sanctions on the North could drive it toward conducting another nuclear test.
Under Kim Jong-un, North Korea has been changing in some aspects. So instead of pushing it into a corner, the international community should give it more time and space to change its policies.
Besides, the UN Security Council's new resolution should create an opportunity for peaceful dialogue on the Korean Peninsula, rather than aggravating the issue. Reconcilliation will benefit both sides on the Peninsula, while confrontation will do no country any good.
It is hoped that both Koreas and the other countries engaged in the Six-Party Talks will proceed to resolve the issue by keeping in mind the overall peace and stability of Northeast Asia and the world as a whole. It is also hoped that they will sincerely follow the consensus reached in the 9.19 Joint Statement (signed by all the countries to the Six-Party Talks in 2005), help denuclearise the Peninsula, normalise mutual relations and maintain peace and security in Northeast Asia. Only in this way can the problem be turned into an opportunity in 2013.
Wang Sheng is a professor of international studies at Jilin University.