Park calls for 5-party talks to disarm N. Korea

South Korean President Park Geun Hye
South Korean President Park Geun Hye

Proposed dialogue will include all members of previous 6-party talks except Pyongyang

South Korean President Park Geun Hye has called for five-party talks aimed at ridding North Korea of nuclear weapons that would include Washington and Beijing but not Pyongyang.

In a meeting at the presidential office yesterday, she also urged officials to focus their diplomatic efforts on pushing for strong United Nations sanctions against North Korea as punishment for conducting its fourth and latest nuclear test early this month.

Ms Park added that it is necessary to find "varied and creative approaches" to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions. This could include Seoul holding talks with Washington, Beijing, Moscow and Tokyo. These five cities were earlier involved in six-party talks that included Pyongyang, but the negotiations have stalled since 2008 when relations with the North soured.

Ms Park said that the six-party talks provided a useful framework for resolving North Korea's nuclear issues through dialogue, but if suspended for too long, its effectiveness will be called into question.

Speaking to the media separately after the meeting, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se expressed support for Ms Park's proposal and pledged to push for the five-party talks.

KEY ROLE

I expect China to take effective measures to make North Korea realise that it is futile to develop its nuclear programme.

SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT PARK GEUN HYE, on the part that China can play to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

He said it is too early to tell how the various countries would react, but if they do come together, it would send a "very real and strong message" to North Korea.

China, the main ally of North Korea and its economic lifeline, has called for the six-party talks to be resumed, insisting that dialogue is key to resolving the nuclear issue.

When asked about Ms Park's proposal, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei maintained that dialogue is the fundamental solution and "we hope all parties will adhere to the principles and spirit of the six-party talks declaration" that was made in 2005, two years after the six countries' nuclear envoys first gathered to discuss how to disarm North Korea.

Beijing's reluctance to do more to restrain its ally Pyongyang other than condemning its nuclear test has left Seoul disappointed, but it has not given up trying to exert diplomatic pressure on China.

Ms Park herself has emphasised that Chinese cooperation is key to squeezing North Korea to change course. "I expect China to take effective measures to make North Korea realise that it is futile to develop its nuclear programme," she said.

Some observers have criticised Ms Park's five-party talks proposal, however. Sejong Institute's senior researcher Cheong Seong Chang said it is far from being a "creative approach". Instead, he urged the South Korean government to consider developing its own nuclear capability "to topple North Korea's nuclear superiority over the South".

SIM University's East Asia specialist, Dr Lim Tai Wei, however, felt there is value in such talks "if the six minus one can agree on some common points for a united front" against North Korea.

He said that patience is needed to confirm if Pyongyang really detonated a hydrogen bomb. In the meantime, "all stakeholders are likely to want to opt for gradualism and pragmatism in using economic means and persuasion" when dealing with North Korea, he added.

Later this year, there are plans for Seoul, Washington and Tokyo to set up a new military network to share intelligence on Pyongyang's nuclear activities on a nearlyreal-time basis, said South Korea's Defence Ministry.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline 'Park calls for 5-party talks to disarm N. Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe