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(EDITORIAL from the Korea Times on Feb. 29)

All News 07:19 February 29, 2016

Peace treaty talks
China's proposal worth conditional exploration

China has been promoting "simultaneous" talks for denuclearizing North Korea and a peace treaty to replace the 63-year armistice agreed after the 1950-53 Korean War. Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a proposal to his U.S. counterpart John Kerry during their recent Washington, D.C. meeting to iron out a draft penalty United Nations resolution against the North for conducting another nuclear test and a rocket launch, and went on to open it to the public in a speech at a think tank.

Wang's proposal falls midway between the stances of the United States and the North. The U.S. wants the North to give up its nuclear arms before any talks begin, while Pyongyang insists that any peace talks should precede those for denuclearization. As a matter of fact, the North approached Washington before the Jan. 6 blast of what it claims was an H-bomb. The U.S. rejected the approach.

The U.S. does not take Pyongyang's peace regime overture seriously because this has been used time and again as a ploy to nudge U.S. troops out of the South, according to its unification strategy, providing it with another chance to take over the South. To the U.S., agreeing to this could mean its departure from a strategic point in Asia to counter China's rise. Such a thought must have crossed the minds of U.S. and Chinese strategists.

Despite the stigmas, past and present, attached to Wang's suggestion, it is worth exploring for two reasons. And if conditions and terms are met, this could be an alternative to reduce tension in the region and provide relief from the constant fear of nuclear war. True, the risk is that it could give the North breathing room and, eventually, fuel the emergence of a new Pax Sinica.

Trumping this risk, of course, is the absence of an exit plan for the North, which is expected to face an existential challenge, if the latest proposed U.N. sanctions are approved. The draft of new sanctions, which the Security Council is reviewing, would cut off its exports significantly and put a stranglehold on its cash flows. Although the possibility of a North Korean implosion is often dismissed nowadays, it would be better to err on the side of caution and prepare for a way to bring a sense of control to any possible collapse through dialogue. Better, if the North is convinced to give up under the hardship brought by the sanctions, the peace talks could be converted to a process that rehabilitates the North and helps it live without nuclear weapons.

Right now, no channels of communication exist because the six-party talks aimed at disarming the North have been rendered lifeless.

The terms and conditions are even more important. First, there should be no tit-for-tat incentives between the peace talks and international sanctions that are imposed on the North to prevent Pyongyang from using the talks to dodge punitive measures. The North has duped the international community too many times. Second, including the South in the talks right from the preparatory stages should be guaranteed, considering that the North has claimed that Seoul is not a signatory to the armistice and thereby has no place in the negotiating table. This claim does not make sense because the South was a key warring party in the conflict and chose not to sign ― therefore any peace regime without Seoul's participation would be meaningless. Third, the U.S. and China should guarantee any peace treaty between the two Koreas so as not to preclude a continued U.S. presence on the Korean Peninsula.

For now, the odds are against a viable peace treaty, and we back a cautious exploration not out of desperation but for an ardent wish to give peace another try.

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