China does not believe that North Korean denuclearization is achievable in the short term, despite sharing the same goal with the U.S. to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons, according to a new report circulating in Washington on Beijing’s role in negotiations with Pyongyang.
Despite ongoing U.S.-China trade tensions, the report published this week by the United States Institute of Peace urged the White House not to lose sight of China as a “vital player in efforts to denuclearize North Korea” and called on the administration to work more closely with Beijing on an overall strategy.
The report asserted that China “must be encouraged to play a constructive role,” but also suggested the Trump administration soften its “all or nothing” posture toward negotiations with North Korea and consider embracing a “phased and synchronous process” of nuclear diplomacy that both Pyongyang and Beijing want.
“Given the high level of distrust between the United States and North Korea, Pyongyang is unlikely to agree to an all-or-nothing approach that requires its immediate and complete denuclearization in return for full sanctions relief and other diplomatic concessions,” the report argued.
“The United States should instead pursue negotiations based on a step-by-step, parallel-track process that can build the trust necessary for reciprocal measures toward denuclearization and a peace regime,” it said. “This approach is the most practical way to achieve progress toward U.S. national security objectives.”
Many analysts believe the administration is unlikely to embrace such an approach because of wariness among U.S. officials over being played by the North Koreans — and because of the outcome of the recent second summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam.
The late-February summit was abruptly cut short after the two sides failed to strike a far-reaching deal to end North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Mr. Trump said he had to walk away because the North Koreans demanded sweeping sanctions relief in exchange for only a limited commitment to destroy part of their nuclear arsenal — a characterization Pyongyang later challenged.
The currently stalled negotiations come after a period of historic nuclear diplomacy strides between the two sides — strides that came after escalated administration rhetoric against North Korea in response to accelerated intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear bomb tests that Pyongyang has carried out in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The U.S. Institute of Peace report argued the administration should now be open to working with China — North Korea’s closest ally and by far its biggest trading partner — both to keep pressure on Pyongyang, but also to prevent the stalled negotiations from totally melting down.
The report advised not only the administration, but also lawmakers to avoid connecting other policy matters, specifically U.S. trade tensions with China, to the ongoing discussions with North Korea, and called on the U.S. to urge Beijing to enforce international sanctions currently imposed on North Korea.
Should future negotiations remain stalled, the report said, “Washington should work with Beijing to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.”
“It is important for China to believe that North Korea, not the United States, is primarily responsible for the impasse,” it said.
North Korea diplomacy is expected to loom large in the backdrop later this month, when Mr. Trump is slated to visit Japan for a ceremony marking the changing of the emperor. The president is also tentatively scheduled to attend the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, next month.
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