U.S.-China bilateral working group created to track sanctions

China and America reiterated their position that North Korea
cannot be recognized as a nuclear power at their Strategic and Economic
Dialogue which came to a close on June 7 in Beijing. In addition, a team of
experts will be created in order to survey the present condition of sanctions
targeting the regime. The two nations resolved to strengthen cooperation on the
matter.   

“Neither one of our nations will accept North Korea as a
nuclear weapons state,” American Secretary of State John Kerry said in the Beijing’s
Great Hall of People at a joint press conference marking the completion of the
strategic and economic Dialogue. “[…] I am grateful that our Chinese
counterparts agreed to have experts from each of our countries come together to
coordinate the full and effective implementation of sanctions going forward
from now, because this is a concerted effort that is necessary in order to
realize our shared goal of a stable and secure peninsula, also to realize the
goal of a North Korea that chooses the peaceful path of denuclearization.” 

Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi followed, stating, “On
the Korean nuclear issue, China reiterated its consistent position and
reaffirmed its commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,
upholding peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula, and peacefully resolving
the problems through dialogue and consultation.” 

Many observers assert the possibility is large that North
Korea will feel the pressure if China and the United States continue to
cooperate on resolving the nuclear issue, and if China continues to actively
impose sanctions. In particular, there is much hope that the formation of a
working group on the sanctions issue has major potential to improve
implementation.    

One proponent for the new collaborative body is Lee Gi Hyeon
of the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), who pointed out that
China and the United States are both “colliding and compromising on all sorts
of global issues,” but asserted that the possibility is high for the two to
compromise when it comes to the issue of sanctions on North Korea.

“The key indicator of that is the formation of a group of
experts to oversee the issue,” he explained, adding that the mere fact that
North Korea’s nuclear problem was mentioned in the Strategic and Economic
Dialogue is meaningful. Due to this type of consultation, the sanctions are in
effect and there is also agreement that a monitoring system should be put into
effect, which has garnered positive reviews.

However, it has also been pointed out that it is important
not to overestimate the Strategic and Economic Dialogue due to the fact that
implementing the sanctions on the ground is a very difficult task. One North
Korean expert said on condition of anonymity that appointing a group of experts
to track the sanctions is a major step forward, but the chance is large that
China will say that it will enforce the sanctions fully in principle, but then
will only actually do so up to a certain point.

“The two sides are in agreement that North Korea can not be
allowed to have nuclear weapons, but China is arguing that the issue should be
talked about in relation to a peace treaty, while America is strengthening its
resolve that north Korea be denuclearized. This shows us that there are
fundamental differences in the two countries’ policy positions. In such
circumstances, it will be difficult to independently implement a panel of
experts to survey the sanctions, “ senior researcher at the Korea Institute for
Defense Analyses (KIDA) Seo Joo Seok said, adding that these fundamental disagreements could equal difficulties in
assessing the effectiveness of the sanctions.

“Both groups will have respective state goals,” he said. “If
the goals of the two sides are not aligned, it will be difficult for the
experts to come to common conclusions on the working level.”

He pointed to the recent meeting between North Korea’s Ri Su
Yong and Chinese President Xi Jinping, wherein China-North Korean ties were
heavily emphasized. But, perhaps more importantly, he added that attention should also be
paid to the fact that Xi urged the importance of using negotiation to solve
problems at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. 

“This is China’s longstanding position on the topic of North
Korea’s denuclearization. Keeping this in mind, we should not simply focus on
China’s implementation of sanctions in trying to understand their approach to
the matter,” Seo pointed out.

Meanwhile, there are also concerns that a deep divide in
American and Chinese policy on the South China Sea issue will undercut the
North Korean denuclearization efforts.

“From the point of view of American and China, the South
China Sea issue will of course carry more weight than the North Korean issue. Even if there are collisions over positions relating to the South China Sea,
the two sides will continue to use cooperation on the North Korea problem,”
noted Lee Tai Hwan, director of the China Research Center at the Sejong
Institute.

“The positions of the two sides were again emphasized at the
dialogue. They signaled that if North Korea does not display a forward thinking
attitude about nuclear weapons, it would not be able to improve relations. There is a need for the South Korean government to use dialogue
with China and America to continue to emphasize the North Korean nuclear
initiative.”    

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