March - April 2005

P.O. Box 190, Mount Holly, Virginia 2252
Volume 35, Number 2, Jerry Strope, Editor

"It goes without saying that, to the degree that a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula gets more difficult to achieve, if the North does not recognize that it needs to [come back to talks], then of course we’ll have to look at other options."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, March 21, 2005

In This Issue:

A Fire In The East

Only two months after being confirmed in office, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice made a lightning visit to Asia where alarm bells were ringing. There have been street riots in China protesting a Japanese school book—a history book alleged to gloss over Japanese atrocities in China prior to and during World War II. Tokyo protested against broken windows in their Beijing embassy, thinking the whole thing would blow over. No way. By April, the Japanese prime minister was formally apologizing for the rape and pillage done by the Emperor’s armies.

Another, more serious rise in tension was between Taiwan and mainland China. On March 14, the Chinese parliament adopted a new law giving the leadership permission to use force to prevent Taiwan’s formal independence. The target of this legislation is Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian whose party favors formal indepen-dence. The Nationalists, the opposition party, favor eventual unification with the mainland. On March 20, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao assured Miss Rice that the anti-secession law was meant to constrain Chen’s independence-minded supporters and that "nonpeaceful means" were only "a last resort." "We hope the United States will understand, respect and support the Chinese legislative action," said Mr. Wen. Miss Rice used the issue to tell Europe it should not contribute to China’s military buildup by selling it weapons and arms technology. A European arms embargo has existed since the 1989 Tiananmen Square in-cident but the European Union has plans to lift the embargo. In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the new Chinese law had complicated efforts to lift the embargo. Indeed, the EU plan is still on hold at this time.

Before Secretary Rice left Seoul for Beijing, she told reporters, "There are concerns about the rise of Chinese military spending and potentially Chinese military power and its increasing sophistication. The United States will, of course, maintain and modernize its forces to make certain that the military balance can be maintained in the Asia-Pacific, so that the region can continue along a peaceful path."

These are policy words but the Bush administration must have been holding its breath. Can you imagine the crisis that would ensue if China had attacked Taiwan while the US had most of its army tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan? And China has a nuclear arsenal and many ballistic missiles capable of hitting the US mainland.

Fortunately, a surprise development followed that appears to have resolved the crisis for the time being. In midApril, Lien Chan, the Taiwanese opposition leader, announced that he was going to visit the mainland on a mission of peace. He began an 8-day visit on April 26, the highest level Taiwanese to do so since 1949. Lien has been welcomed with open arms. He met with President Hu Jintao on April 29, capping a recon-ciliation between Taiwan’s Nationalists and China’s communists, the two sides that fought a civil war that the Nationalists lost in 1949.

In March, however, Condoleezza Rice found herself in a touchy situation. She flew to Beijing the morning of March 20, met with Prime Minister Wen that afternoon with the consequences above, then met the next morning with President Hu. Most of that meeting was spent talking about North Korea and how it could be persuaded to return to six-party talks on its nuclear weapons program. President Hu told Miss Rice that the Bush administration must show more "flexibility" in dealing with the North. Rice has been using words such as "respect" and "sovereign state" re-garding North Korea to tone down the rhetoric but this is not likely to be enough. After all, Kim Jong Il told the Chinese last year that he doubted the US would give him a security guarantee even if he gave up his nuclear programs. While it is as unlikely that the US would attack North Korea as it is that China would attack Taiwan, is it likely that a denuclearized North Korea led by Kim would be removed from the "Axis of Evil?"

Secretary Rice had the strange task of urging Europe not to sell arms to China on one day and urging China to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table on the next day. Her basic message to the Chinese is this issue’s "quotable quote." She left Beijing with a promise that the Chinese would send a new envoy to Pyongyang within two months in a last-ditch effort to revive the six-party talks.

In early April, snooping devices gave an indication that the 5-megawatt nuclear reactor at North Korea’s nuclear weapons site had shut down. The New York Times reported that the White House was concerned North Korea was planning to "harvest a new load of nuclear fuel, potentially increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal." Other explanations for the shutdown include maintenance and diplomatic bluff. "You can’t reach any definitive determination yet," said David Albright, a former weapons inspector. He noted it was uncertain how many weapons the North could produce if it removed the fuel rods, which have been in the reactor for a little over two years, assuming the North had mastered the complex art of reprocessing fuel rods to yield plutonium. This assumption calls into question whether the North actually has any nuclear weapons at all.

According to the Times, an Asian diplomat deeply involved in the talks said this weekend that "there seems to have been a decision made by the North Koreans that they are going to plunge ahead and hope that everyone comes to the conclusion that they,ve made so many weapons now that it’s too late to reverse things." As if the North Koreans had read the Times article, spy satellites indicated activity at the site where the North is likely to detonate a test weapon. Preparations for a nuclear test were duly reported. On April 30, the North fired a test missile some 60 miles into the Sea of Japan. No nuclear test as yet.