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Experts debate growing reality of having to keep North Korea stable

Experts debate growing reality of having to keep North Korea stable

How should the United States and North Korea's neighbors deal with the reclusive nuclear-armed Communist nation? Seven experts agreed maintaining stability in the region is essential _ and one predicted the demise of Kim Jong Il's regime in 15 years at most.
But the experts from the U.S., South Korea, China, Japan, Southeast Asia and Europe had different ideas on what should be done to try to induce North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. There was broad support against any attempt to topple Kim's reclusive communist government, though not everyone showed their hand.
The experts discussed North Korea's recent nuclear test and its weapons program at a World Economic Forum dinner Thursday night amid indications that six-party talks aimed at persuading Pyongyang to dismantle its atomic weapons program are likely to resume in Beijing in early February.
Yao Yunzhu, a senior colonel in China's People's Liberation Army, said a nuclear-armed North Korea could spark military conflict _ but she stressed that Beijing opposes military action and harsh sanctions against the North.
"We don't want the regime to collapse and people to suffer," said Yao, who directs the Asia-Pacific Office at the Academy of Military Science in Beijing.
China is "very worried" that a collapse could send North Korean refugees flooding into its territory, and it is also worried about reports of a North Korean nuclear facility near the Chinese border, she said.
Yao added that "Chinese people know if you want people to change" that it must come from the inside and not from outside.
Yuriko Koike, a special adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said the soft approach so far hasn't worked.
"We have offered lots of carrots, and the carrots were used to develop nuclear weapons and missiles," she said.
Koike said almost 20 million North Koreans are in agony and starving and lifting sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council in October "will prolong the agony of those citizens."
"You're just allowing the DPRK more time to develop more weapons," she said, using the initials of the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"We have to be rational," Koike said. "At the same time we have to be careful."
Pei Minxin, head of the China program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, agreed that carrots including food aid, energy supplies and the prospect of peaceful nuclear power hadn't worked.
"We've been feeding them lots of carrots but there's no behavior improvement," he said.
Pei said the best policy is to contain the current regime and "see them out."
"North Korea's demise is a given," he said.
Kim "is 65. He's not in great health. He's overweight. He has no heir in his family, and the record of history shows that that kind of regime has an impossible task picking an heir outside the family. He's not going to live beyond 80," Pei said.
Geun Lee, an international relations professor at Seoul National University, said "if there is going to be a very gradual regime change without producing disastrous consequences, I would support it. But that is very unpredictable."
He disagreed that Western powers had given the North too much.
"So far you see very clear, meaningful and credible sticks coming from the U.S., but you haven't seen very clear, credible and meaningful carrots coming from the U.S," Geun said. "I think that's really the negotiating process."
He said President George W. Bush should return to the less-muscular approach of his predecessor, Bill Clinton.
"The American government should prepare very clear roadmaps, timetables, containing stage-by-stage gifts," Geun said, suggesting the gifts include lifting economic sanctions, normalizing relations, and giving the North security guarantees.
Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, said a solution is feasible but also said Washington needs to change its approach.
"Unfortunately, the United States' policies on North Korea have vassilated between regime change, policy change, regime change, policy change," said Mahbubani, a former U.N. ambassador. "And unless there's some consistency we'll never get a solution."
Alyson Bailes, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden, warned that the collapse of North Korea could be "a disaster for everybody else, not just North Korea itself."
"There's no guarantee that the South can smoothly field it," she said. "It's much better to live with the devil you know than with the chaos that you don't know."
"So patience and containment _ the hardest things for the U.S. to do _ are, I think, the natural thing for everybody else in the region to do, and probably the best of the bad solutions that we can get in the near future," Bailes said.


Updated : 2021-07-31 18:30 GMT+08:00