October 14th 2006

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: COMMONWEALTH-STATE RELATIONS: Will Howard override WA on natural gas?

EDITORIAL: Bushfires: an ounce of prevention

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Behind the move to lift cloning ban

INTERNATIONAL TRADE: Farmers protests over free trade in Cairns

TRADE POLICY: Why WTO trade talks failed

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The decline of Labor, the fate of Smith Street, Blair's departure and the Regensburg Address

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: T3 sell-off will not end Telstra's woes

HOUSING: Urban planning is destroying the great Australian dream

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: North Korea's nuclear ambitions: is China really powerless?

ANTI-LIFE CAMPAIGN: The selective indignation of Senator Stott Despoja

OPINION: The case for optional preferential voting

BIOTECHNOLOGY: The ascent of Mount Improbable

The debt trap (letter)

The Pope and Islam (letter)

The Ice epidemic (letter)

BOOKS: LONDONISTAN: How Britain is Creating a Terror State Within, by Melanie Phillips

BOOKS: SCOURGE AND FIRE: Savonarola and Renaissance Italy, by Lauro Martines

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North Korea's nuclear ambitions: is China really powerless?

by Sharif Shuja

News Weekly, October 14, 2006
The efforts by North Korea (DPRK) to develop nuclear weapons is a source of global concern, and the North deepened the standoff when it test-fired seven missiles on July 5.

When North Korea's launch preparations were seen by satellite, the whole world pleaded with Pyongyang not to break the missile flight test moratorium it had observed since 1999. Restraint would be rewarded with aid and benefits, at least from South Korea. But to no avail. North Korea went ahead with the missile launches anyway.

Appeasement did not work, but neither did threats. Former Clinton era defence officials William Perry and Ashton Carter suggested a pre-emptive strike by cruise missiles to destroy the North's long-range Taepodong missile on its launch pad.

If this suggestion was meant to cow North Korea, it did not work. Instead, Pyongyang justified its actions by accusing the US of planning to attack.

Right now Tokyo tends to believe that the DPRK's ongoing nuclear-weapons program and ballistic missiles agenda threatens Japan's security. Japan is protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

Yet, from Tokyo's standpoint, the DPRK's perceived military moves, while aiming to prove a point to the US, pose urgent challenges to Japan. In this context, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said in Tokyo on July 10, that his country should now explore avenues of missile deterrence (Frontline, July 15-28, 2006).

While Japan will obviously count on the US as the technological partner for any such venture, and while Tokyo's planned moves must be harmonised with the Japanese Constitution, Koizumi's pledge is, indeed, an altogether new dynamic in the East Asian security theatre.

Closest ally

Among all of North Korea's East Asian neighbours, including Russia as a Eurasian power, China is widely seen to be Pyongyang's closest interlocutor, which could even influence the thinking of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il. China can exert great leverage on North Korea if it chooses.

In recent days President George W. Bush, referring to North Korean negotiations, has praised China as "a good partner to have at the table with us". Mr Bush also cited his "good friendship" with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and praised Mr Putin for his "helpful role" in diplomacy. The same day it was revealed that the Russian government forced Russian radio stations to stop broadcasting news from the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

While one may find it difficult to believe China and Russia to be good US partners, Tony Blankley's editorial comments in The Washington Times (July 12, 2006), titled "Russia and China reconsidered" might provide an answer:

"It is true that often diplomacy requires a statesman to insincerely publicly express friendship with nations that are well understood not to be friends. Such public diplomatic utterances become of concern only if they betoken an actual assessment of the nations' relationships.

"In the cases of China and Russia there is evidence that our government still sees them as partners in a dangerous world.

"We should all wish that they were partners - or could be in the future. I am not in the camp that sees either of those great powers as inevitable enemies. And we should constantly direct our foreign policy toward gaining as amicable relations as possible with each of them.

"But it is becoming increasingly suggestive that currently it would be a miscalculation to premise our actions on the assumption that either Russia or China view themselves as our partners in any meaningful use of that word ... the conclusion must be accepted that China is not our good partner to have at the table."

While China told us before the missile launches that they were pressing North Korea not to launch, North Korea's non-compliance would suggest that China did not really insist. The question now is whether China will convince North Korea for a return to six-party talks.

China has been both the initiator and the host of the six-party talks.

- Sharif Shuja
(Sharif Shuja teaches International Relations at Victoria University and is an Honorary Research Fellow in the Global Terror Research Unit at Monash University, Victoria.)

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