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October 2020
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Northeast Asia Peace Initiative

H.S. Jeong: Direction of Six-Party Talks

On February 13, 2007, in accordance with the agreement on the initial phase of actions for the implementation of the Joint Statement of September 19, 2005, the discussions on the matter of a peace and security system in Northeast Asia began in earnest.

These discussions are not restricted to the resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue but can also be seen as the result of an agreement to discuss problems related to peace and security in Northeast Asia.

Once we rid ourselves of the passive perception that peace is simply a state of the absence of war and instead recognize it as a structure wherein struggle and the primary elements of conflict have completely been eliminated on the fundamental level, and further, recognize security as a comprehensive concept covering the military, economics, the environment, and so on, the discussions about a system for peace and security in Northeast Asia will indeed be the expression of our resolve to form a new framework and relationships.

In this regard, we are inevitably reminded of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which had its inception in 1975 as the Helsinki Commission. In that initiative, the thirty-five nations of Europe–both East and West–came together during the Cold War to foster regional peace and cooperation. This is, even now, appraised as a most successful international system.

Members of the CSCE established political and military trust among themselves and thus prevented the outbreak of war. Moreover, they have strengthened mutual cooperation in the fields of economics, science, and technology, as well as achieved great improvements in matters of human rights.

In light of these historical facts, the example of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe is very valuable in instituting the direction for a peace and security system in Northeast Asia, and discussions about this have commenced. From this viewpoint, I would like to offer suggestions on the direction of the discussion about the peace and security system for Northeast Asia in the coming Six-Party Talks:

1. A comprehensive topic for discussion that embraces the interests of all participating nations should be instituted.

Northeast Asia as yet lacks the experience of multilateralism, since bilateral relationships still hold much weight in the region and the standards of mutual trust through negotiation and dialogue are still rather inadequate.

For this reason, adopting as the main subject for discussion a topic about which a certain nation is sensitive, or a pending problem that evokes struggle and confrontation between two participating parties, will only make multilateral cooperation that much more difficult to achieve.

Therefore, I believe it is more advisable to organize a general regional council to deal not only with the regulation of military preparations but also with issues such as regional cooperation involving politics, the military, the economy, science and technology, and human rights.

2. I suggest that a “consensus system” be implemented, so that if one nation is opposed to a certain topic, the opinion of that nation is respected and the decision not adopted.

Although all the issues on the table, including the problems of territory and environment, should be discussed, only those decisions made on issues agreed upon by all six parties should be made public and the participating nations be requested to comply with them.

Due to the lack of any substantial means by which those who violate the decisions can be forced to observe them, if a statement or resolution opposed by one nation is adopted, it would be almost as if there were no such decision to begin with.

3. The Republic of Korea should play a major role in the establishment of the system for peace, security, and cooperation in Northeast Asia.

The presumption that it will be impossible for the Republic of Korea to play such a role on account of the strain of its alliance with the US is erroneous. The Republic of Korea has already produced uniform results, since it has played a balancing role in the Six-Party Talks, and other concerned nations all recognize this capability of Korea.

Indeed, Korea has the capacity to bridge the mistrust among the superpowers of Northeast Asia, including the US, Japan, China, and Russia; it also has an advantageous position for taking the lead in establishing a peace and security system in Northeast Asia.

If the Six-Party Talks for peace, security, and cooperation in Northeast Asia are held according to the three broad frameworks I have suggested above, this council will continue to develop in a stable and solid fashion on the basis of its experience and capacity of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, which has been a most significant problem. It will then be able to deal not only with the issue of security but also with more diverse problems at hand, such as those related to economics, diplomacy, and the environment.

If the Six-Party Talks establish a system for peace, security, and cooperation in Northeast Asia, then a new framework and relationships of peace and reconciliation will be formed in Northeast Asia.

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