September in Washington: Diplomacy Month

Last September, Washington, D.C. observed its historic month of diplomacy. Pope Francis, although a religious figure, delivered a speech regarding the fight against poverty and climate change — all international and political issues — during his first visit to the U.S., where he addressed the joint session of Congress and the U.N. The U.S.–China summit on Sept. 25, when President Obama received China’s General Secretary Xi Jinping, was without a doubt the single largest diplomatic event in this latter half of 2015. The [distinct] pressure and attention given this visit can be attributed to the fact that this visit was Secretary Xi’s second after he assumed office in March 2013.

The international matters of dispute that distressed many [national] embassies throughout September were rehashed during the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 28. Followed by Secretary Xi’s debut at the General Assembly, President Vladimir Putin of Russia also showed himself on the stage of the U.N. for the first time in a decade. The matters that were discussed that day ranged widely: from the Syrian civil war to U.N. peacekeeping forces and general co-developments [among countries] to climate change. For Seoul, a theater to bring up the case of North Korean nuclear armament has just opened up. President Park Geun Hye, despite planning to visit the U.S. for the upcoming U.S.-Korea summit talk on Oct. 16, personally attended the assembly from Sept. 25 to 28. Already having been warned of North Korea’s long-range missile test, which is planned for the upcoming celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Worker’s Party of Korea on Oct. 10, the international community would have benefited from a united voice for it would serve as an effective deterrence to North Korea’s provocations.

During the U.S.-Japan-Korea diplomatic summit talk on Sept. 29, warnings of considerable sanctions had already been conveyed to North Korea in response to its provocations. In addition, MIKTA, an association of the five major middle powers (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia) released a joint press statement, urging North Korea to return to the nuclear talks with sincere willingness to participate in them.

Throughout the various diplomatic events, from the China-South Korea summit to the U.S.-China summit, and to President Park’s address to the U.N. General Assembly, the message to North Korea is crystal clear: North Korea must adhere to the U.N. Security Council’s resolution; failing that, consequences such as additional sanctions will follow. Secretary Xi even went further during his joint press conference with President Obama. Instead of repeating China’s stance from Korea-China security talks that called for immediate resumption of six-party talks*, he took a hard line stance to North Korea by declaring that “North Korea must faithfully adhere to the U.N. Security Council’s resolutions.”**

The previous rhetoric of the China-South Korea summit in Beijing, which called for “resolving the Korean peninsula’s nuclear issue via talks and negotiations,” changed to the following sterner stance: “We believe that the Sept. 19 joint statement of the six-party talks and relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions should be implemented in full, and all relevant parties should work together to firmly advance the denuclearization process of the Korean Peninsula, and maintain peace and stability so as to achieve enduring peace and stability in Northeast Asia.”

The popular interpretation of this statement is that China, the only remaining ally of North Korea, is finally turning its back on [the nation]. As the September season of diplomacy has summed up, the ball is now in North Korea’s court. Yet it still behaves like a stubborn child. On Sept. 27, via [the media station] Pyongyang Broadcast, North Korea released a statement claiming its “research efforts in the space sciences field, along with the construction, launching and management over our application satellites is our sovereign right as a sovereign state.” It further hints that [the country] will go ahead with its missile launches. Furthermore, North Korea made clear its intent on co-development of its nuclear capabilities and the economy by stating, “our nuclear capability is our response to America’s hostile policies and nuclear threats to (North) Korea.” On Sept. 29, it even warned that reunions of dispersed families could be jeopardized as a result.

If North Korea keeps to its words and continues with provocations, the ball will be in China’s court. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council with veto power, China will be deciding whether further sanctions will be imposed and how much more severe they will be. The international community’s expectation is big this time. Secretary Xi made lots of promises throughout September. The point when China has to make a choice between being a “responsible counterpart” — as Secretary Xi promised during the General Assembly — or North Korea’s ally is coming soon. The October situation of the Korean Peninsula is primarily North Korea’s play to perform, but ultimately, China will be the one who will direct it. And Seoul, Washington and Tokyo are anxious to see how the performances will be carried out.

* Editor’s note: The six-party talks are a series of multilateral negotiations held intermittently since 2003 and attended by China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the United States for the purpose of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program.

** Editor’s note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.

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