China brings shift on nukes to Korea talks
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Other factors involved in China's new "arms control" focus have to do with the atmosphere created by Libya's renunciation of a nuclear threat, the US invasion of Iraq following UN weapons inspections, and the revelations in Pakistan of a network of nuclear exports by Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of the Pakistani bomb. Some Chinese strategists worry about nuclear terrorism, with the potential of an Al Qaeda-like cell showing up, for example, in the far west Xinjiang region.Skip to next paragraph
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A fundamental shift by China means the Kim Jong Il regime may not in the long run count on protection from Beijing, its historic ally. This week's six-party talks, the third time China has hosted a multilateral forum since April, will be comprised of the US, Russia, North and South Korea, China, and Japan. The talks were grudgingly agreed to by China last spring after the US refused to meet one-on-one with North Korea amid a crisis that included the eviction of UN monitors from a North Korean nuclear reactor site, and the potential reprocessing of weapons-grade plutonium fuel rods.
Tensions started in the fall of 2002 after US envoy James Kelly presented evidence in Pyongyang of a secret enriched uranium program and North Korea admitted to it, according to Kelly and two US officials present.
US officials Monday indicated that a signal of progress this week would be an admission by North Korea to having an enriched uranium program. Japan's Kyodo news service Monday reported that North Korea may agree this week to a complete dismantling of its weapons of mass destruction programs. US officials are skeptical, however.
One palpable indicator of a change in China's policy came last week after the visit here of John Bolton, US undersecretary of State for arms control and a leading Bush team hawk. Mr. Bolton, known to advocate "regime change," is deeply disliked in Pyongyang. Last summer he made headlines with a speech in Seoul that described the state of North Korea as a "hellish nightmare" for its system of concentration camps and lack of food and care for ordinary people.
In Beijing, Bolton emerged from meetings in an upbeat comport, describing a "commitment at the top levels of the Chinese government to prevent the spread" of nuclear weapons.
"Bolton left Beijing with kind words, if you can believe that," argues a specialist at a Pentagon-funded think tank in the US. "At least for now, the Chinese are saying the kind of things he wants to hear."
One high-level source here close to the Foreign Ministry was asked if leaders like President Hu Jintao, influential Standing Committee member Zheng Qinhong, and six-party talks negotiator Wang Yi agreed with a nonproliferation doctrine. "These leaders are moving in that direction. At a minimum," he responded.
On Feb. 12, the Chinese ambassador to the disarmament conference in Geneva stated that China was committed to battling proliferation, and he referenced a Dec. 3, 2003 white paper that offers precise details of China's treaties restricting exports on nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.
"Nonproliferation is the goal, especially for the new generation of leaders like Hu Jintao," says Zhang Lian Gui of the Communist Central Party School in Beijing. "For China to try and create this image is a necessity. Nonproliferation is something not avoidable for China in this time."