Chinese vice premier meets North Korean leader | Asia Pacific

Chinese vice premier meets North Korean leader

Chinese vice premier meets North Korean leader

Updated 29 February 2012, 12:00 AEDT

China's Vice Premier Li Keqiang has met North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, amid hopes of restarting six-nation talks on Pyongyang's nuclear disarmament.

North Korean and US negotiators have just held a second round of direct talks in Geneva.

Meanwhile, the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta is in Japan.

Secretary Panetta reiterated US security commitment to Asia, citing what he described as North Korea's "recklessness" and China's military assertiveness.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Dr Denny Roy, Asia-Pacific security specialist and senior fellow at the East West Centre in Hawaii

ROY: Probably but what we have to keep in mind here is what happens if and when the six-party talks actually do restart. It's far from clear that the talks have been successful. First of all North Korea on the one hand and the United States and South Korea on the other hand want to talk about different things and different goals, and they specifically don't want to talk about what the other side wants to talk about. Secondly there's the problem of even if agreement could be reached with North Korea, the possibility that the North Koreans might cheat in the future and we'd be right back where we started from, but with North Korea further advanced in its missile nuclear programs than before.

LAM: And indeed it would seem that many observers don't expect the talks to lead to anything given North Korea's brinkmanship in the past, and as you say they seem to be talking at cross purposes, because each side wants different things?

ROY: Well many observers including myself don't expect that the talks would yield the result that the United States and South Korea, other countries probably including Australia want, which is an agreement by the North Koreans to in effect trade their nuclear weapons program for greater citizenship in and access to the international community. Every indication we've had is that the North Koreans feel they need a nuclear program and have indeed staked a lot of the legitimacy and the status of the current government on the perceived success of bringing about that nuclear program.

LAM: And Denny Roy, China's Vice Premier Li Kejiang has met with his North Korean counterpart, what's Beijing's interest here do you think?

ROY: Beijing's fundamental interest is to persuade the North Koreans to follow the Chinese model, that is to create greater conditions suitable for marketisation within their economy, to revitalise their economy, to become more of an economic partner to China that can pull its own weight, it can be productive, and also to reduce the tensions between North Korea and other countries that cause problems for China in China's immediate backyard. Secondarily of course the Chinese would like the North Koreans to return to the six-party talks, after all China's been the host and the shepherd for the six-party talks and has some international prestige invested in their success. But many, many Chinese visits over the past several years have not brought about dramatic reversals in North Korean policy.

LAM: And do you think Li Kejiang's visit might also be a concerted effort by China's new generation leaders to introduce themselves to the Pyongyang regime?

ROY: This is probably part of the process. It's not clear however that even the leaders having long association with each other and a familiarity with each other leads again to policy reversals in North Korea, which is the outcome we really want to see.

LAM: And of course the US Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta is in the region. It's his first trip to Asia as US Defence Secretary. What do you think would be uppermost on his mind in terms of geo-strategic considerations where North Asia is concerned?

ROY: Well the main theme of his visit seems to be reassuring the region that the United States intends to stay the course as a major strategic player in the region, sort of answering the concerns from the region based on two things; the rise of China and the perception that the United States can no longer afford to have very expansive foreign policy as it could in the past.

LAM: Yes as you say Asia allies do worry about US commitments in the region, do you think the US will be able to maintain a strong posture in the Pacific despite domestic economic problems?

ROY: It's hard to predict how deep this current economic crisis will affect the United States in the short term and long term. But most likely the United States will recover to some degree if not completely, and I'm confident the United States will continue to play the traditional role in the region because the rise of China is a very important strategic development from the US point of view. Furthermore the drawdown of some of the US presence in the Middle East, and the counter-terrorism issue perhaps passing from being the number one security interest of the United States to maybe allowing more traditional security concerns to rise to the top of the list, requires the United States to pay more attention to a potential strategic rival such as China. I also believe even with the cuts that the United States Department of Defence is contemplating over the next decade, it will be possible to maintain roughly their current capability.


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