Monday, February 05, 2007

Experts Debate North Korea's Future

With North Korean nuclear disarmament talks likely to resume, the question of how to induce the country to abandon such weapons dominated a dinner discussion at the World Economic Forum. Several experts had different ideas on what should be done, and most were opposed to any attempt to topple Kim's reclusive communist regime, saying that could destabilize the region.

Yao Yunzhu, a senior colonel in China's People's Liberation Army, who directs the Asia-Pacific Office at the Academy of Military Science in Beijing: "China is 'very worried' a collapse could send North Korean refugees pouring into Chinese territory", she said, adding that change must come from the inside.

Yuriko Koike, a special adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: "We have offered lots of carrots, and the carrots were used to develop nuclear weapons and missiles," she said. Koike said almost 20 million North Koreans are in agony and starving and lifting U.N. sanctions "will prolong the agony of those citizens."

Pei Minxin, head of the China program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said the best policy is to contain the current regime and see them out. "North Korea's demise is a given,' he said, noting that Kim is 65 and his health is not the best. "He's overweight. He has no heir in his family, and the record of history shows that that kind of regime has an impossible task picking an heir outside the family."

Geun Lee, an international relations professor at Seoul National University, said he would support gradual regime change. He disagreed that Western powers had given the North too much. "So far you see very clear, meaningful and credible sticks coming from the U.S., but you haven't seen very clear, credible and meaningful carrots coming from the U.S," Geun said. He said President Bush should return to the less-muscular approach of his predecessor, Bill Clinton, and offer incentives such as normalizing relations and giving the North security guarantees.

Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, criticized Washington as fickle. "Unfortunately, the United States' policies on North Korea have vacillated between regime change, policy change, regime change, policy change," said Mahbubani, a former U.N. ambassador. "And unless there's some consistency we'll never get a solution."

Alyson Bailes, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden, warned the collapse of North Korea could be a disaster for the entire region. "It's much better to live with the devil you know than with the chaos that you don't know," she said. "So patience and containment - the hardest things for the U.S. to do - are, I think, the natural thing for everybody else in the region to do, and probably the best of the bad solutions that we can get in the near future."

[Excerpt of an article by Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press]

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