An expert on international relations, he discussed with Aljazeera.net how North Korea’s announcement that it detonated a nuclear bomb will impact the region and the likelihood of finding a solution to the crisis.
Aljazeera.net: What effects will Monday’s detonation have on the security of East Asia?
Shi Yinhong: It is very serious. First of all it greatly raises existing antagonism between North Korea and the United States. There is the possibility the US will now take a much more severe line in its actions and policies against North Korea.
The US is now pushing for sanction resolutions against North Korea, and the US and its allies – especially Japan – are trying to expand their individual sanctions into a collective United Nations sanction.
The current situation will also further encourage the Japanese nationalist movement to expand Japan’s armed forces and the mission function of those forces.
Although it is currently a minority opinion, North Korea’s actions will strengthen those who want to discuss the nuclear option in Japan. And this is also happening in South Korea. South Koreans may now even have to abandon the Sunshine Policy.
Now, China’s relations with North Korea have reached a point where there is severe tension between China and North Korea.
In the past China was able to encourage North Korea to act responsibly, but if relations continue to deteriorate then this might only contribute to North Korea’s parochial behaviour.
And with North Korea facing increased international isolation, not only from US and Japanese economic and financial sanctions but also from China and South Korea – who will also have to reduce their economic aid to the country – this will all increase the opportunity of malfunction or even a collapse of the regime.
How likely is this scenario of regional nuclear armament?
I don’t think South Korea or Japan can go nuclear in a short time. Pro-nuclear opinion in both countries will increase but over time.
Why has North Korea done this?
The primary cause is that over the past few months North Korean domestic policy has changed. After the US launched financial sanctions I think any moderate elements in their policy ended.
Extreme hardliners now have 100% control over policy making and they have enormous political determination to launch their missiles, test their bombs and direct their nuclear arms programme for the purpose of, in their eyes, having a decisive weapon to protect themselves.
Now they feel they have a stronger position to talk to international society and force the US to make substantial concessions to them, including abandoning financial sanctions and agreeing to bilateral talks.
By possessing nuclear weapons they can also show to their own people and army that they are strong and this can help solidify their domestic support.
China is supposed to be North Korea’s closest ally and yet asked Pyongyang repeatedly not to test nuclear weapons. What does Monday’s explosion say about the state of this relationship?
It is now at the lowest point in many years. Because China is now threatening economic sanctions the tension between the two countries will only develop in the future.
There is the possibility that our relations with North Korea will reverse.
What is the next step?
Because of North Korea’s very particular and difficult nature and also because of various strategic values that all concerned powers hold, the problem has become very difficult.
I don’t believe sanctions alone can solve the problem. I also don’t think the incentives and soft approach taken by China and South Korea in the past will solve the problem. I don’t see any assured way to solve the problem of achieving a denuclearised North Korea.
What UN sanctions will China agree to?
They will agree to sanctions that are not too severe and leave open the prospect of dialogue. They also want to avoid sanctions that might create a collapse. China will propose a limited sanctions resolution that takes a gradual, long-term approach.
Why does China not want North Korea to collapse?
Firstly, because millions of refugees would flow into China. Secondly, a collapse might mean China would have to send troops into North Korea and Sino-American strategic tension and suspicion would only increase. It would destabilise the whole peninsula.
China has a policy of non-inference in affairs of other countries but is it in Beijing’s interests to have the current North Korean government in place?
I think China’s policy of non interference in other countries internal affairs is correct but North Korea’s nuclear issue is another problem that belongs to another category. This is an international issue.
Under the 1961 of mutual co-operation and defence is China not duty bound to defend North Korea?
Legally, this treaty is still here, but the treaty itself stipulates that if North Korea is attacked by other countries then China will respond.
But now the situation is different. This is a provocative act taken by North Korea itself so this is not a situation where China would have to enact this treaty.
Is it possible to return to the six-party talks?
If we are realists and consider how severe the situation is now and especially if we consider North Korea demands that the US would have to end financial sanctions against them as a condition for returning to six party talks.
When we consider all these factors, I don’t think the resumption of the six-party talks in the near future is something we can expect to happen.