North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is reportedly scheduled to visit China for a visit that would likely include China urging a return to the Six Party Talks on denuclearization, which have been at a standstill since last December when Special U.S. Representative for North Korean Policy Stephen W. Bosworth held talks in North Korea. It will be an impasse difficult to break, according to
A: The Obama administration, through Ambassador Bosworth, delivered a message to North Korea that the Six Party Talks is the vehicle by which the administration wants to engage, and that the primary subject should be denuclearization. Ambassador Bosworth basically has allowed the North Koreans to consider the various options that they have. The U.S. government is not rushing to pursue North Korea, in contrast to the approach taken in the past.
Another way of putting Bosworth's approach is that we can't want to talk to North Korea, or we can't want denuclearization, more than the North Koreans. So time has passed. Bosworth took another trip out to the region at the end of February and early March to consult with various parties including the Chinese. The Chinese have been making recent efforts to try to follow up and encourage the North Koreans to come back to the talks. They sent senior
Q: Wang visited
A: Yes. There is an invitation out from American think tanks to
Q: There's been a recurring report in the Japanese and South Korean press that Kim Jong-Il is planning a long visit to China. What do you think about that report?
A: There's been speculation that Kim Jong-Il might come to
There are two other worries that Kim Jong-Il may have. Last time he visited
Q: Late last year the North Koreans revalued their currency?
A: Yes, they revalued their currency; they removed two zeros from the value of the currency. This is an extraordinary blow for the general population.
Q: And they limited sharply the amount of old money you could turn in.
A: That's right. There were limits to the amount of old money that could be turned in. It was clear that one of the hidden purposes behind the revaluation was to identify and eliminate sources of illicit wealth, and it was also a blow against people who were making a living in the markets.
Q: Black marketers -- speculators, essentially?
A: Not only speculators these days. Generally speaking, there are a lot of people who are trading in the markets, but what the state wants to do is to recover control. The problem is that they didn't have enough resources in the pipeline to restore their public distribution system. In other words, a strategy would basically be to go back to the past situation in which the state was the main source of goods for the population. But that was an extraordinarily shortsighted policy. The North Korean prime minister in fact issued an unprecedented public statement of apology for that policy in February. It's the first time that we've seen, I think, such a public admission of a policy mistake in North Korea.
Q: What was the result -- a great shortage of goods on the market?
A: They tried to shut down the markets for a few weeks, and then the government found itself basically forced to reverse that policy. It is a policy blunder that appears to have severely damaged the credibility of the government.
Q: You wrote an article recently about
A: It's not clear who would invest. There may be some Chinese companies that might have some interest, but generally speaking, even though the North Koreans appear to be getting the formal language in their new regulations right, they haven't proven that the regulations themselves are worth the paper they're printed on, in terms of their willingness to honor those regulations. The currency revaluation further reduced the credibility of the government. So the task of attracting foreign investment in North Korea is likely to be an extraordinarily difficult task. The one area where they might find some success is in allowing shipping rights in the far northeastern part of the country, the port of Rajin-Sonbong, essentially to China and
A: Exactly, and it would represent a great improvement for the Chinese goods distributors or for foreign goods to arrive in China through that northern port.
Q: When Bill Clinton went to North Korea last summer and got the two American journalists released, everything seemed very cordial. There was a dinner given for him by Kim Jong-Il, and everyone was beginning to expect they'll be back at the
A: Given North Korea's record and the level of mistrust between the two countries,
The main focus right now has been on leaving the door open for a dialogue, but also trying to use the UN sanctions as the vehicle by which to pressure the North Koreans back to the table. But since not all the neighboring parties, including the Chinese, are approaching this issue with the same priority and in the same way, it's making a challenge of moving forward very difficult.
Q: Why not say: "OK North Korea, we'll have a dialogue with you if you agree to go back to the Six Party Talks."
A: The North Koreans have already reached our bottom line. That is,
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(C) 2010 William Pfaff. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services.