The Dance Over North Korean Nukes

Anne Wu

Providence Journal
In the North Korean denuclearization talks, I see Washington and Beijing from an Asian perspective as in a dance to draw Pyongyang onto the world stage.
When Condoleezza Rice recently traveled to China for her first visit since becoming secretary of state, she took the first step to synchronize the dancing between Washington and Beijing for a more effective multilateral diplomacy in denuclearizing Pyongyang.
Washington and Beijing have danced in the spirit of their respective cultures: Ballet, the classical dance of the West, is open, stretching and straight. Classic Chinese dance is curving, round and bending.
Since the six-party talks stalled last September, Washington has asked Beijing to push Pyongyang more, while Beijing has asked Washington to be more flexible and tone down its rhetoric. Being out of step with each other has hobbled each government's efforts to confront North Korea's development of a nuclear-weapons program.
Washington is a perfect ballerina. U.S. officials call North Korea an "outpost of tyranny" and part of the "axis of evil." They are stretching by setting the goal of a complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization in just one swift move, and straight by presenting a "take-it-or-leave-it" proposal on the bargaining table.
A gentle reminder to U.S. ballet lovers: Beauty is also in the eyes of beholders from Asia, where four of the six parties in the denuclearization talks come from. Often obscured is that North Korea, as an Asian country, shares a proud yet weather-beaten history, with its Asian neighbors.
China, on the other hand, displays the art of its classic dance. Its leaders are "round" in trying to offer Pyongyang a way to climb down gracefully.
They are curving in wielding leverage in a velvet glove. They are bending in being eager to promote some progress through freezing Pyongyang's plutonium program first.
We need a merging of occidental and oriental dances to draw Pyongyang back to the world stage. At the center of the denuclearization talks, Washington and Beijing hold the dance invitation to Pyongyang.
Neither ballet nor Chinese classic dance alone can bring North Korea into step.
China may embrace a little ballet. By absorbing some elements of openness and straightness, Beijing can share with Washington without ambiguity or circuity, the glossary of its "flexibility." To merge ballet into its dance with North Korea, China needs to be straightforward about its non-qualified support if North Korea fails the international community. The recent visit to Pyongyang by a senior Chinese official has secured North Korean President Kim Jong Il's willingness to resume the talks.
China can go further in preventing the collapse of a peaceful solution. President Hu Jintao told visiting North Korea Prime Minister Pak Pong Ju in late March that dialogue is the only correct choice for peacefully resolving the nuclear issue.
It may be even harder for Washington to learn the steps of Chinese dance. President Bush could take out "evil" or "tyranny" in talking of North Korea and emphasize the Asian partnership in engaging Pyongyang.
Rice took a move forward by reiterating to Mr. Hu that the six-party talks are the best way to solve the nuclear issue. Washington could also benefit by being committed to the denuclearization talks in a step- by-step and reciprocal manner.
North Korea is deciding whether to join the dance or not. Only if Beijing and Washington exercise a certain art of each other's dance, and synchronize their steps can they jointly dance away the threat on the Korean Peninsula. How Rice will continue that joint dance remains to be seen.

Anne Wu is a fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. She previously worked for China's Foreign Ministry.


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