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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Why six party talks are like a cheese sandwich

I noted that the story about the 'upbeat' beginning to the new round of six party talks (North Korea, South Korea, US, Japan, Russia and China) briefly made it to the top position on the front page of BBC News Online yesterday morning. But the BBC soon realised the error of its ways and remembered that nothing important really ever happens in East Asia, only funny things like hats with umbrellas. Here is the BBC's latest story and also what the Korea Times has to say.

To be honest, I'm not that keen on writing about negotiations between North Korea and the US, because, well perhaps because it's more boring than a processed cheese sandwich. Perhaps also because I don't care much for either side (although I must admit that negotiations are better than what they could be doing to one another). On this occasion though there is something about the talks that has just about prompted me to put finger to keyboard. This is the palpably different atmosphere. I could be wrong but it seems that both sides may be nearing the end of their strange mating dance and be about to do what we've all been waiting for: get it on.

Seems to me that the Bush administration has never really had a solution for the old North Korea problem, but on the other hand was glad of a nice little bit of instability in East Asia (offering legitimation for its protection racket in the region, cf Giovanni Arrighi's article in the latest New Left Review [subscription]). But then along came a problem called Iraq and suddenly it seems like a better idea to get things tidied up at the far end of the Eurasian continent before they get too out of hand.

North Korea on the other hand seems to have been less and less willing to compromise for just the same reason: it knows it has a strong hand. But maybe, just maybe, they feel they've reached a peak and the time is right to cut a deal. With South Korea providing electricity and the US and Japan offering diplomatic normalisation and lashings of cash it certainly seems that the nuclear gambit may have paid off, although I would attribute this as much to 'lucky' timing (ie Iraq) as to the North's skill in brinkmanship.

Well, there you go, a bit of a pointless attempt at geopolitical analysis/speculation, which could very well be a load of bollocks.

Oh, by the way, if you want a better informed analysis of the situation from a left perspective you could check out this piece (in Korean) in the latest issue of Ta Hamkke. It also says that the new round of talks could produce results, but argues that any agreement would probably be pretty meaningless. Besides this, it includes some interesting criticism of the pacifist and pro-North (Juch'eist) sections of the left, all of whom seem to have great hopes in the talks. The author argues instead that power relations in East Asia will be decided elsewhere, principally by what happens in the Middle East.


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