North Korea is likely to prioritize the economy for its upcoming Party Congress on May 6 but this doesn’t signal a diplomatic breakthrough, an academic and former U.S. presidential advisor on North Korea said Wednesday.
Victor Cha, Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), speaking at the press conference at the Asan Institute’s 2016 plenum, said Pyongyang’s fifth nuclear test is possible before the Party Congress to establish the regime’s legitimacy and boast of its complete nuclear capacity.
However, “they are not going to talk about their nuclear weapons and they are going to talk about economic development and prosperity,” Cha, former advisor to the George W. Bush administration, told journalists.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un emphasized affection for the nation’s “people” and “youth” during his speech at the military parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Workers Party of Korea last October.
Kim didn’t deal with remarks about nuclear weapons or satellite issues during his New Year’s speech either, but a nuclear test followed in January.
Regardless of Kim’s focus on the economy, outsiders should not interpret this as a significant policy shift, since North Korea hopes to be recognized as a nuclear state, Cha said.
He shared that his meetings with North Korean officials revealed their “unprecedented sense of confidence” in their nuclear strategy.
“The Party Congress would be the only cushion for the rest of this year (for diplomatic approach) before the U.S.-ROK joint military training and U.S. presidential election,” said Cha, who expects another provocation before the election based on CSIS’s data about Pyongyang.
The key for the dialogue is North Korea’s denuclearization, he added.
Even though the the U.S. has indicated a subtle change in its position on a peace treaty, this is not identical with China’s peace treaty proposal.
“The U.S. may be open to the parallel (peace and denuclearization) talks but it can only happen with the freezing of (the nuclear facilities in) Yongbyon,” said Cha.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi has promoted the simultaneous progress of peace talks and denuclearization since February, urging the implementation of the September 19 Joint Statement reached in 2005.
If Pyongyang conducts another nuclear test in the near future despite China’s attempts to attract North Korea to the dialogue table, the U.S. would embark on the full-scale secondary boycott, Cha said.
“I think after the fifth nuclear test, they will exercise the authority, even (against) the Chinese companies,” Cha said, but he anticipated that this won’t undermine the relationship between China and the U.S.
“Most of the banks and companies already stopped dealing with North Korea. It is (only) really small businesses that are still dealing with North Korea. I don’t think the Chinese government is going to care that much,” Cha said.
Expecting tougher situations in the foreseeable future around Korean Peninsula, Cha highlighted the importance of maintaining dialogue channels between the interested countries and North Korea.
Featured Image: Ha-young Choi
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