How the Other Four Parties View the Six-Party Talks

Paul Kerr


China, the host of the six-party talks, maintains close economic and political ties with North Korea and appears intent on serving as an honest broker between Pyongyang and Washington. Although there are indications that Beijing has exerted pressure on Pyongyang to participate in the talks, it has withstood American attempts to isolate Pyongyang and has urged all sides to be flexible.

China has opposed U.S. efforts to raise the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program in the UN Security Council and is not a member of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a U.S.-led effort to interdict shipments of weapons of mass destruction and related goods to and from terrorists and countries of proliferation concern.

China has also supported efforts to offer North Korea incentives for cooperation. For instance, it backed South Korea’s offer to provide energy assistance to North Korea if it freezes its nuclear program.

China has also expanded ties with North Korea over the course of the dialogue, agreeing in April to increase bilateral economic cooperation and hosting a visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.


Japan has publicly been the most supportive of the tough U.S. line on North Korea, but Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s May 22 visit to Pyongyang also indicates its willingness to engage Pyongyang directly. North Korea released five children of Japanese citizens that had been abducted during the Cold War, but the talks did not appear to resolve completely the outstanding issues surrounding the abductions.

Koizumi had hoped that would happen nearly two years after a September 2002 summit with Kim. During that summit, the two sides agreed to meet again the next month to discuss normalizing diplomatic relations and undertaking economic cooperation initiatives. Those efforts were set back after the Japanese public became outraged by fresh information about the abductions and U.S. accusations that Pyongyang had a secret uranium-based nuclear program. (See ACT, November 2002.)

A Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesperson told reporters May 21 that the two countries must resolve the abductions issue before resuming normalization talks but added that “normalization of…relations is one of the most important agenda items” for Japan. The spokesperson did not say that resolution of the nuclear crisis is a prerequisite for resuming normalization talks and also suggested that Tokyo would confine discussion of the nuclear issue to the six-party talks.

The Foreign Ministry spokesperson also said that Japan wants “reconfirmation” of Kim’s pledge, made during his 2002 meeting with Koizumi, to extend indefinitely North Korea’s moratorium on testing ballistic missiles.

Japan will consider economic aid to North Korea, but only after relations are normalized, a Japanese embassy official told Arms Control Today May 18.
Although Japan belongs to the PSI and has shown an interest in stemming North Korea’s trade in illicit goods, such as illegal drugs, there is no public indication that Japan has committed to direct interdictions of North Korean vessels.

South Korea

South Korea has repeatedly expressed its opposition to a nuclear-armed North Korea but has pressed for a negotiated solution to the issue. Despite the strain that the crisis has placed on the countries’ bilateral relationship, Seoul and Pyongyang have continued discussions about various bilateral issues for some time.

Most recently, North and South Korea held high-level military talks May 26, the first such discussions since the end of the Korean War.

South Korea has proposed a step-by-step negotiating strategy with Pyongyang to resolve the nuclear issue. For example, Seoul issued a proposal at the February round of six-party talks to provide energy assistance to the North in return for a freeze of the North’s nuclear program and a promise to dismantle it. Moreover, President Roh Moo-hyun said in August 2003 that South Korea “will take the lead” in promoting North Korean economic development if Pyongyang gives up its nuclear weapons.


Russia, which had close ties to North Korea during the Cold War, has repeatedly expressed its support for a negotiated resolution of the crisis. Russian representatives also backed South Korea’s energy proposal during the February round of six-party talks.